How to keep from going crazy with boredom at my job?
July 30, 2013 11:20 PM   Subscribe

I recently took a job as an overnight security guard. The entire job is standing at the entrance to a company's parking lot, from 10pm to 6am. In theory, I'm supposed to warn off people who look like they don't belong there, but that never happens. No books, smartphones, or other distractions are allowed. Sometimes I'll look at my watch and discover that it's only ten minutes since the last time I checked my watch, even though it feels like an hour has passed. Is there some kind of mental exercise or trick I can use to occupy my mind and make the time go faster?
posted by internet_explorer to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Practice your singing, do exercises, work on large number problems, practice memorizing whatever you need or want to memorize, doodle it's good for your mind, meditate, fantasize, take up knitting, practice new dance moves that don't require a great deal of space. There are the ones that seem to meet the guidelines of no distractions...I got another list if you are cool with bending the rules...
posted by gypseefire at 11:28 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to pen and paper regularly? Like, can you duck back into a booth every ten minutes to write/sketch something down? That would make very cryptic crosswords, memorizing poetry, writing poetry, drawing or anything creative that benefits from short bursts of intense concentration and/or visualization would all open up.

Convict conditioning is supposed to be an exercise routine that is very tough and requires little to no equipment and takes time to do well.

Tai chi would also be pretty much a walking meditation for a chunk of time.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:17 AM on July 31, 2013

Time to get better at sketching things in ink.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:19 AM on July 31, 2013

I would be far too tempted to cheat at this. Maybe a discreet earphone piping in podcasts or music? The expectation that a human can just stand somewhere and be attentive for 8 hours sounds a little unrealistic to me.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:23 AM on July 31, 2013 [27 favorites]

Can you get a single earphone that is discreet and will let you listen to audiobooks in one ear? Most audiobooks are 8-10 hours long so you can potentially get through a book a night. Perhaps that is seen as a "distraction" but I would argue that it keeps you much more alert...
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:31 AM on July 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

you could always try new foods...or new recipes have something to look forward to at snack time and dinner break...I'm assuming they allow you food.
posted by gypseefire at 1:31 AM on July 31, 2013

I frequently work 10-14 hour shifts as a security supervisor in a team for a private firm; mainly local government buildings. On some occasions, I'm lucky enough to be permitted the distracting devices you mentioned (when no clients are present), but sometimes I'm required to stand in an unmoving, attentive position for hours at a time.

If pacing is permitted, make occasional, deliberate circuits or patrols of your area, even if it is only ten steps wide or so (not quick steps or as though you are 'marching', especially if you are being observed by a superior). This can help break the monotony of continual standing, and ease the pain in your feet. Maintain awareness of your posture and this may help you stand straighter in daily life.

Mental exercises of the kind that gypseefire mentioned can be useful too; at first when I could think of nothing better, I counted the masonry facing-stones in the lobby where I was stationed. Doing that over and over helped improve my neurological ability for arithmetic- counting large numbers of objects very quickly and accurately. The same can be said of other mathematical exercises- your Google-fu will aid you with terms like 'mental mathematics' you can do on the job. At first, I formulated quadratic equations with large coefficients that were hard to solve (with or without the use of the quadratic formula). Though if your mind is engaged with difficult tasks, you may not notice a potential hazard that you would need to note/report.

On the subject of observation, there are numerous mental exercises involving the memorisation of areas/locations to improve your attention and memory. In this way, your observation skills become routine; you note small details that another person would overlook. This makes you a useful witness and observer, not only in this (temporary) job but in emergency situations that could make a real difference.

Reconstructing poetry, literature and music in your mind, fumbling to find the correct word/stanza/note for the next part, helps you dredge your memory for concepts/facts which you may not have thought you still knew. Mindmapping and brainstorming, too- begin with a single concept and branch outwards, making connections between apparently-disparate ideas, sometimes leads to intriguing notions.

Meditation and breathing exercises (as recommended by previous posters) can help maintain a calm and relaxed frame of mind. It can become easier and easier to slip into a breathing pattern, organising things that you need to do in the future, or even indulging in some light introspection, looking back on your past.

I'm rambling, so I'll stop. Many of us in the security sector have exactly this problem; too few of us use the 'spare time' usefully. As a senior guard, I'd rarely give someone the kind of restrictions you have (constant location, no kind of stimulus to keep you awake, etc) as it often causes guards to become sleepy, diminishing their usefulness in the event of an emergency.
posted by The Zeroth Law at 1:37 AM on July 31, 2013 [34 favorites]

Get really good at standing on one leg and move to single leg squats

Practice holding good posture

Use grip strengtheners in your pockets

Practice holding your breath

Kegels exercises

Try to learn to belly roll


Come up with lists of words that rhyme with a chosen word

Freestyle rap in your head
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 3:43 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

you could try some yoga balancing poses that don't look to conspicuous, such as tree pose (maybe without the arms raised). If there's really no one around maybe you could practice several standing poses, and some stretching.
posted by bearette at 8:05 AM on July 31, 2013

imagine walking through the houses and buildings of your childhood: your old house, friends' houses, relatives' houses, your elementary school, your old favorite restaurant. slowly -- "look around" and picture every possible detail in every room. you can also imagine getting into a car and driving, around town or your hometown. what's left? what's right? take all the turns you know, backtrack from the other direction, picture it all.

