Keep that sword sharp!
May 1, 2015 5:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep growing while working a boring desk job?

Hey mefites! Basically, I've observed that people get get smarter/duller depending on their environments. I really want to stay sharp, be aware and think quickly. It's been an easy thing to keep up at college where people are encouraged to think about concepts and we're surrounded by brainy professors, but I know that the real world can involve a lot of menial tasks. What things can I do to keep my brain/attitude sharp? I've googled this a bit and so far I've found: (a) exercise; (b) novel experiences; (c) learn new things. I think I can do that, but is there anything else I can do to make sure that I keep growing and learning and getting sharper? Thanks!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Education (6 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Find hobbies and pursuits, outside of your work environment, that are stimulating and interesting and totally not related to whatever work you do. This is not only a good way to keep your brain active but it also really helps to prevent work-related burn out. It's also a really good way to grow in new directions. For most people, work revolves around a particular topic; your brain would like to learn about other things.

At work, ask questions. Out loud, whenever it's appropriate, to coworkers and your boss and the person who delivers the packages and the person who repairs the photocopier. Ask what they're doing, how that thing works, why things are done in particular ways. Stay interested, is what I'm saying here. It is really easy to get into a routine and a rut at work - which has its benefits and drawbacks, I suppose. Don't be the annoying kid asking "why? but why?" every ten minutes, but cultivate a genuine curiosity in what other people do.

Ask questions of yourself at work, too (not out loud). Why do you do X in a particular way? Do a little searching to see if there are different methods and techniques you could use. For example, if your job involves making powerpoint presentations, why not try a different platform to see how it fits? Change your work flow - instead of always answering emails at 10am, switch that to 2pm. Or start your day with a quick check-in with a coworker instead of waiting until the end of the day.

If you're able, try to take on a new task at work from time to time. It doesn't have to be a big thing. Offer to do something that your coworker hates doing but that you might find interesting. Don't do this to the point of being overwhelmed, obviously, but if you're bored there are usually tasks you can do that are new and novel. Invent a new task, if needed. At one of my jobs, one of the sales guys decided that the office needed to have some live plants in order to look nicer. No one really cared about this specifically, but they also couldn't argue against it. The plants gave him a lovely break once or twice a week when he spent 20 minutes walking around watering, pruning, and otherwise caring for them.
posted by VioletU at 6:12 AM on May 1, 2015

If you're allowed some play time, try this site recommended here recently (Lizardpoint).
posted by mmiddle at 6:42 AM on May 1, 2015

In my observed experience, you don't. No matter who they are or how smart they stay, people still seem to get conditioned to office double-speak and meaningless talk-to-talk and then half listening to everything because they're used to be being bombarded with the same double-speak and babbling. Some can mostly shake that off after house, many can't.

You're going to have to cultivate a lot of productive outside experiences. Actively volunteer someplace where you make something or make something happen, like Habitat for Humanity, a soup kitchen, or a local theater.

Even better, there are jobs that are more or less office-like in which one can actively work on an actual thing rather than being a cog in a made-up machine. My SO is an association manager, for example.

So, my advice is ultimately to get a job that doesn't actively drain your humanity and curiosity from you.
posted by cmoj at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2015


Try to have a diverse social circle, even if you wouldn't exactly classify them all as "friends." Refusing to get too clique-ish forces you stay more open-minded and think more on your feet and helps prevent you from developing lazy mental/verbal habits.

In addition to exercise, eat healthy. "A sound mind in a sound body" and all that.

Set goals. Don't shoot too low. Try to have a few that you feel are a bit of a challenge to attain, that will require you to stretch yourself and grow if you are ever going to accomplish them.

Do something radically different in your personal life than anything you have done before. Go on a material fast to save up scads of money in a short period of time or do the research on some weird sounding diet scheme (by "diet" I mean a set of foods people eat, not calorie counting -- vegan, paleo, etc) and try it out or do some other thing that is just different from anything you have done before.
posted by Michele in California at 11:17 AM on May 1, 2015

Ask for an exchange within the company maybe? Even if it's short?
posted by kschang at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2015


Meetup, maybe - learning a foreign language for fun and practice with others?

Cooking class?

Write a bucket list.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:19 PM on May 2, 2015

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