Stuck in a rut? Don’t worry, here are four simple ways to break out of yours.
No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get down to work. I had no motivation to work, and as the weeks continued to pass, it became abundantly clear: I was stuck in a rut. It got so bad that I took time off (from my dream job at that), but this didn’t help: I was in no man’s lands—torn between wanting to work and taking a break—despite my best effort, I was in a very uncomfortable position because I was doing neither of those things and only tiring myself out.
Sound familiar? Chances are, you’ve experienced something similar. Feeling stuck and getting into a rut is a normal part of life. (And if not, chances are you’ll go experience this “just a rut” experience at some point in your life.)
But just because ruts are a normal part of life doesn’t mean they’re not challenging. And they’re particularly challenging when you don’t have a “regular” job and you’re self-employed—and your future, your income, and your livelihood revolve around your ability to focus, move forward, and get past feeling stuck.
The good news? While feeling stuck in a rut is a challenging experience, it’s also one that’s fairly straightforward to break out of. Let’s take a look at a few simple strategies to break out of these ruts.
1. Stuck in a Rut? Pinpoint the Causes
You can’t get out of a rut if you don’t know what’s causing it. This is why the first step to getting out of a rut is identifying what’s driving you to feel stuck in the first place.
Identifying what’s causing your rut will help determine where you need to put your energy and assist in finding solutions to break out of it. For example, if you’re stuck in a rut because you’re exhausted, taking care of your health and prioritizing adequate sleep can help you get back on track. If stress has you feeling stuck, making an effort to seek out support, engaging in stress-busting habits (like meditation), or taking a vacation can be just what you need to shake your rut.
But determining the causes for your rut isn’t always easy—as you’re often so consumed with how you’re feeling at that very moment, it can be hard to determine what’s actually behind those feelings.
That being said, there are some common reasons why ruts do occur—being aware of these will help identify what’s causing yours:
- Something in your personal life may be disengaging you from work
- You may be working too much and on the brink of burnout
- The work itself could be the problem
Once you recognize and identify what’s causing your rut, you can start making progress towards addressing those causes—which is key to getting to a better place with your work.
2. Accept It May Be Time for a Break
Unlike traditional employment that offers you holidays and sabbaticals, managers who work hard to find ways to engage you when you’re not “feeling it,” and set work hours — self-employment requires that YOU control ALL of these things.
When you work for yourself, you’re in charge. You have to set your work hours—and stick to those hours or risk feeling overworked to the point where you’re feeling tired and on the brink of burnout.
But it can be easy to forget that and to work more in a day, week, or month than you planned. And in that case, feeling like you’re in a rut may be a warning sign that burnout is around the corner.
If you realize that you’re experiencing a rut because you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, it’s time to take a step back and take a break.
Schedule time off from work. Spend time with your loved ones, like your partner or best friend. Prioritize exercise and other activities that support your well-being. Do things that refill your cup, re-energize you, and help you get rid of your low mood and increase your low energy (like practice gratitude or engage with a hobby you love).
Remember: no one is superhuman and sometimes just a small amount of time away will help you recharge your batteries—so you can return to work feeling energized.
3. Connect With Others — Become a Teacher
During the time of my rut, I distinctly recall receiving a Facebook message from a friend who wanted to meet and pick my brain about how to start a writing business. Little did I know, this meeting would be the spark to get me out of my rut.
During this meeting, I felt how my enthusiasm took over as I explained how he could start his own writing business. This meeting was a reminder of what had been missing all these months.
The passion and excitement that came from connecting with and helping others and making the world a better place—even for one person? That might also be what’s missing from your business—and contributing to your rut.
As humans, we are social creatures, and often things become meaningful when we connect with them indirectly through another human. My sense of excitement and passion for writing, for example, became clear when talking about it—I could actually hear how enthusiastic I was.
The point is, next time you feel like you’re in a rut, ask yourself: “When was the last time I spoke to someone about what I do? When was the last time I helped someone?” If this is a distant memory, it may be time to reignite this flame. Connect with a colleague or co-worker and see if there’s anything you can do to help them hit their long-term goals. This act of service could be just what you need to get rid of your rut once and for all!
4. Re-Engage Yourself
It’s easy to get caught in a bubble where you’re so consumed by the daily grind that you lose sight of the bigger picture and start feeling like everything is monotonous and lacks meaning. It’s then that you should take a new route, head in a new direction, and look for new experiences and ways to re-engage yourself. You could, for example, start a new project that’s not related to client work. This could be the creation of a newsletter or experimenting with new ways to find clients.
Or, you could step out of your business and go and talk to others who are running their own or even doing what you’re doing. This will help you gather new knowledge, insights, approaches, and tools that will not only improve how you run your business, but instill more enjoyment and fun into it.
