Handling 'Monotony' at Work

Peace everyone.
I’d like to tell you all a short story about a guy named Mr. X. He’s a typical, middle aged, workaholic kind of a guy, who’s life is a myriad of regularly repeated events. Hes only been to two places in this world. The career life cycle
One is ‘Home’, which feels like a rented motel room to him, as he only sleeps there. Place #2 is what he calls ‘Work’, hes lived most of his life there, and it feels like home to him.
He is an expert – at doing the same things, over and over, everyday. Everybody likes him – enough to say ‘hi’ every morning and ‘good night’ when the shift is over. His life is a plethora of documents, spreadsheets, to-do lists and meetings, which are all carefully knitted into a circular reference.
The world calls Mr. X ‘successful’, while he calls himself ‘miserable’.
Coming to the question – how do you feel you can relate to Mr. X. Is his monotonous schedule similar to yours? if so, how would you suggest Mr. X can improve his work experience, and start enjoying work again. How do you handle monotony at work – its causes, and its consequent effects. How can one make sure that work efficiency is not hampered by its monotonous nature.
Comments appreciated, with rationale. BTW, Mr.X tends to take things very personally, so lets not make any suggestive comments 🙂 Will add my opinion on the subject as a clarification later.


  • FiredUp Network

    Well, I think that Mr. X has really two options: 1) he can continue in his current career and try to find ways that either make work less monotonous or make home less like a rented motel, e.g. buying new furniture, starting yoga classes, etc; or 2) he can think about changing careers, maybe even going off on his own and being an entrepreneur.
    Starting your own business certainly breaks the monotony as everyday is different! Furthermore, Mr. X might make more on his own; however, this is certainly not true of every start-up! I know that there are a lot of resources out there on starting a business, and the attached link will be helpful to the aspiring entrepreneur.
    Best of luck to Mr. X!

  • Ideally, monotony at work is eliminated with the help of IT guy / gals / tools. We live the life we deserve. How much freaking $ does Mr. X need to begin with? Living rich means living free. There is a book called “Die Broke”, and it means just that – when you are dead, you do not need $, but it goes much deeper. Who cares about what the world defines as successful? The world en masse is stupid.
    There are non-pecuniary benefits in life as well. A lot depends on what Mr. X likes to do and hates to do.

  • Interesting, I would definitely not call Mr. X successful based on what you have described. Life is too short. In a very simple answer, I would suggest that he takes a step back and does some serious re-evaluation of where he is at and where he wants to go. He needs to put some serious thought into what he wants from his life and career. Now granted there are many people who have similiar lives to Mr X and maybe it does suit them and it works for them – each to their own. But definitely not me. cheers

  • The “workaholic” Mr X is unlikely to suddenly want to change his work life since he probably enjoys the status of being both a workaholic and an “expert”. He should focus on the things he can change both at work and at home (the motel). Firstly, can he work form home? This would bring work and home closer together. Can he shorten the work day (i.e work more effectively – what are nonessential aspects?) and be at home for more time, even an hour? Does he take the full allotment of holidays? US culture is notorious for not taking this time which is essential to re-charge and re-connect with loved ones. As regards the “motel” like existence, he should look for ways to make more connections – does he speak to his wife about work, does he speak to college friends about their work, does he need a career counselor? Boredom at work afflicts the vast majority of worker bees, we are not set up to do things in an organic, spontaneous and unstructured manner. Time lines, deadlines, bottom lines all conspire to make Jack & Jill march up a never-ending hill, in step and to a relentless drum beat. The only thing you can do is engage the creative within – write a short play, learn a musical instrument, learn how to fly a plane, do a tandem skydive. Do something out of the ordinary on a regular basis to combat inevitable tedium.

  • Wes Ransom, S.C.

    I resemble that remark!

  • Mr. X needs to find a career and a job that he can feel passionate about. Excellence alone is not sufficient. Every day can be an adventure and even if the tasks is similar you can find passionate people doing all kinds of jobs and loving it.
    Don’t let family or societal pressure keep you in a career you don’t like. I’ve seen resumes from coder for example who hate coding but were pushed into it by family. They don’t get hired by me.
    I look for passion and enthusiasm.

