You needed a little extra cash in your pocket, so you signed up to swipe people’s membership cards as they enter the gym. Or maybe, while thinking graduation lies just around the corner, you snagged an internship over the summer. It seems fine, but then the sun comes out and you’re trapped on a beautiful day or they hired three interns to do the work of one. Either way, don’t let the mindless tasks or the dead air weigh you down.
1. Take a Walk
Whether sitting at a desk or a counter, walk around and give yourself a moment to release your work tension (or wake yourself up). “I would stand up every five minutes, just to stand up… Probably also use the bathroom every 30 minutes,” University of Virginia architecture senior Francisco Hernandez said. Getting your blood moving will help you refocus on the task at hand. “Another favorite was at 3:00, how many spins you could do in a wheelie chair. At 3:00 set the times for one minute and see how many spins. Basically use any equipment available,” New York University alumna Rhonda Bondie said. Just make sure your boss doesn’t catch your daily exercise routines.
2. Listen to Podcasts
Turn to your headphones when working on repetitive, mindless tasks. When you spend all day renaming every file in a folder in chronological order or reformatting information (i.e. copy paste it from one location to another) your hands and eyes work, but your mind wanders. “Podcasts keep me engaged because the writers and producers are so evidently passionate and excited about what they’re talking about. I like Invisibilia, Song Exploder and Serial, but there are tons of good ones. Even podcasts on niche subjects are really fun to listen to,” University of Virginia senior Hannah said. Let a podcast occupy your mind instead of stressing about things you can’t change. Forget your latest lover’s quarrel and distract yourself from panicking about whether you left your door open at home and your new puppy is eating your best underwear. Instead, find out the developments in your favorite murder case.
3. Catch up on the News
Look distinguished and save yourself from tearing out your hair while you wait for someone to come fix the fax machine. “I steal the New Yorker from someone and read it,” University of Virginia architecture senior Alek De Mott said. Catching up with your favorite paper or magazine not only gives you the chance to impress your boss with your knowledge of editorials and news, it gives you a chance to get out of the university bubble. “I read the New Yorker because it’s not university related… And they have the cartoon which is make your own caption which is my favorite thing to look at,” De Mott said.
4. Self Reflect
Mindless tasks can be both a blessing and a curse. When stacking dishes or packing boxes you have plenty of time to think about yourself. “I plan out my projects and analyze all my relationships,” De Mott said. But why stop there? Think about your goals and aspirations, the shit you have to get done tomorrow and whether or not you’re going to message your latest tinder match—I mean date.
5. Find a Change of Scenery
Stuck in a cubicle facing a blank wall? Or trapped staring at the same three posters across the room? See if the person next to you will switch places, or try angling your computer slightly so you have a different background. “Sometimes I would go outside on my breaks, like for lunch, because the AC was so cold,” University of Virginia senior Sydney Petersen said. Not only does moving around give you a change of scenery, but the change in temperature will also reinvigorate your spirits and give you the strength you need to return to your mind-numbing tasks.
Not only does chewing keep your muscles activated and your eyes open, but the food can also lift your blood sugar and give you a quick burst of energy. “I would start eating peanuts because they were cheap in the gas station near my job,” Hernandez said. Alternatively, choose a snack that will fill time as you wait for your boss to get off the phone and assign you a new project. “Sometimes I eat oranges because peeling them takes a long time,” De Mott said. Either way, you’ve developed snacking as a life skill since trading Fruit Roll-Ups for Gushers in middle school. Don’t let it go to waste.
7. Actually Do Some Work
Remember that research topic or organization idea that your boss mentioned, but never got back to you on? Go ahead and do some research. Or maybe you’ve been watching a common mistake ripple through your workplace. Experiment on developing a new and more practical system and let your boss know how the two of you can revolutionize the workplace together. Yeah, you might become the new office nerd, but you also just might get a raise out of it.
8. Get Creative and Competitive
Make an office friend and see who can make up the best stories about your coworkers or channel The Office and use your resources to make up competitions to pass the time. “We used to have ‘who can make the biggest ice cream cones?’ compactions at McDonalds. We used to weigh them to see whose was biggest before the ice cream fell off the cone. There was a little scale so we could keep a chart and see who could make a 12-ounce ice cream cone,” Bondie said. “Usually it would take three people to eat one.” This helps you make friends and breaks the barrier between profession workplace relationships and builds your friendship. After you’ve wiped 10 ounces of ice cream off the floor together, you can finally laugh and joke with one another instead of just saying, “Hey.”
Instead of thinking about how long you’ve twiddled your thumbs at the office, think about what you have accomplished. Journaling about the projects you’ve completed will make you realize how much you’ve done and help prepare you for your next job pursuit. If you talk about how you interspersed social media outreach and original research with copier fights, people will take you much more seriously in your next interview.
Think about where this job will take you. Maybe you put a foot in the door to your future career goals or found a way to pay for textbooks. Either way, think about the reasons why you started this job, not just about how miserable you feel at work. You may think Google image searching every one of your boss’ clients so their address book has names and faces is the literal worst, but when you recognize the last year’s Venice Biennial curator at the Whitney Museum, you’ll appreciate the shiver that runs down your spine.