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, but this didn’t help: I was in no man’s lands—torn between wanting to work and taking a break—a very uncomfortable position to be in because I was doing neither of those things and only tiring myself out.
I’m sure you too can recognize these feelings—if not, chances are good you’ll go through this phase at some stage. After all, it’s perfectly normal; we’re not robots that can work non-stop—it’s not possible.
While the odd rut may be normal, it can become a problem if it manifests itself often. Unlike a regular office job that guarantees you a monthly salary even if you go through a slump, self-employment isn’t as forgiving, and you’ll feel it where it matters most: Your pocket. The good news is there are some simple ways to break out of these ruts and even prevent them from occurring in the first place.
4 Steps for When You’re Stuck in a Rut
1. Stuck in a Rut? Pinpoint the Causes
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. But determining the causes isn’t easy as you’re often so consumed with how you’re feeling at that very moment. Is it any surprise we can usually only pinpoint the causes in hindsight?
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
And, remember: Ensure that you actually solve the problem and not the symptom. If, for example, your work is suffering because your personal life is a shambles, address your personal life, not your professional one.
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.
You need to find ways to engage yourself; there’s no one to do it for you. 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.
Indeed, feeling like you’re in a rut may be a warning sign that burnout is around the corner. It’s at that very moment that you should accept that you need a break. More importantly, acknowledge that these feelings are normal. After all, there are plenty of examples of top leaders, like Steve Jobs, who have gone on a sabbatical. You’re no different.
So, don’t beat yourself up about it; no one is superhuman and sometimes just a small amount of time away will help you recharge your batteries so you can return feeling energized.
Time-off is especially crucial for you, the small business owner, as you carry extra pressure: You’re supposed to be doing what you love which means you shouldn’t get sick of it, right? Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth— often time apart from doing what you love keeps you excited about it.
Tip: When you do decide to take a break, make sure you DO actually take a break and resist the urge to fight it as this will only tire you out.
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. This may be what’s missing in your business…
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.
Sure, that voice won’t always be there, but by connecting with others I remind myself that I haven’t lost my passion and that I do have knowledge to share. Perhaps, it’s time I became a coach?
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.
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 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 instil more enjoyment and fun into it.
To find these people consider attending local meet-ups or, connect 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.
In your professional life, you’re bound to get stuck in a rut at some point. While it’s easy to be hard on yourself, the better approach may be to first acknowledge their presence, before finding solutions to break out of them. Fighting them 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 will pass.
Have you been stuck in a rut? How did you get out of it?