Everybody has to deal with getting stuck in a rut sometimes. The difference between remarkable people and the merely average is how quickly they can recognize they're in a rut and then do something to get out of it. Successful people have a toolbox full of reliable tactics to get themselves out of a rut. They've developed these tools with systematic exploration and experimentation. They've tried lots of different techniques and paid attention to how well they worked.
Let's assume you recognize that you're in a rut already. You feel like you're failing in one or more areas of your life and aren't making the progress you think you should. Instead of steadily getting better you've hit a plateau or are quickly sliding down the metaphorical hill. Here are a few techniques from my own arsenal that I'm happy to share with you:
- Knock out the most annoying thing on your list: For whatever reason, seeing a hated task get scratched off my list, even if it's not super important, feels really good. It usually leads to a sense of momentum that I try to apply to the second and third most annoying tasks on my list. If I can suck it up and knock out a couple annoying tasks I've usually ended up feeling so much better I can naturally move out of the rut.
- Stay up all night and work: I'm a huge proponent of making sure you get enough high-quality sleep every night to fully function. However, sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures (and obviously this only works if staying up all night isn't your modus operandi). When I'm feeling stuck sometimes I'll make an audacious to-do list, brew some good coffee (or hit my favorite 24/7 cafe), and put my nose to the grindstone. If you use the time wisely and get a lot of work done then you might be successful in snapping out of the rut. Being tired the next day is definitely worth being rut-free.
- Go work somewhere completely new: This tip works similarly to the last one. By going somewhere completely different from your usual locations you can sometimes snap yourself out of your typical routine. Sometimes being in a rut is just a matter of falling into too much of a habit. Drive to a nearby city you never visit and find a library or coffee shop to work in, look up a coworking space and book a day to work there, or go hiking and take your school books with you for some adventure studying.
- Step back from your work: A rut can form when you're constantly hammering away at your work for weeks on end without ever coming up for air. Instead of just continuing to chip away at a task list or project that has gone stale it can be worth a couple hours to step back and get perspective on your work again. Ask yourself some deeper questions about what you're working on, why you're working on it, and how it will help you professional or personally. Reading a book like David Allen's Making It All Work or another one that encourages you to look at your work from a holistic viewpoint can be incredibly helpful.
- Axe something: The result of tip #4 might be identifying a project that is more trouble than it's worth. The best feeling of all is finding a project that has been weighing you down and just shaking it off for good. Obviously, you can't just throw away everything that's weighing you down all the time. However, if you've got a project that's thoroughly stuck it might be time to just leave it by the side of the road. What's the worst that can happen if you decide to stop working on a project? Where could that energy be better spent?
Ruts suck. However, they will always happen. It doesn't matter how productive or efficient or happy you are. You will eventually feel like you're not moving forward with work, personal fitness, personal growth -- with something. It's up to you to identify when that is happening and then apply the proper tool to snap out of it.
I'm always curious about the tactics other people use. Please share them with me on Twitter.
Photo by Creda's Hill