(I got these ideas 15 years ago from a story in Sassy magazine, where a girl was wrongfully placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital)

also: name every possible country you can that starts with A. now, move on to B.
now cities. now mammals. birds.
posted by changeling at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really like the ideas from The Zeroth Law.

Do you read fiction? Try writing some. It's really fun and addictive and you can do a lot of it in your head. For some reason, I think this is especially true with mystery-- there are all kinds of plot knots. Almost every day, you have a problem like, "How can I get him out of that tunnel without someone seeing him?" You can ponder something like that and jot down solutions when you go for a break.

Also, enter contests. Excitement about checking the results will keep you from getting bored.
posted by BibiRose at 8:10 AM on July 31, 2013

As a junior watchstander on a submarine, my job - for 6 to 12 hours at a time - was to walk a set area once an hour and log numbers on gauges and meters on equipment. this took about 5 minutes out of each hour. We also were not allowed books, music or even conversation. Ostensibly, my constant presence and attention was required to respond to emergencies, but that _NEVER_ happened.

I and others in the same area did various "prison art" projects, that is, making things out of scrap/found materials with little to no tools. I also practiced drawing and sketching based on the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:56 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're going to count bricks, may as well learn to count in as many languages as possible. Start out with more familiar ones (French, Spanish, German) and move on up to the less commonly learned (Slavic, Scandinavian, Asian language groups).

In fact, if there's any language you want to learn, this is a great time to drill vocabulary, drill verb conjugations, start making up simplistic stories, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 10:00 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recently had some physical therapy that basically ended up being two hours of tedium each day, as we couldn't bring phones in to listen to music or audiobooks because of the patient privacy issues with cameras, and I couldn't read because I had to remain alert enough to count reps.

I plotted out stories in my head and, for a couple of days, mentally worked out the database schema and the scripts that I needed to write for a programming project I've got in store. If I forgot part of it, it was okay because I had the time to go back and work it out again.
posted by telophase at 10:00 AM on July 31, 2013

Smartphone in the pocket and one small bluetooth earphone in/on an ear with music, podcasts, audiobooks. I'd sneak it to not get busted. If I got caught, I'd say it's there for security reasons - to call for assistance immediately due to all the damned ragamuffins in the area trying to get into the parking lot all night.
posted by cnc at 12:15 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd pick up one of these spy bluetooth headsets and cue up albums, podcasts, and e-books. It also has an ultra-sensitive microphone, so you can whisper phone conversations with friends and provocateurs.
posted by prinado at 2:10 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write a novel in your head, like Solzhenitsyn, a paragraph at a time.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:51 PM on July 31, 2013

Method of loci
posted by lalochezia at 3:13 PM on July 31, 2013

I like to do What-If planning. Think of a situation and mentally go through all the details needed to investigate options, solve an issue, imagine the possibilities. The situations can be quasi-realistic or pie in the sky.

What if we win the lottery?
What if we take in a foster child?
What if we add another room to the house?
What if someone stops by for dinner unexpectedly?
What if a friend who hates X comes to visit at the same time as another friend who thinks X is a requirement for life?
What if every car had Google's automatic driving built into it?
What if you were the last person left on earth?
posted by CathyG at 4:50 PM on July 31, 2013

Oh, shoot, now that I've read this question: Secret Room Literature, my brain is now obsessed with all the details of What If we transform part of the big attic space (accessed via the upstairs hall closet) into a secret playroom for any potential grandkids we may have??
posted by CathyG at 6:21 PM on July 31, 2013

I live in the Philippines where there are security guards everywhere all the time. Every coffee shop, every ATM, every grocery store, pharmacy etc will have at least one or two security guards. My building where I live has many. They all, every single one of them, have a small notepad and pen.

I finally got curious and asked one in our building what it was for. He told me that they are to record when someone goes in, comes out, or walks past, and the time. He said it was basically to make sure they are somewhat alert. So they do that but also doodle/write.

So maybe you could suggest that you have a notepad and pen to take notes of things, for documentary purposes? Sounds like a proactive suggestion to me.

Then doodle/write/compose/whatever.
posted by Admira at 10:20 PM on August 1, 2013

When I have to supervise kids taking exams, I like to see how much of the Periodic Table I can recite in my head from memory. Once you can do the whole thing, you now have a really geeky party trick. (I alternate this with seeing how far through the libretto of Les Mis I can get. There's more mileage in this because it's three hours long, but it has even less chance of ever being useful should you master it.)
posted by raspberry-ripple at 6:33 PM on August 2, 2013

It may be time to find a good chi gung or tai chi teacher. Standing in this manner is unfamiliar to and difficult for most of us, but to practitioners of internal martial arts, it's a rich opportunity.
posted by vverse23 at 11:38 PM on August 2, 2013

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