  • I would suggest that Mr. X learn another line of work, perhaps one that evolves from what he does. Another possibility is to find some other activity that brings him pleasure in life, perhaps to more further explore his faith or to become involved in his community in some way. Often joy comes from participating and giving.
    I think I’d like to talk to Mr. X and suggest that when what you do becomes what you are, something is wrong. Does he participate in this misery because of the feeble satisfaction of being regarded as successful? Is he fearful of changing in some ways? These are things for him to consider in his own introspection. If will not do that, I am not sure I have much pity for him because his life cannot change from without.
    Perhaps other cultures than mine might honor Mr. X for his tenacity and sense of duty. I think this is worthy of note and even respect but ultimately if he wants to change he should. If he doesn’t, if his gift to the world is his misery then I would also not interfere. I do note that Mr. X has not filed a complaint, someone else has asked how he should change his life. Perhaps Mr. X’s actions represent his actual wishes despite the fact he calls himself miserable.

  • It’s all about choices and their consequences. Sometimes we land in situations that are indeed repetitious and boring. Maybe we choose the wrong workplace or even career. Maybe we just didn’t see how a particular job would turn out. It’s possible that you thought you’d like a particular career but now it’s drudgery.
    One thing that we can all take great comfort in is that no matter how old you are you can change! Look at your life and understand that there are two intertwined options for achieving satisfaction and joy: The choices you make NOW and the actions you take.
    Every decision we make will have a consequence. While we can’t predict the future we can work today to create it. Make wise choices today and look for opportunities to widen your options. You can always take alternative routes. Example: If you focused all your efforts on being a Fortran computer programmer and never learned any other skills then you’ve limited yourself. If you had widened to project management or taken courses in business or pottery then you may have some other options when you get bored. The key is not to limit yourself. Always look way beyond step one and consider “what if”.
    Each day you should take deliberate steps to increase your experiences. I once read about a guy who for 9 years never took the same route to work. Each day he would go a different way and each day he would see, hear and experience a different perspective and discover new things. The actions we take to try new things and expand our experience in life can lead to great ideas and even total transformational change. Expand and grow your frame of reference to include new and different things. Even within your work you can volunteer to work on projects outside your department or make efforts to get to know others who are working in different jobs. Network with people in other businesses or industries and discuss their work. Get ideas and be creative.
    As you focus on making wise choices to open up opportunities and the more you take actions that increase your experience to different things the more interesting life becomes and you don’t have time to be bored because there is ALWAYS something new to chose and act on.

  • Sometimes it’s time to change. I can’t work in something that is not helping me to improve my skills. I think monotony is a sign that you got stucked… I mean, it’s a sign that you stopped growing up professionaly, and maybe it’s just the perfect moment to change the things.
    Perhaps starting a new personal project can help to get excited with your life again.
    I’m also convinced that you have to reach a balance between your professional life and your personal life. Work to live, don’t live to work. 🙂
    Well, these are just my thoughts…

  • Hi Zohaib!
    Great question! I’m looking forward to reading the responses to his one.

  • Nasir Nadir

    Very interesting question and great answers.
    I believe the biggest reason for monotony is a psychological factor. It all starts from the head and ends up changing everything in daily life whether it be work or at home.
    At the very beginning of starting a career or job, a mind has two things in it. First is “nothing” and the second is “something”. If Mr. X started with “Nothing” (i.e. driven by happenings and events in life), maybe it is time for him to consider any of all the advices mentioned above.
    If Mr. X started his career with “Something” or a plan of any sort, he may need to reanalyze how long it has been since he last planned his “Big Plan” and reevaluate its feasibility in the light of current socioeconomic factors.
    If a stand-up person starts off having a plan in the head, he sticks to it and tries his level best to achieve those goals or milestones. But sometimes things don’t exactly go according to the plan or keep getting delayed for a long long time. When this happens a person goes into a numb state of mind where is just “hopes” that things will come together as planned.
    In this state of mind, whatever one does in order to entertain himself or try out new things to bring spice to his life, he always fails to keep himself energized, satisfied or happy for long duration of time.
    As a result he ends up either doing a). nothing or b). routine work… leading to monotony in daily life OR he ends up doing everything… still leading to a “mental state” of monotony due to dissatisfaction with himself.
    The mental state of monotony is a factor which could be explained with an example of a person waiting for the Train #502 on the train station (which will never come). He planned to catch the train but it does not exist. This person lives his life on the station enjoying or not enjoying every moment of it, but by the end of the day, he is still waiting and thinking about Train#502. Lets say another train came, they all had a great time everyone else went home thinking “wow! what a great day” but Mr. X goes “*sigh* When is my Train#502 coming” and THAT’S exactly the psychological factor creating monotony.
    So Mr. X should go back to the time when he planned that something big, renew his thoughts and plans in the light of current socioeconomic scenario and start over with a new plan of life. Because if you are at the stage of monotony… things aren’t really in your own hands.
    Make a Plan B but stick your Plan A in your side pocket. Start working on your new Plan B and occasionally take a peak at your Plan A, becuase if it is your destiny, you’ll get it, no matter what route you chose to reach it. At least your monotonous life will end chasing for the Plan B.

