Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five ways to stay productive when you're in a rut

We all get into them, and it takes some of us longer than others to get out of them. No, I'm not talking about the backseat of a two-door car (is anyone else completely inept at getting in and out of those?), but a rut. Sometimes it's a mental block, sometimes it's lack of inspiration. But that time doesn't have to be wasted. Here are my favorite ways to get stuff done even when I'm not feeling it.

1. Learn a new skill. One of my favorite ways to tackle a mental block is to pick something work-related that I want to learn how to do and get to work figuring out how to do it. For me, that something usually involves HTML, CSS, and Wordpress (I'm setting up a personal website for my freelancing), which I know will involve a good amount of time spent researching online. Google is a no-brainer.

2. Read up on your field. Back in my office days, I started each morning catching up on RSS feeds of nonprofit communications and higher education marketing blogs. As a result, I began almost every day with a new idea, and I was able to suggest new ways to do things and keep up with chatter at professional conferences.

3. Answer emails or do other "housekeeping" type tasks. Sometimes mental clutter is brought on by clutter elsewhere...your inbox, your desk, your life, etc. Forcing yourself to answer every email that you can in one sitting not only gets those things off your plate, but also lightens the pressure (which sometimes releases your mental block, too). Likewise, organizing random papers can bring to light some notes (and inspiration) that you'd forgotten about. If an abruptly ended conversation with a friend is still weighing on your mind, clear it up.

4. Do whatever it is you're avoiding. Just get it over with already. In journalism school there's a saying...write your first draft, delete everything but your last paragraph, and write your story using your last paragraph as your new lede. It doesn't work all of the time, but the point is that sometimes you know your first version is going to suck, so you might as well get it out of the way. For me, that means opening up Microsoft Word and writing...whatever. Sometimes it's stream of consciousness journaling, sometimes it's a blog post, sometimes it's fiction.
5. Exercise. I put this last because it's my least favorite of the list. This may not work for those committed to a desk from 8-5, but if you have the flexibility and freedom, get your body (and your brain moving. Even a brisk 15 minute walk can help clear your head. Outdoors and along the water preferred. 

How do you get out of a rut?


  1. Timely post, Angeline. I was just telling my husband that it's tiring to give 100% and stay motivated all the time. I've also found it helpful to look for inspiration in tangential fields. As a marketer, I've found that looking at design blogs and scrapbooking blogs really helps me get inspired to do ad mock-ups or website work. I spent a whole weekend making cards recently, and I came back to the office so refreshed and full of ideas for random projects. Thanks for the post :)

  2. I fall into ruts quite often because of the nature of my job. Sometimes I am doing purely creative things and don't want to handle the more technical side and sometimes I am doing purely office related things and can't get motivated for the creative stuff. I like to get up and walk a bit around the building where I work, check on the office on the first floor or grab a chai tea from the shop across the street. I totally agree about clutter being distracting as well. Sometimes, I just need to straighten up my whole office before I can get down to writing something or editing something. Great tips!

  3. Well, I usually go on line.
    Wether it's a blog, the H&M site, or Forever 21.
    Other times it's getting up and walking around the office and getting coffee.
    Also paying my bills - on line as then I realize I HAVE TO BE PRODUCTIVE and get that job done.

  4. such perfect timing!

    i'm not so much in a rut, but a serious life transition which at times has me feeling completely paralyzed and watching endless episodes of friday night lights on netflix {highly recommend this, btw. the show, not the paralysis}.

    starting fresh with a new week i decided to a post daily to the blog using maggie mason's book as inspiration, actually attend yoga classes {this week's ahimsa theme hit home}, go to the gym {can't feel guilty about it being expensive if i'm using it} and say yes when people offer their help.

    our neighbor came by and did the finishing trim on ruby's floor - bless him. a friend from high school is coming tomorrow to help me organize the chaos that is ruby's wardrobe and my kitchen.

    spot on post, friend. thank you!

  5. @ ashley - That's a great point, and I totally agree. I read a lot of PR blogs, even though I don't do PR. It's a lot of good info from a communications/journalism/blogging standpoint, though.

    @ lorena - I usually turn to the Internet, too, but I try to avoid shopping sites and some blogs...they just suck me in and the whole day is gone! This happens at home on weekends, too...I have bad self-control. :)

    @ Tami - I totally feel you...transitions can be so draining! Keep at will get better. My paralysis is finally starting to lift, and it feels great. I'm sure once Ruby is in your arms you will be nothing but inspired! So excited!


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