9 Ways to Get Out of a Rut at Work

You know those days at work that feel like you’re trying to start a car whose battery remains stubbornly dead? We all have days where we just don’t feel like we’re operating at 100% capacity.

And the more we think about it, the more we start worrying that maybe this will affect our next employee evaluation, and by extension that vacation to Barcelona you were hoping to get to someday, and then we feel sad, and so on, in one vicious cycle.

This doesn’t mean that ruts are all depressing; in fact, chances are they mean you’ve been working yourself to the bone and now your body and brain are telling you that it’s time to stop. But how do you stop, exactly – and how do you break out of this slump?

Here’s a list of ideas we’ve come up with to help you kick-start your way back to the dynamo we all know you are.

  1. Step Back and Assess.
    It may be time to pull back so you can see the bigger picture. What’s really going on here? Is it a professional challenge or a personal one? Is it physical or emotional? The occupational hazard of flying in and out of the country may be your body’s way of telling you to have a discussion with the higher-ups to see if you can find a more grounded approach, for one. Whereas dealing with the emotional stress of teenager at home may be helped with a no-holds-barred rant with a friend or therapist. Which brings us to… 
  2. Make Your Lunch Break Count. 
    You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; well, lunch is next up for a reason. It’s a chance for you to recharge your brain as well as your body. Meet up with friends. Eat something that makes you happy. You’ll come back to work feeling energized and happy, which translates to you being more energized to work. So please don’t work through it (unless it’s urgent, of course). 
  3. Get Up, Stand Up.
    Recent years have seen the growing popularity of the standing desk, a result of studies revealing that the average person spends about 9.3 hours a day sitting. That’s even more time than we spend sleeping (which is about 7.7 hours). Research also shows that the second we sit down, electrical activity in our leg muscles shuts off – and the sluggishness in the body will eventually get to the brain. So get up, get on up, stretch your legs often. Actually, while you’re at it… 
  4. Work It Out.
    Apart from the feel-good endorphins it releases into your system, working out engages you in activities that let your brain slip into a more relaxed state – during which great ideas can come (which is also why some of your best ideas come while you’re showering or drifting off to sleep). And at the end of the day, doing something for your physical health will also do wonders for your mental health. 
  5. Get in Real Face Time. 
    We mean the sort without screens involved. You’d be surprised how refreshing it can be to forego the email back-and-forth in favor of going up to the colleague in question to hash things out in person. Not only can this ease the agony of waiting for a reply, but the human contact in an increasingly digital world will be a refreshing change for you both. 
  6. Talk to a Friend From a Completely Different Field. 
    You know how eating a big plate of carbs and cheese, while filling and delicious, can start to wear a little heavy on your taste buds and you begin longing for something else? The same goes for work, or anything in life really. Taking a break from your own industry and listening to someone discuss their own work challenges can teach you something you never knew. This also helps you look at things from a different angle – science tells us that new perspectives can help us become more creative problem-solvers, as approaches in one field may answer some nagging issues in your own. 
  7. Who Are You Up Against? 
    Nothing kicks us into gear quite like a little competition. Have a look at what other colleagues are doing; go to a networking event; do some research on what your company’s fiercest competitors are up to. In all likelihood, this will appeal to your determination not to get left behind and set you back on track. But while you’re at it… 
  8. Focus on Progress, Not Perfection. 
    Voltaire is famous for the saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Many of us think the world has gone to hell when the results don’t meet our expectations; and overanalyzing work in its beta stage may be why you feel stuck. The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin says that it helps not to be so hard on yourself: “In some situations, the happier course is to know when good enough is good enough, and not to worry about perfection or making the perfect choice.” This doesn’t mean everything has to be done half-heartedly; rather, that we should save our time and energy by recognizing that many things are fine as long as they meet the basic criteria; which gives us time to focus on what truly matters. 
  9. A Change of Scenery. 
    When all else fails, including locking yourself up in a conference room to work, get out of the office. Luckily, the past few years have seen the rise of the co-working space, an instant office away from office without the added calories of Starbucks and without the persistent accounts person knocking every five minutes. The better ones even come equipped with a full range of office equipment and staff to attend to your every administrative need. Think of these serviced spaces as work hotels. They’re an excellent way to get work done in a calm, productivity-inspiring atmosphere without the usual distractions of your everyday environment. 

In short – ruts can be excellent as signs for us to properly regroup and reset our sights. In fact, it’s usually when muddling through a rut that breakthroughs happen. But the first step is recognizing that as they say on airplanes, “Fix your own life vest before helping others with theirs,” so take care of yourself, and the work will follow.