  • I’d suggest a career change, and not just from the point of view of happiness. Especially in this economy, Mr X is in danger. People who do the same things over and over again at work can get the axe, particularly if they are not happy. A sympathetic company may consider that they are doing him a favor by letting him go, which in a sense they are.
    I’ve been there – twice. Expert, good at what I did, and trapped by my expertise like a spinning tire in a snowbank. First time I jumped out, second time I was pushed out.

  • I’m guessing that Mr. X is reluctant to change. Maybe he’s afraid of change. So he will require special handling. He’s doing great, and making any change will take him into uncharted territory.
    I’d start by giving him a little extra attention. Find out what ambitions he used to have. Tell him he’s awesome at what he’s doing, but he’s mastered it. It’s time to see if he could take an apprentice under his wing. Choose carefully for a quality person to be mentored by X. Meanwhile, continue mentoring X. Tell X how much you appreciate his willingness to share his valuable experience and give him an increase to go with the new duties.
    After a couple of weeks, when X has gotten his apprentice started, tell him he’s needed in another area and start the training process. Cross train him into another area to see if he has an interest or aptitude.
    Now, if X is good with apprentices, send some to lighten his load and free him up to explore new areas. If not, re-assign some of his duties to another person and gently move him into the areas his aptitude, interest, and ability would suggest.

  • Supposing Mr. X is an employee and not an entrepreneur:
    He should start doing something of his own. Even if it is as small as making kites and selling outside a park. He must follow the 70-30 rule as suggested by one of my friends to me once (70% – his employer’s demand, curtailed from 100%. And 30% – his own work demands, grown from 0%).
    The day this ratio is interchanged – by demand and monetary value – he should make the switch.
    As ethics go, it would be good to keep the process of doing his work (side by side) transparent, so he does not wake up one day with a consceince loaded with guilt for being disloyal to his former employer.

  • There are several levels at which this is a problem and we can only touch the surface:
    PERSONAL: Why is he doing a job he now finds no passion in? Can he remind himself of the reason he is doing it? Would he choose it again?
    FAMILY/ROMANCE: LIVE! Get a life outside of work that makes work a mission to support. REWARD YOURSELF! Sow AND REAP.
    EMPLOYEE: Can he take more charge of his destiny. We were made to give UNIQUE value to this world. How can he do that? Tell the bosses he needs a chance.
    CORPORATE: Should he get promoted? Are they utilizing his skills?
    If you treat people like cogs they will feel like cogs. Let them have unique value! Give them variety too.
    SOCIETAL: Why the hell do we live in a society where sitting at a desk looking at a screen all day is 50% of your waking hours. I like it! But not for 50% of my life.
    REALITY: Why does he percieve his job as monotonous and unfulfilling? BECAUSE IT IS.
    People, when we feel a problem it is generally because……because there is a problem!
    What this person feels is that their unique value is not being utilized. It must be. We are not in this life to be pawns in someone elses chess game. In today’s society that is supposed to be the computers.
    This person is not growing. We feel like hell when we are not growing or facing reasonable challenges. We just don’t feel alive.
    Life Keys being missed:
    * We need challenge and growth
    * We need to be valued and utilize our unique value–meaning is where our talents & interests and the world’s needs come together
    * We need to sow and reap. BOTH.
    * We need meaningful relationships to live for
    * Society needs to change the workday world. We probably deserve 32 hour workweeks now for inventing the technology to free us, for workers who do routine tasks: Call centers, factory labor, etc. ISN’T THAT THE PROMISE?
    We are to live lives of vitality, love, and joy. We have to sacrifice silver to get gold sometimes–pay for greater rewards with some sacrifice. But work is only to provide us with vitality, love, and joy, and this work is currently not.
    Here are several steps, the number of which will depend on the person:
    Step 1: Change one’s attitude
    Step 2: Get a life
    Step 3: Look for meaning in the work. Ask for special duties. Bond further with coworkers.
    At least do those
    Step 4: Look for more meaningful jobs, transfers, and promotions (and demotions!) within the company
    Step 5: Look for an outside job that fits better
    Step 6: Completely change careers.
    Basically take some risks, but you (he) don’t have to risk a livelihood if you don’t want to. If a solution is moderate risk and meets the need for growth and change that is great.
    Good luck to you and the other 3 Billion people in this situation. Even I sometimes as an entrepreneur find myself there…sometimes it happens to us all and indicates a need to grow–and sometimes in my case to just shut up and do the work so I can grow my business and hire people to do what I don’t like and they do!

