Let Me Entertain You

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    Welcome to the 26th Edition of Humanity Working. This edition: Why we need to reevaluate our relationship with boredom, how to build team habits, and how to work smart when you are working hard.

    Are You Not Entertained?

    In the UK, schools are just starting their Spring holidays – the last day of school is today, and kids won’t be returning back until April 15th. That’s 18 days of bliss for many kids – lots of them will even join their parents for a break away from the dreary British weather.

    I was speaking to some friends my age recently about what the holidays were like for them as a kid, and an interesting word kept cropping up – boredom. One of my friends reminisced “My Mum told me she would count down the days until she heard the phrase “I’m so bored!!” from me. It would typically only take 2-3 days”.

    Any of us growing up in the UK in the 70s probably have similar memories. After all, we had access to only 3 TV channels, with mostly shows for grown ups. Other than that, there might be a few vinyl records around the house, and whatever toys we hadn’t broken from over enthusiastic play. We had to, as our parents would say “make our own fun”.

    Today – “I’m bored” is a phrase that is uttered far less frequently, basically because we can relieve what we used to call boredom in just seconds. The number of entertainment options surrounding us is staggering, and each one can be replaced by a potentially better option with just a swipe of our finger.

    But does this mean that boredom has really disappeared? I believe the answer is not exactly. It turns out that, just like cholesterol, there are two types of boredom — one good, and one bad.

    The good type is the old fashioned “under-stimulation” boredom. It makes us get creative. As we take our parents advice and make our own fun, we talk and play with our friends – we write, we paint, we invent. We do all this because there is, in a very real sense, nothing better to do. A lot of creatives deeply understand this – its why, for example – Neil Gaiman has adopted a way of work that forces him to be bored. Now of course you can be creative without getting bored, and some of us find destructive things to do when we are bored, but none that changes the fact that acute doses of this type of boredom have led to some of the greatest contributions to humanity in both art and science.

    Then there is the bad type of boredom that so many of us have today – overstimulation boredom. If you find yourself regularly losing interest just a few seconds into a 30-second video and searching for a better one, you might be struggling with it. And you would not be alone. A couple of years back I spoke to Dr Edward (Ned) Hallowell about this very topic for our Humanity Working podcast. Dr Hallowell is an expert on this stuff, both as the founder of the Hallowell Clinics for ADHD and as an author of multiple books on distraction. Based on his research, he believes that in addition to the large number of people living with ADHD, there are many more who have to deal with what he calls “a severe case of modern life”.

    Overstimulation boredom doesn’t seem to encourage creativity, in fact it often inhibits it. But it is also the hallmark of something much more troubling – addiction. Huge numbers of us have become addicted to a constant flow of incoming information. And let’s be honest much of this is by design, driven by Big Tech companies with trillion dollar valuations. If you haven’t seen it already, check out this excellent essay on the 2024 State of the Culture. The TL;DR version – Art was largely displaced by entertainment, which in turn was displaced by distraction, and is now being replaced by addiction.

    The results of this addiction be really damaging to our mental health. In our interviews, we’ve spoken to people who admit being in an almost constant state of ennui, where being bored in the moment has been replaced by being bored by life. And breaking out of this cycle can be really difficult – we tell ourselves we could do it if really wanted to, but in the meantime another TikTok notification just popped up.

    Of course, we are where we are, and we are not likely to throw our phones away tomorrow. So, what should we do? I’d propose three steps that might actually be hard at first.

    1) Make it harder to get our fix (the technology equivalent of putting the cigarettes on the top shelf of the cupboard). That usually means offloading apps and forcing ourselves to visit websites, just like Gigi Goebel recently did.

    2) Agree to spend time with friends that is technology free. This allow us to hold each other accountable, and relieve boredom an old fashioned way, through social connection.

    3) Create at least some time every week to allow under-stimulation boredom to return. This could be a day a week with no technology at all, or even a couple of hours each day. You’ll be surprised by what you create.

    One final thing. Jonathan Haidt has an important article in The Atlantic on ending a phone-based childhood. The points are well made and I agree with most of them, but perhaps the most important discussion we can have with our children is about our OWN difficulties putting tech in it’s place.


    Charlie Gilkey in on Book 2 of a 3 (or possibly four) book journey. His first book was called Start Finishing: How to Go From Idea to Done – which is something almost all of use could use help with.

    In Charlie’s Second Book – Team Habits: How Small Actions Lead to Extraordinary Results, he has turned his lens on to what needs to happen to make teams work better. One the things I like about the book is that large parts of it are deeply actionable and practical. Anyone in a team can benefit from much the guidance given, or even if the manager is not fully bought in.

    I sat down with Charlie recently for a detailed discussion about the themes in his book. You can hear it on our Humanity Working podcast, or watch it in full below:

    Work Harder AND Smarter?

    Video Length: 1 minute 41 seconds

    This week has been a long one for a bunch of us at BillionMinds, and it got us thinking about the whole “work smarter, not harder” maxim. While work smarter, not harder has probably never been more important in the world of AI, it’s also true that sometimes, well, you just have to work hard.

    When we work hard, we tend to revert to bad habits, and often, specifically fail to work smart. This can mean long days getting even longer, greater fatigue, and a greater likelihood we will make mistakes.

    So, when you work hard, also work smart. Our latest video explains how…

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