Stuck in a Professional Rut? Here’s What You Can Do About It

November 14, 2016, 4:00 PM UTC
sad businesswoman
mid adult italian business woman banging her head against a wall outside office building. Square shape, copy space
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Whether you’re running your own business or working for a big corporation, you’ve probably experienced days where you feel stuck in a rut, unable to tap into your creativity, and nothing seems interesting. I call it “blinking cursor syndrome,” a state in which I don’t want to compose an email, write an article, work on a side project, or even Google anything. When it strikes, I always feel small, alone, lost, and unable.

It’s not a topic many blogger-to-entrepreneur gurus seem to cover, since it belongs to the darker side of being in business (or simply being human). So how can we get back on track when we fall into a professional depression that’s hard to shake — no less own up to? Follow these 10 steps to get inspired in the face of a paralyzing work slump.

Step 1: Be honest with yourself and others

It’s okay to feel unmotivated from time to time, so acknowledging it without beating yourself up can help the feeling pass more quickly.

It can also be surprisingly refreshing to simply open up about what you’re experiencing. There’s no doubt that your friends, family, or colleagues have felt the same way in the past, and they may even have some ideas for how you can get your groove back.

Step 2: Put the phone down

When you feel unmotivated, your creation-consumption ratio can get out of whack. You’ll read more articles, spend more time on social media, and find comfort in exchanging messages with family and friends, but this absorption in technology only further drains your ability to focus and generate your own ideas. It can also lead to comparing yourself to others and feeling even more uninspired and inadequate.

Step 3: Clean your physical space

For many people, there’s a direct and powerful connection between mental and physical clutter. Take a break to clean your room and organize your desk. A clean sweep of your physical environment can subconsciously generate a fresh start in your professional mindset.

Step 4: Assess your health and wellness habits

A lack of motivation in the workplace can cause you to neglect your body’s needs, which sets off a vicious cycle as neglecting your body will likely cause you to feel even more off-balance in the workplace. Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. Investing in the body is investing in the mind, and sometimes a renewed focus on wellness at home can be the spark you need to feel excited and competent at work, too.

Step 5: Start with something familiar

Working on a fresh project, going to a different event, or meeting new people can be really taxing when you’re in a vulnerable, unmotivated state. Instead of overwhelming yourself, turn to something you reliably find interesting and start there. As a writer, I’ll read Tolstoy and self-development blogs to whet my appetite for projects outside of my comfort zone.

Related: Being Miserable at Work Doesn’t Mean You Have to Quit

Step 6: Pace yourself

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the more stimulation you give yourself, the more quickly one of these sources will “stick” and bring you out of your rut. It’s ok to start slow. Try attending a single new event, beginning a small portion of a larger project, or having lunch with one new acquaintance at a time.

Step 7: Keep track of what is interesting

As you take measured steps forward, keep track of what excites you. If you attend an event that gives you a new business idea or meet a colleague who gives valuable insight into your part of the business, write it all down and periodically review what’s resonated with you.

Step 8: Reach out to your network

As a freelancer, I lose motivation when I’ve been working in isolation for too long. When that happens, I make an effort to set up coffee dates, move to a new co-working space, or attend a networking event. Whenever you feel alone and uninspired, connect with others.

Related: How to Make a Major Life Decision, in 9 Steps

Step 9: Consider the bigger picture

We have a tendency as human beings to think about ourselves in fundamentally self-centered ways, asking questions such as: “Where am I going in the world?” “What’s my purpose?” “What am I creating?” That leads to a lot of pressure.

Try shifting your focus from this micro perspective (i.e. what kind of things do I want to achieve) to a macro perspective (i.e. what are society’s bigger problems), which can help you feel more connected to the world — and more motivated as a result.

Start thinking about things like: “What groups of people and issues do I care about?” “What big ideas do I find most compelling?” “Where can I participate and co-create?”

Step 10: Just get going

Above all, it’s important to know that creating, exploring, changing, and understanding doesn’t come from thinking, but from action. When you feel paralyzed in the face of opportunity, indecision, or frustration, don’t drown in analyzing the way forward, just shuffle your feet a little bit in any direction. Eventually, you’ll find momentum and hit your stride, but you have to take the risk and take that first step.