  • IF Mr. X is not in a position to leave his current position, he could take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by his company (or in the local community). I have found that meeting other people in the same company is enough to make my current position more interesting as it gives me a larger perspective of how my position interrelates to the work of others and then to the larger company goals.

  • Mr X is your average wage slave. He’s been encouraged to think that work is all there is. He knows this isn’t true but he doesn’t know that this is what is making him miserable. He’s stuck. He’s alienated and he doesn’t know what to do. The sad fact for Mr X is that many jobs are like this – they demand a lot but offer a little. Try making doughnuts (I gave mine 4 x the regular amount of jam), fire doors, bricks and packing vegetables! After about three months of that you start losing the will to live. However, there is a flip side for Mr X – his colleagues – they often make an appallingly dull working environment not only tolerable but enjoyable.
    From what I know of Mr X he has a “hi and bye” relationship with his colleagues but this is not enough. He doesn’t seem to have any functioning relationships either inside or outside work and this must only heighten his sense of alienation. In essence he has sacrificed his life and personality to the job and it is unlikely that he sees himself as distinct from it. He has become his job title.
    What can he do? The problem for Mr X is that he is unlikely to know what to do and doesn’t know why he is so unhappy when he is supposed to be so “successful”. He could leave but who would he be then? To cut a long story short… he needs help. All jobs have a degree of monotony to them – it’s routine but the fundamental thing is to try and vary what you are doing and when you do it; try to develop interests and outlets for creativity; develop or encourage friendships; respect the need sometimes to do nothing (to relax and think) because filling all the available time with activity is just as bad as filling it with work (you are merely replacing one “heresy” with another); try to take a holiday; try either to retrain or switch to something which is in itself more stimulating and get professional help (psychotherapy). At the moment Mr X is not functioning as a real human being but like an automaton.

  • Mr X reminds me of the guy in Office Space with the red stapler, the one who kept showing up at work even though he hadn’t received a paycheck in months, because no one told him he had been fired.
    Take it from someone who has been there – life is too short to be bored, not to be challenged/engaged/interested/excited!!
    Start small – color code the spreadsheets! Rearrange the office! Take a different way to work! Anything to break out of old habits.
    Then on to bigger things – instead of looking at the workday as a “shift” try seeing it in terms of the big picture – think “project!” Get involved – committees are a good way to get out and make connections.
    And maybe, if he is up to it, moving might be good. If Mr X only sees his home as a motel room it shouldn’t be that hard to move. Find someplace that recharges him.
    Monotony leads to the death of ideas, so sometimes you just gotta shake things up:-)

  • I suggest Mr X have a “planned crisis”. By this I mean that he needs to cold bloodedly plan to shake up his world and plan to deal with the fallout. He should plan this carefully–he doesn’t have to be absolutely extreme, and certainly do nothing unethical–but he must change his existence enough to be guaranteed to produce unknown consequences that will pull him in new directions.
    I worry about Mr. X. I don’t want him to have an unplanned crisis.

  • If Mr. X feels miserable, then he needs to take steps to cope. I’d frankly start by improving his work-life balance as in GETTING A LIFE: reconnecting with it, recovering his physical and mental health. In terms of his work, these days, a steady job is a steady job: this could be a long campaign. If I were he, I’d look for ways to enhance my current job, perhaps think of a lateral transfer, perhaps ask for something really challenging. This is not a good time, economically speaking, for a career change; and if he’s been a salaryman all his life, he’s probably not the stuff of entrepreneurs, which is no disgrace: just a basic fact.
    How do I handle monotony at work? I get restless. Then, I start looking for ideas. I talk to people. I learn more about how my company works. Last but not least, I audit the intranet. I can at least find typos broken links, and I’m learning more and can make more intelligent suggestions for where we can build out.
    These days, thank goodness, monotony is not a thing I need to worry about.

  • Keep some light music in the background….and also try to sit near the window…so you may get the outside view when bored….

  • Hi Zohaib,
    I dont think I can relate to Mr X at all. Because I dont do the same things over and over again. For me the fun is in trying various things and pushing myself to learn something new. So No, his schedule is not at all similar to mine.
    My suggestions for Mr X is that learning is a never ending process and i am sure there would always be new things to learn from, only if seeks them.
    How do I handle monotony – I look for new things to learn, I push myself to look harder for insights, do my homework more thoroughly than I did the last time. Ask for help if I dont know something.

