You feel like you're stuck in a rut at work or in life, where you just can't bring yourself to get things done? Learn 6 powerful techniques to help get back in the zone.
The other day, I came across an interesting post on the get disciplined sub-Reddit. This person told a story about a some serious motivation and performance issues he was experiencing, to the extent that is was seriously affecting his career and personal life. He asked the question “how do I get out of a rut?” and this really resonated with me, as he described some feelings that I could definitely relate with.
We might hear it commonly described as “a lack of motivation”, “laziness”, or even “depression”. There were plenty of people on this Reddit post that were happy to tell this person he "lacked motivation"
But what does that really mean?
These are all descriptions of our behavior when stuck in said rut, not descriptions of the causes. If a mechanic told you that your broken down car is "being lazy," you would find a new mechanic who will help diagnose the true cause. We should be just as discerning when looking for explanations of behavior.
If we look close we will probably find a number of environmental factors that lead to this“rut” (setting aside true clinical depression – that is a medical issues which should be taken seriously).
How can the environment make you feel like you are in a rut?
Aubrey Daniels (2014) has said that we should interpret “lack of motivation” to mean “lack of reinforcement for engaging in that task”, or said another way, good things don't happen when you do the things you need to do.
It may also be that the things that used to motivate us to get up and go have lost their value – we satiate on things after all. The environment also may not be well set up to facilitate the behaviors that you want to engage in. For example, I recently moved and my office space is still covered in boxes, which means I work in the living room now. Not the best work space, and full of distraction.
How do we use this knowledge? Here are 6 tips on changing the environment, based on behavioral science that can go a long way breaking to out of that rut.
Things such as changes in personal relationships, job status, a disruption to your regular routine, etc. can all have a major impact on our motivation and productivity. If you can identify a likely culprit(s), next ask “what can I do to address that?” Spend some time dedicated to trying to fix one or two of those issues.
This can have a twofold benefit. For one you may solve the problem that is causing your “rut”, but also taking action can help you to build momentum that can jump start your productivity.
2. Increase the indicators of progress. I can be really easy to feel like you are going nowhere if you can’t see where you are going. How well defined are the goals you are working towards? Are there sub-goals? Are you celebrating small steps forward?
For example, if you’re trying to generate new sales leads at work you are probably on a pretty lean schedule of getting the “win”. If you are measuring the end result (final sales) as your only indicator of progress, then progress is going to look very slow. If you can link the end result with a set of behaviors (to get sales you have to send lots of e-mail and make a lot of calls), then track and celebrate behavioral milestones, not just the end result.
Made 25 phone calls in a day? Good for you, Rockstar! That is progress, even if you didn’t get a sale off any of them. If you are doing the right thing, results will come eventually.
3. Vary the environment. Getting a work environment set up that is separate from your usual fun activities can make a huge impact. Something as simple as moving from the living room to a quieter space to get your work done can make an impact (update: I carved our a box-cave in my office and moved from the living room, and my productivity has skyrocketed). You may need a larger variation in work environment, such as going to a local coffee shop or library.
Co-working spaces are also a great option (look out for more on this in a future post). I wrote more extensively on arranging your work environment for productivity in a past post on how to get on task and stay there.
And there is a large body of research that shows that the increased flow of blood, oxygen, “happy chemicals” and other factors can have major positive side effects like increasing focus and alertness, fighting depressing, and staving off aging-related cognitive degradation (Van Praag, 2008). Adding some simple exercise into your day could add a major boost to you getting up and getting things done.
5. Enlist the help of a friend. Social support is incredibly beneficial in staying productive, or getting started in the first place. Getting someone who is willing to check in with you, give you support, encouragement, and sometimes a kick in the butt can make a huge impact.
6. Finally, start doing! Build momentum and get started on something. Spend less time thinking and more time doing, even if the doing doesn’t seem relevant. However, don’t spend too much time on distraction activities, check in with yourself and ask “how is this contributing?
We’ll see whether that Reddit-er who posted about his problem gets out of his rut, but taking action on the steps above could help make a difference.
Been in a rut recently? What helped you to break out? What worked, what didn’t?
Daniels, A. C., & Bailey, J. S. (2014). Performance management: Changing behavior that drives organizational effectiveness (5th ed.). Atlanta, GA: Performance Management Publications.
Van Praag, H. (2008). Neurogenesis and exercise: Past and future directions. NeuroMolecular Medicine, 10(2), 128–140. doi:10.1007/s12017-008-8028-z