How to Get Out of a Rut and Out of a Slump

by David Ning · 10 comments

Do you have any tips on how to get out of a rut? I’m always stuck and can’t seem to finish anything at work, but I really need this job and I’m afraid I will be fired. How do I keep the job and continue to bring home the paychecks that my family desperately need?

The reader question came at the perfect time, because before I got the email, I found myself unable to think of what to write either. I believe I started my struggle at around 8:15am (or thereabouts) and it’s now 10:18pm. For literally two hours, I was surfing the web, chatting unenthusiastically with people online and clicking send/receive in my email program so many times it would’ve broke if it was a mechanical button.

I finally decided to do something about it, I went to a coffee shop. In the middle of a billion people ordering lattes, music in the background and loud friendly college students who I’m sure couldn’t wait to get back to school, reading the email turned on my thinking cap and words are pouring out right this moment. The solution was simple really – a little change in environment and a little help from someone else.

I know, many of you are working right about now and leaving the office isn’t exactly possible, so here are a few suggestions next time your brain needs a bit of thawing:

  • Go Get Some Coffee – No, not to Starbucks. I mean the free coffee in the lunch room. For the housework challenged (or just plain old lazy) amongst us, making fresh coffee actually works much better than pouring it into our cup because it takes your mind off the task that you are stuck at.
  • Do Something Else – Unless your parents own the business and you are the only heir to the company, you probably have more than one task that you need to complete. If you are stuck, try to focus your attention on another task and come back to the original project later. Sometimes, a change of pace is all you need.
  • Talk to Your Boss – Don’t go in with your white flag and admit defeat. What I mean is to just talk to your boss and have an intelligent conversation. It doesn’t even have to be about the task you are stuck on, but a second opinion might spark your creative engine again. I would suggest talking to a coworker, but not every boss likes to see their employees chatting all the time.
  • Do Something Related but Totally Different – If you also write about personal finance, you could read a trade magazine for example. If you are a coder, you may want to write a small application related to what you are passionate about. Sometimes, the time spent away from work is just as important than time spent at work.
  • Give Your Job Serious Thought – I know this sounds impossible, but you may be better off with a different career. There may be another position within the company that fits your skill set better, and who knows…. you may thrive after you made the change. Give your strengths some serious thought, and try to determine if the slump is just temporary.  After some honest sessions, you may be able to find the path that’s the brightest and easiest to walk.

I know this is general, but the reader was in the programming field and specific advice is out of my area of expertise. I promised him that I will write an article about it, so perhaps my amazing readers can be of more help. Do you have any suggestions for him? Have you been in a rut but managed to crawl out of it? How did you do it?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

CD Rates Blog August 20, 2009 at 7:13 am

“How do I keep the job and continue to bring home the paychecks that my family desperately need?”

That isn’t enough motivation…

David, at the end of the email you mentioned he was in the programming field. That is one of my duties and even what I do on my own for extra income. For me, I love programming, but sometimes I just don’t feel like doing it. However, once I start the challenge invigorates me. So just open up the code and I think your juices will start flowing.

The other things are great ideas, too. But, eventually, you need to sit back down and get to work. Another thing that may help, is seeing if they will purchase some tools such as books or tools that can help keep you fresh. Sometimes taking a break and learning some new technique or fresh ideas for solving various problems can help give you the boost to return to the “mundane”.

Hope that helps. :O)

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MoneyNing August 20, 2009 at 7:58 am

Those are great tips. I was actually a coder for a bit of my career, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to write coder 101 tips on a post :) Now that I’m in the comment section, I’d like to point out that one thing I found EXTREMELY useful when I was at work was to break everything into modules, then just save those pieces of code for later re-use.

For example, let’s say I have to write a code to get to the bank. If I already wrote an application to walk in a straight line for 10 feet, I just repeat that piece of code 100 times and voila, I have the code to get to the bank. It will never be the most efficient code but in reality, it gets the job done the quickest and with computing power so advanced, it make sense (I know, the example leaves out a bunch of details but I’m sure the reader will get the idea).

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Peter August 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

I really like the idea of speaking with others. Sometimes (a lot of times actually), a colleague or someone else will say something that will trigger your brain to think of the solution.

I don’t agree with sitting in front of the computer when you are stuck because you will just stare at the blank screen. What works for me is to actually take a piece of paper and pen and try to crudely draw out what needs to be done. For some reason, it works better on paper and then once I have the solution, I can go back to my desktop and hack out the solution.

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Thicken My Wallet August 20, 2009 at 8:05 am

I agree with your idea of breaking a larger task into smaller pieces and finishing it to build small victories, confidence and momentum.

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marci August 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I use the rewards system….ie,….tell myself, when I get done with..this… I will reward myself by doing…this(something fun)….. fill in the blanks. Works for me.

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Billy August 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm

What works for me is to stick to the task at hand, cut off all distractions by wearing a noise canceling headphone without music on, and just plow through. I find that even if I end up scratching the majority of what I come up with, it gets me through the rough patches much quicker than if I just did nothing about it.

I know it’s almost the opposite of what the author is suggesting, but it works for me and maybe it will work for you.

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Meaghan August 24, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Good advice…I find that just taking a quick walk will help recharge me.

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Jessica August 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Great tips. It always works to take a break. I never get why people try to stare at the screen thinking it will solve their problem quicker.

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DDFD @ DivorcedDadFrugalDad September 1, 2009 at 9:21 am

I say chunk it. Break big projects into smaller ones and do the fun ones first. Another approach is to do the fun projects as a reward for doing the boring parts. Either way you move forward.

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Linus June 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Its a situation that we can all get into and yes little change and little help is awesome advice.

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