  • Hi Zohaib,
    Brilliant question for sure. I would take great pride in saying that I no longer can relate to Mr X at all because I can describe my days as ‘rocking’, ‘great’, ‘productive’, ‘fabulous’, etc! In between there were a few months when I was going through a phase where I felt miserable and didnt enjoy work, felt a bit anti-social, low and depressed. But, that was the phase which has taught me the most! I have learnt that if your mind says you feel low, unhappy and depressed – you will be correct. And if you say you feel happy, energetic, positive and great – You will still be right!!
    Following are few ways which help me feel positive, energetic, motivated, happy and very blessed everyday!
    – I always wake up feeling happy. I dont get out of bed without a smile and without feeling thankful for such a wonderful day ahead. This really works for me!!
    – Ensure I am learning something new everyday. I have recently started to keep a diary and if I learn something fascinating – I jot it down in that diary. It could be anything – A quote, something about my behaviour or inter-personal skills, something i read in a book or newspaper, anything i feel has caught my attention and made me ponder over it for a while.
    – Keep myself engaged in activities such as: different societies (eg – International society, Toastmasters, GCF, etc), Aerobics / some sports, Organise events / parties / social events so that I can spend some time with family, friends and work colleagues. Networking, meeting people, communicating makes me very happy and hence I ensure I keep on doing that. I also feel it is very important because it helps us improve our inter-personal skills, networking and also help us learn something new regularly.
    – Once a week or once in 2 weeks – or whenever I feel I want to relax – I love to put on some music, light some candles, switch off all lights, sit very comfortably on my couch, close my eyes and have a hot cup of coffee in my hand – sipping slowly and feeling absolutely relaxed and happy. Helps me unwind soo beautifully – I cant describe!
    – About taking things personally – There was a time when I was a little stubborn. I would have pre-conceived ideas and views and I felt in my own way I was right. As a result I would not be willing to listen to the other side of the story – Even if I was listening, I would be doing so with a closed mind. Result – I was losing out on a lot of opportunity to learn and to grow.
    So, now – if someone says something – instead of already having an opinion or taking it personally – I try and ask the question to the other person why he / she said that. I would try and understand what angle they are coming from and then think about it with a calm head. This is another reason why I have been enjoying myself and feeling less stressed. Because I no longer feel that someone is trying to attack my views or opinions when they have a differing view. It has been helping me stay calm and also helps me think rationally and be more efficient and productive.
    – Have a friend you can share your thoughts, views, ideas, doubts, issues, etc with an open heart.
    Hope this gives Mr X some ideas that he can experiment with to bring more positivity, energy, happiness and success in his life!
    All the best,

  • Alison Smith

    Depends on whether X wants to change or not?
    For me 10 years ago the shift came not by me changing the job but how I felt and acted. One catalyst for this was attending an NLP practitioner and some of the things I learned that enabled me to take charge of my life and my responses to it can be found in the link to my march newsletter below.
    With clients in a similar situation I’d want to ensure we understood what their values were to understand how to keep them inspired and motivated – this will be different for everyone. See 2nd link to document aimed at a personal development audience rather than business which would help X determine their values and their hierarchy and identify any potential conflicts.
    Lastly a number of people at the moment are finding work monotonous because they’re impacted by the downturn and the fear and negativity around that. X may therefore find the notes from a session entitled ‘keeping on track in a downturn’ useful (also below) to provide insight on what they could be doing differently. For me the key points from this session would be:
    * Help X break out of their closed shell of isolation into a true understanding and experience of team work
    * Ensure X doesn’t get setback by disappointment or resentment
    * Even though X is busy ensure they take time to help others by offering their support.
    Helping you get back on track and find passion in life

  • Merydith Willoughby

    Mr X sounds like a bit of a victim to me. If he is miserable then he’s the only one who can do anything about it. It may be that he needs a holiday and he may be working far too hard. He probably needs to get other things in his life and I would challenge the concept that he is being productive.
    I work with many Mr/Ms X’s and I know they are not happy and the successful bit would need to be put under the microscope. People who push themselves like this end up generally ill or dead before their time. In my recent book on leadership I have dedicated a whole chapter to it because while this is just a question, it is a really serious issue in business.
    Burnt out professionals who are always working don’t generally help the business to increase productivity at all, rather the opposite. They’re often not friendly, amicable but stressed and cranky.
    Sex in the Boardroom
    If it’s to be: It’s up to me
    High Achievers (being written)

  • Jehanzeb Rizvi

    Great question followed by great answers. I am amazed to see the detailed responses. Thanks everyone!

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