10 Free and Productive Ways to Conquer Boredom (When You’re Not Home)

How many hours a day do you spend waiting around? How many hours a week? A month? Chances are that if you add all of that time up, it amounts to a whole lot of your precious time wasted. Not cool!

This week, I was inspired by my own life to write about productive things to do while suffering from boredom. I’m currently working on a musical where I am only on stage for a total of maybe 10 minutes (my character flies in to save the day at the end). As much as I love rehearsing for shows (a hobby that I’ve turned into a sort-of-second-job!) the downtime can be pretty excruciating. For this particular show, I had 2 hours of free time, on average, per rehearsal while I had to wait for my turn to go onstage. I even had 6 straight hours of “free time” at the theater during last Sunday’s rehearsal. Pretty rough, let me tell you.

So that got me to thinking. 2 hours is a lot of time. And with 2 hours of free time 4 days a week, that’s a full work day! I realized I could actually use my time to get stuff done (as opposed to playing games on my phone and doodling mindlessly).

I’m sure many of you can relate to boring “waiting periods,” whether or not they have to do with theater. How many times have you had to wait for your children after soccer practice or dance rehearsal? How much time have you spent sitting in a waiting room before a doctor’s appointment? Waiting for the bus? Jury duty? A 10-hour non-stop flight?

Even for the busiest people out there, a lot of time in our lives is spent waiting. What if we took even 50% of that time and utilized it productively? That was my revelation last Sunday.

So here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with to be productive while waiting instead of being bored out of your mind, staring at the clock and willing the minute hand to move.

Be Prepared for Hunger or Thirst Attacks

There is a very dangerous Dunkin Donuts right around the corner from the theater I rehearse at. It calls to me while I’m sitting around at rehearsal doing nothing. And the calling gets louder as my downtime extends. The trouble is that most times I don’t even want coffee or a snack. I just want something to do. So I’ve learned to trick myself by being prepared for any kind of coffee shop impulses.

Here are just a few quick ideas for things you should have to avoid a quick run to the convenience store or Dunkin Donuts:

  1. Thermos Full of Coffee: one of my biggest downfalls when I’m bored and near a coffee shop is to buy coffee. I try combating this impulse by having my own thermos full of coffee at the ready.
  2. Large Water Bottle: it’s important to stay hydrated, but if you’re like me, you get bored with drinking water all day. Try investing in cheap flavor enhancers, like Mio or Crystal Light. Pack a few of these in your bag and switch up your flavor every time you fill up at a water fountain.
  3. Pack Easy Things to Eat: bring snacks that you can easily eat out of individual bags and without utensils. Sandwiches (that aren’t too messy), grapes, berries, crackers, etc. are great things to start with. Here is a great comprehensive list of healthy to-go snack ideas from About.com

Productive Boredom-Fighting Activities:

The problem with being bored when you’re stuck somewhere as opposed to being bored in your own home is that you don’t have the freedom to do as much. I decided to utilize my time at rehearsal the other day to give myself a full manicure and pedicure, but that isn’t usually publicly acceptable at places like the doctor’s office or jury duty.

As much as I sometimes love throwing on headphones and spacing out while listening to my favorite music, or playing mindless games on my phone, those aren’t very productive ways to spend a large amount of free time. And even though you may be limited or confined by the place where you’re forced to wait, there are still unobtrusive things you can get done. Here are the first 10 ideas that came to mind:

  1. Learn a New Language:
    If you have internet where you are waiting, here are some great free resources that can help you learn another language in your free time:
    • iTunes U: over 800 colleges and universities offer content for iTunes U. Download Apple iTunes for free and select “iTunes U” on the toolbar across the main page.
    • Memrise: Memrise is dedicated to helping you learn languages faster by integrating what they know about the art and science of memory. Sign up for your free account and Memrise will help you learn with memorization tricks and track your progress along the way.
    • BBC: learn languages in 12 short weeks with free online courses offered by the BBC.
    • Livemocha: utilize the world’s largest language learning community to learn up to 38 different languages.
  2. Clean Out Your Computer: if you’ve owned your laptop computer for a few years, chances are you’re carrying around a lot of unnecessary baggage. There are most likely programs that you haven’t used in months or years, folders that could be condensed, files that could be erased, items you need to back up, etc. You get the picture. What better time to do some spring cleaning on your computer than when you have to wait for an obnoxiously long time?
  3. Knit/Crochet: these are great, productive ways to keep your hands busy! Knit a gift for a birthday coming up, or get an early start on accessories for next winter. Either way, by knitting, crocheting or sewing, you’re working toward something instead of wasting your precious time.
  4. Read, but With a Goal in Mind: reading a book seems the obvious answer to waiting room boredom. However, let’s take it a step further. You can create your own “to read” list and work your way through it. Sites like Goodreads can help you create lists for yourself. You could also find and join a book club in your area. You might actually look forward to your downtime if you have a goal to meet!
  5. Write a Letter: how often do people get hand-written letters anymore? Make someone’s day by writing them a personalized letter and sending it via snail mail. Maybe they’ll return the gesture!
  6. Update Your Finances: there are easy ways that you can organize your finances just 10 minutes at a time. Or take a good hard look at your budget. Update it, make changes, make new goals, etc. This may not be the most fun way to spend free time, but it will certainly help you later on!
  7. Update Your Cell Phone: this is something that you probably don’t do often. Take the time to delete old numbers, clear unnecessary numbers/apps/messages, update names, sort through pictures, etc.
  8. Make To-Do Lists: sure, you may make to-do lists for your day to day tasks, but what about the tasks that you hope to get done in the next month or so? Whether you use a paper and pen, a smartphone or a laptop, create your master to-do list and prioritize the tasks.
  9. Meal Plan/Menu Plan/Create Grocery Lists: do you subscribe to the Sunday paper? Use boring time to flip through circulars, find sales, clip coupons and create your grocery list for the week (or the next week). You could also create a meal plan based on your finds to make the most of the food you’ll get.
  10. Clean Out Your Purse or Wallet: use your time to sort through items in your purse or wallet. Toss what you don’t need, i.e. receipts that have piled up, expired coupons, etc. Organize your rewards card, credits cards, business cards and the like.

What are some of your best ideas for when you’re bored to tears and waiting around? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. Thanks for being a Tip Hero!

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta and Campanero Rumbero