How to Get Out of a Rut at Work

I often wonder why we’re called human beings. We should be called humans doing. Go, go, go, do, do, do - we are so caught up in our routines, our responsibilities, our commitments that we barely have any time to be, let alone become. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut at work (and in life), a state where we become complacent, where we don’t hold high hopes for things changing for the better or for our ability to affect that change.

When a Gallup poll shows an astonishing 70% at work are disengaged, and among that 20% are actively disengaged, that’s a whole lot of records stuck in a groove on the turntable of life.

It’s time to change the tune.

You have the power to get yourself, and others, unstuck.

You just need a little know-how and an attitude of no-more. Here are 6 ways to get unstuck and leave that rut behind.

1. Take responsibility

Unstuck starts with “U," and You. You have to realize you’re in a rut before you can pull yourself out of one. American humorist Will Rogers said “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces”. Be honest with yourself if you’ve put it in “park” and take ownership to get it back in “drive”.

2. Ascertain the pattern, then airlift yourself out

When we get stuck, by definition we are caught in a pattern of some sort. This is about being self-aware enough to recognize the specifics of the pattern that you’ve fallen into and the corresponding habits that are weighing you down. If someone else was examining your behaviors that have you stuck – what would they point out? Are you repeatedly telling yourself “just a few more years of this”? Are you continually avoiding new challenges when they arise or dodging conversations with friends on how you are doing? The critical first step is to embrace a state of awareness about the patterns and behaviors that get us stuck. Then, and only then, can you change your behaviors and begin working to yank yourself out of it.

3. Recommit to the concept of challenge

Think of what it means to challenge – it’s to put opposition against or test the abilities of something. When we’re stuck in a rut, we tend to push the very idea of challenge out of our peripheral zone so we can numbly stay in our false comfort zone. We’re in a mode of repetition and path of least resistance. We aren’t challenging much of anything – our assumptions, the status quo, or ourselves. We weren’t always like this – we can remind ourselves of how exhilarating it is to be challenged by starting small. But mostly, just start – think of challenge as a curious notion in and of itself and pique your interest in the idea and its potential once again.

4. Look through a higher order lens

Much about getting unstuck is to reframe the current state, to look at it from a new angle in an effort to see things from a more promising viewpoint. There may be no more powerful lens for getting someone to change their worldview then to help them find meaning in what they do. When we find a way to give work greater personal significance, to assign it meaning, we change our relationship with that work. When we discover a sense of purpose in what we do or are able to articulate the lasting legacy we want to work towards, it rips us out of our malaise.

5. Get “next” going

It’s hard to change course if you don’t have a destination. We can get stuck at times simply because we haven’t had any discussions with anyone on what could be next in our work path – in terms of growth opportunities, job rotations, new projects, expanded responsibilities, or even entirely new jobs. This is about finding out what you can get excited about in the near term and reminding yourself what your longer term aspirations are. But you have to take that step to get the discussion going (and be firm about it). Even an initial conversation on what could be next can spark renewed interest in one’s work and help move things from a rut to a route – to something reinvigorating.

6. Make change easier

Getting unstuck often requires change. Change can be hard, really hard. So make change easier. There are many ways to go about this. Break change into small, manageable steps, take them one at a time, and take time to appreciate each bit of progress. Start with the assumption that change will fundamentally lead to good things. Remember the last time you went through change – odds are you made it through! Examine those who have managed to pull off change successfully and learn from them. Be mindful of your inner dialogue and don’t talk yourself out of change. Imagine the positive scenario on the other side of change. And perhaps most importantly, simply have faith that you will indeed figure it out and adapt along the way.

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