To find these people consider attending local meet-ups or connecting with them online. I took the latter approach two years ago and haven’t looked back. After connecting with three small business owners, we’ve built an online business and regularly chat on Slack where we share tools, tricks, and techniques to grow our businesses.
5. Kick Perfectionism To The Curb
It’s impossible to do everything perfectly, and if your focus is on running your business in a “perfect” way, you’re eventually going to burn out—and find yourself exhausted, unmotivated, and stuck in a rut.
For example, let’s say you have a freelance writing business. Editing your work is, of course, important. But if you spend hours editing each piece, trying to get it to a “perfect” place, the work is going to pile up, you’re going to feel overwhelmed, and before you know it, you’re going to feel stuck in a never-ending cycle of work.
That’s why, if you want to get out of a rut, one of the best things you can do? Kick perfectionism to the curb—and stop holding yourself and your business to impossible standards.
Now, we’re not saying to stop trying. Far from it! Just don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Create a work standard that you feel good attaching to your name and reputation—and then commit to that work standard, even though it’s technically not “perfect.” This can help you get a better handle on your time and your workload, keep motivation and enthusiasm for your work high, and help you get out of (and avoid) a rut.
So, using the freelance writing example again, instead of spending hours editing every piece of writing, you might commit to doing two rounds of edits on each article (including one round of edits with an external editor to catch any mistakes you might have missed) before sending to a client. That way, you know you did your due diligence in making sure you’re sending off a clean, well-editing piece of copy to your clients—but you’re not spinning your wheels (and spending your time) aiming for perfection.
6. Celebrate Wins
When you’re stuck in a rut, it can feel like everything with your business is going wrong. But there are always positives to acknowledge—and celebrating those wins might be just want you need to reengage with your business and shake off that stuck feeling you’ve been dealing with.
If you’ve been feeling stuck in your business, start looking for one thing each day that’s going well—and that you can celebrate. It can be a big win (like landing a new client) or little wins (like getting an invoice paid on time or ending work earlier than you expected). But whatever it is, carve out time every day to acknowledge and appreciate at least one win you experienced at work.
Taking the time to celebrate what’s going well in your business can remind you that you’re capable and successful—which can help you move past that dreaded stuck feeling and get out of your rut.
Overwhelm happens when there’s not enough time, energy, or motivation to get everything you need done in your business finished. And when you experience overwhelm, that “stuck” feeling probably isn’t far behind.
If you feel stuck in a rut because you don’t have the bandwidth to manage your business, there’s only one thing to do to get out of that rut—and that’s simplifying things.
There are a few different ways you can simplify things in your business, get rid of overwhelm, and get out of your rut, including:
- Hire help. If you have the budget, hiring someone to help you get tasks off your plate can help you stay focused on the parts of your business you’re passionate about—which can help you avoid overwhelm and get out of a rut.
- Automate tasks. By using technology and software to automate tasks (for example, scheduling meetings or sending invoices), you can free up your time and energy to focus on more important tasks—which, again, can keep overwhelm at bay.
- Reduce your workload. Sometimes, you simply have too much work to handle. And in that scenario, you may need to consider reducing your workload—and offloading work that’s either less lucrative, more time-consuming, or less exciting than your other projects.
8. Take Small Steps
When you’re stuck in a rut, it’s easy to feel like you’ll be stuck there forever. And when you feel that stuck, it can be hard to move forward.
But in order to get out of your rut, you do have to move forward. So, when that feels overwhelming, it’s best to start small.
Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do to get out from under your professional rut, think of small steps you can take that will move you in the direction of being excited about your business again. For example, is there a client you’ve been wanting to work with for years? Shoot them an email. Is there a must-read business book that’s been on your list? Carve out 20 minutes each morning to read a chapter. Have you been feeling overwhelmed and too busy? Take off a Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend.
Individually, these small steps might not seem like much. But collectively, they can take you in the direction you need to go—away from feeling stuck and towards feeling energized and excited about your business.
In your professional life, you’re bound to get stuck in a rut in your job at some point. While it’s easy to be hard on yourself and get frustrated that techniques that have previously worked aren’t working, the better approach is to first acknowledge that you’re in a rut. Then find solutions to break out of it. Fighting a rut will only make things harder.
Breaking out of these ruts will often involve making a few simple, yet powerful, changes in your life, such as spending more time connecting with others or even engaging with new projects. Other times, you may need to take time off altogether. Regardless of how you choose to shake yourself out of these ruts, know they’re never as bad as you think and they too shall pass. Forward progress may slow down, but you will get through it, and find new inspiration and interest in work and life.
Have you been stuck in a rut? How did you get out of it?
This article was updated in April 2022.