Are You Stuck in a Work Rut? Here's How to Bust Out of It

April 19, 2017

One of the best ways to get out of a rut is to mindfully change a thing or two in your daily routine.

Do you feel like you’ve been doing the same thing day after day after day, and you're tired of it? That your creativity is zapping away as you tackle the same challenges over and over?

Well, you aren’t alone. Most jobs lead to us feeling that way – our brains are wired to create repetitive processes over time, so we can more easily solve problems using less energy.

This is good, but it also causes us to fall into ruts.

If you stay in a rut for too long, parts of your brain will atrophy. And that isn’t just bad for your career, but also your long-term health.

So what do you do if you are in a rut?

Well, in his LinkedIn Learning course appropriately named Breaking Out of a Rut, Course Instructor and Hint’s Director of Creative Strategy Stefan Mumaw said there are three types of ruts: short-term ruts, mid-term ruts and long-term ruts.

Here’s a brief definition of each:

  • Short-term ruts:

“Short-term ruts are ones of daily repetition,” Mumaw said in his course. “They usually manifest as a series of unconscious choices that lead to similar executional results.”

For example, if you are a designer and you are using the same fonts in project after project, you are probably in a short-term rut. It means your creativity is waning and you need to break out of it.

  • Mid-term ruts:

A mid-term rut is when you feel like your career is beginning to stagnate or your performance has plateaued. To bust out of it, often you need to learn a new skill or improve in an area.

Getting out of a mid-term rut doesn’t require a complete life change, just improving upon what you’ve already built.

  • Long-term ruts:

Long-term ruts are the most serious of the bunch and also the least common. To bust out of these, you need to make a significant life change.

For example, if you want to lost 50 pounds and keep it off, that would require a massive behavioral change. Or, if you wanted to change careers from say sales to marketing, it’s likely because you are in a long-term rut.

How to break out from a rut

Mid-term ruts and long-term ruts are less common and they also take longer to bust out of. Mumaw gives plans on busting out of both in his course: here’s what to do if you are in a mid-term rut and here’s what to do if you are in a long-term rut.

The good news though? Most ruts are of the short-term variety and only require a short-term solution to bust out of them. Here’s a list from Mumaw of solutions you can do if you find yourself in a short-term rut, and need help busting out of it.

1. Become a pattern hunter

A rut is caused by doing the same thing over and over again.

So, the key to breaking out of a rut is to break out of your routine. For smaller ruts, this can be a relatively modest change: perhaps it’s setting aside 20 minutes a day to read, setting aside time to reflect or approaching work in a new way.

To make this a reality, Mumaw suggests writing down your daily, weekly and monthly routines. And then he suggests changing one task in each routine – even if it’s just a one-off thing, to shake things up and get your mind thinking creatively again.

2. Solve something new

If your mind is tired of solving the same problem over and over again, solve a new problem.

This can be working on a new project at work or even making up a fictional problem for yourself to solve. For example, challenging yourself to design the world’s best backpack in 11 minutes can reactivate the creative parts of your mind.

3. Seek out something that inspires you.

Work is about output: outputting code, outputting sales pitches, outputting content, outputting whatever. Sometimes, it’s time for some input.

So read a book, watch a movie, go to a show that you are passionate about. Just seek out some art form that inspires you, whether it be gazing at Picasso’s Three Musicians or watching the 1982 classic Rocky III.

4. Get handy

Ever notice how you get really creative ideas in the shower?

That’s because your hands are busy. Interestingly enough, studies have shown your ability to focus and be creative increases when your hands are busy, Mumaw said.

So, if you are in a rut, play with some clay. Or work on some Legos. Seriously. Sounds crazy, but having your hands be busy will help your mind focus.

5. Get out

Tired, stressed and burnt out?

Get out of the office. Taking a 15-minute walk can make all the difference.

For bigger ruts, a long weekend visiting someplace you’ve never been before usually does the trick. New experiences or a change-of-scenery are tried-and-true rut busters.

6. Turn your work into a game.

A great way to get out of a rut, particularly if you are a naturally competitive person, is to turn your work into a game. How could you improve your key metrics by 5 percent? Or even 2 percent?

You can even turn mundane tasks into games. Can you finish all your status reports in an hour? Or answer every email in the next 30 minutes, while maintaining high quality?

These small competitions wake up your mind and often cause you to think of creative solutions, all while getting you out of that rut.

The takeaway

There’s no shame in falling into a rut and it doesn’t mean you need to rethink your entire life. Most ruts – particularly short-term ruts – are the inevitable byproduct of repetitive work, and our mind makes work repetitive intentionally, Mumaw said.

Hence, ruts are inevitable.

The key is being able to recognize when you are in a rut and then mindfully working your way out of them. Find which of the six tactics listed above works best for you – or perhaps there’s another technique you prefer – to get out of that rut, ensuring your short-term rut doesn’t becomes a long-term one.

One of the best ways to break out of a rut is to learn something new. Check out one of our 9,000+ courses at LinkedIn Learning, covering everything from tech to creative to soft skills, and learn something new today.