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How to get out of your rut at work

Summer is over, and your job is back in full swing. For some of us, that is a thrilling prospect. For others, it’s a bit of a groan.

If you’re the latter, and your job is no longer a source of enjoyment or pride, then something needs to change. You are capable of SO MUCH MORE: so much more creativity, so much more brilliance, and so much more happiness. Let this blog be your wake-up call to get out of your rut and into action.

But how?

For the moment, I want you to forget about the big question of "should I leave my job?” We will figure that out soon enough.

First, you need to ask yourself a different question: “what can I do to enjoy my current role more?”

This may seem like an irrelevant question to ponder, especially if you are already considering leaving your job. However, if you are bored, bummed, or burnt out in your current role, you are likely to make an emotional decision about what to do next. That likely won't land you in the right role, either.

For example, when I was doing scientific research and all of my experiments were failing, I felt the strong urge to leave science entirely. But the truth was that I actually did enjoy running experiments, and was decently good at them… it was just that I was frustrated by my experiments failing day after day.

In order to make clear choices about your future, then, you need to clean up your present. Here is how to do it:

1. Take an inventory of what is stopping you from loving your current role.

Give yourself permission to rant for 10 minutes. Write it all down, every last word. Does your job have a fire alarm mentality that is burning you out? Have you performed the same role for too long, and are bored with it? Do you wonder if your boss is a sociopath? Have you stopped learning new things? Get it all out, and don’t stop until you are empty.

2. Pick one “lynch-pin” challenge to take on.

Examine your list, and pick one item that you want to solve. This should be an item that, if fixed, would significantly improve the quality of your work life.

For example, one of my clients, Caitlyn, was simply exhausted from always having more things on her To Do list than could ever get done, and feeling like she was failing at her job because of this. When I asked her what it would be like to go home each night feeling like she had done exactly the right amount of work, she said it would feel light and happy. This was a good candidate.

3. Design one “inspired action” that will help the situation.

I have found that there is almost always one action or two that you can take to make the situation better. It may not be obvious, so you may want to consult a coach, friend, or colleague. In my experience, the problem is not that there isn’t a solution, it’s that you haven’t gone looking for it in the right places… or at all.

For example, Caitlyn and I decided that her inspired action would be to make a list each day of what she would accomplish, and she was allowed to put no more than six items on that list. This was, in truth, the same number of tasks she usually got done in a day, but there was a huge psychological difference for her between accomplishing 6/6 tasks, as opposed to 6/20!

Good inspired actions typically are: having "difficult" conversations, taking on a fresh approach to your time, saying "No" more often, asking for what you really want/need, and getting more sleep and exercise.

4. Become a disciple of your inspired action.

Practice this new action for two weeks. This is where you, dear reader, are likely to fail. It’s easy to read a blog like this and think, “oh, that’s a good idea.” But unless you commit to making this inspired action sacred and actually do it, it won’t make any difference in your career. If you are ready to get out of your rut, sign yourself up for those two weeks!

5. Observe the changes, and learn from them.

Like in any engineering discipline, once you have an idea for the solution to a problem, you test it out. After two weeks of trying out your inspired action, observe how you feel. How is your current situation different? You likely will feel better and less frustrated at work. If not, then observe why not.

How does your inspired action need to be modified to better serve you? Most “prototypes” don’t work the first time, and it takes some fine-tuning to find just the right cure.

6. Repeat, starting at step 1.

Given what you have learned about your inspired action and the obstacle you are up against, start the cycle over again, but better this time around!

If you experiment with this system, I promise that you will start to feel better about your current role. My clients have learned how to relate to their bosses in more constructive ways, design schedules that leave them space to thrive, infuse new learning into their work, and get the appreciation that they crave.

This is not to say that you should stay in your job. We will address that next.

But just like jumping out of one boat into another, it’s usually a good idea to fix the leaks in the first boat before you jump into the second. Otherwise, you will pick the second boat for the wrong reason: that it doesn’t have leaks.

In care,

Image courtesy of Kate Ter Haar

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