Most days I like my job. Usually my job is challenging and I learn things about myself and other people, and I feel that I am helping people to improve other people’s lives. Some days though, I hit a rut and lose focus. Those days I fantasize about I would like really like to be doing: Being independently wealthy, living somewhere on a tropical island, taking more schooling, travelling, being at home and making random messes… it all sounds like a lot of fun. Then I slip into the mode of fantasizing about my next career move and how awesome or perfect that will be (don’t burst my bubble, at least it makes me smile). These fantasies are more appealing when I feel stuck in a rut. You probably have experienced the slow death of sameness… same routine, same projects, same pile of papers on your desk, same issues… “Same same double same now I know your girlfriends name.” (That was weird, not sure where that came from!)
When I am in routines that are boring or I feel the slow death of sameness creeping up on me, I have a set of practices that I use to help push me to become more energized. Most of the ideas I have below are not limited to job or career. They can be used to help you decide on new personal, educational, fitness, relationship or career directions (The big stuff). Or, they can just be to help you for now (The other stuff). Either way, I offer what works for me.
Disclaimer: I need to say that I did not create all of these ideas. They came from books, conversations, watching what works for other people, experimenting on myself, listening to podcasts, watching Big Bang Theory and a few ideas that I came up with at 2:16 am one day. Some of the ideas below are very straightforward and need no explanation. Others require more work and more thought. (Yes, Virgina there is work involved here.) Usually for me ruts are about needing a change that is big enough to be interesting but not so big that I have to uproot myself from a job, change where I live, or change the color of my hair (I have done that once). Sometimes, though, the change does need to be substantial and the ideas below can spark important changes for you.
My tips for what you can do when you are stuck (not in order):
1. Begin small. Usually when you are in a rut, just starting feels like having to break through layers of rust and grit. Each decision or action may feel like a grind. When you start, you create energy. Moving makes the momentum.
• Invest 10 minutes each day for a week in a project or behavior that you are avoiding. At the end of the week, that is almost an hour in the project. For me, usually the first few days are tough because it feels so huge. If I take 10 minutes to write down a (messy) plan on one page it gives me a direction to go in. Then I can improve on that the next day by working for just 10 minutes on it.
2. Be appreciative. If you cannot change your job right now (or another part of your life), change how you look at your job or how you talk about it.
• Begin your day by making a list of ten different things you appreciate about your job. Then tomorrow, ten more things, then ten more.
3. Change one thing at work that is in your power to change. Break the routine gently. No big changes here. If it is too big, you won’t do it.
• Walk for a lunch break instead of looking at the screen of death, go for lunch with someone different or in a different space, get outside, avoid doing more computer work and instead talk to a person.
4. Change one thing in your personal life. Again, smaller is better.
• Pick up the hobby you have put off by spending 10 minutes on it. For me, I like to paint but it can be a process to get everything ready. Drawing a small sketch, selecting a picture I hope to paint, setting up my painting gear, preparing a canvas are each steps towards painting.
• Exercise just ten minutes each day. Try walking, it requires no special gear and you can do it anywhere and with other people or alone.
5. Tell a close friend or supervisor what you are feeling. Often just saying you are stuck gets some of the pent up negative energy out. That creates emotional room for something else. You may not know what that next thing is, but at least you have more emotional room for it now.
6. Ask for feedback – it can change your life. Be careful though, you may not like what you hear.
• Be clear about what you want feedback for. If you are in a rut, feedback may just confirm that you are in a rut… not helpful. Perhaps ask a co-worker or supervisor or good friend how they have been impacted by something you have done? What you could do to progress in a specific task of your job, or area of your life?
7. Shadow someone. Shadow someone doing a different job at the same company, different department or area. Volunteer to shadow someone. Shadow your shadow. Dance like no one is watching.
8. Maybe you don’t care about the rut? Maybe it is not important to make a change right now. That’s okay. Accept that and be at peace. You have a job and that may be enough for you right now. You don’t have to explain yourself, this is just where you are at.
9. Why you may want to care about the rut. Even if you don’t care (see previous tip), realize that not caring may make you more prone to depression, stress, poor nutritional decisions (eating junk), apathy. These things can eat at a person and create a pretty difficult cycle to break.
10. Meditate – Meditation has been shown to improve outlook and happiness, reduce stress, increase self-awareness and clear away negative emotions. Funny, it does not help to shorten my commute to work, put more money in the bank or help me with my taxes. What meditation does, is it helps me do each of these things with a little less stress. And that’s a good thing.
• Just breathe. Take some deep breaths and be thankful. Don’t sweat.
This is the first installment, version 1.0. The next part, Things you can do when you are stuck [in your job] 2.0 will be on the blog Monday.
Until then, Keep it Real.