It's the end of the day and you look back on your results and find… nothing. The hours have dropped away and you are left with a notepad filled with doodles, a to-do list from last week and a headache from surfing the web. You can't understand why you have nothing to show for your working day? You were determined to be productive today so you didn't move from in front of your computer. You even ate lunch at your desk! You are in a work rut.
Sometimes a rut can stretch on for weeks. Usually this happens when you need to be working the most. I find it happens when I have an unusually large number of creative assignments looming over my head. In his fabulous book, "The War Of Art" (and if you haven't read it you must go out and buy it now) Stephen Pressfield gives this type of work rut a name - The Resistance. He presents the resistance as a real physical being - one that is standing in the way of you and your true calling... you and your best work.
There is nothing that quite incites my resistance like the thought of many hours of brain-straining creative thought. Hours that, when used productively, may actually put something of my best self out in to the world. Out in the world to be judged. Pretty scary. The resistance simply tells to me to do nothing. It's easier. It's safer.
Getting past the resistance calls for something quite drastic.
When you read the following scary solution to resistance you will feel resistance. Ironic, no? But give it a try it will help you climb step by step out of a work rut.
Step 1. Light The Pathway You can't climb out of a rut unless you can see the road ahead. Make a list of the things that need to get done. Include everything on the list not just the scary big projects that are inciting your resistance. Do you need to organize your Dropbox? Add that. Do you need to balance your budget? Add that. Do you need to create a new process? Add that
Step 2. Select The Task Of Most Resistance Read through the list. If a task causes the resistance monster to rise up inside of you, that’s the one to tackle first.
Step 3. Set A Timer Set a timer for 30 minutes. You can work for 30 minutes right? Even the resistance monster will allow you that. If you don't set a timer you will wander aimlessly around your task in to the dark woods, and at the end of the day you will be lost and your task will be scared and shivering on the path where you left it.
Step 4. Stop I mean for the day. Yep. Once you have completed 45 minutes on that single task close your computer and do something fun. Go to a yoga class, take your book to the park, etc… Just get away from your office.
Step 5. Select Another Task - Set Another Timer You can either keep working on your task from yesterday or if you have completed that one, select a new task. When the timer goes off - stop. Take a 10 minute break (give your self a reward like news surfing or Facebook). Se the timer for another 30 minutes and keep working either on your prior task or a new task from the list. When the timer goes off OR you complete a task with your 30 minute period… stop. For the day.
Step 6. Keep Adding Tasks & Timers Keep adding 30 minute periods and new tasks until you are back to your normal, productive self.
I can hear your resistance. "I can't just work for half an hour and stop!? That's such a waste of time! I will get nothing done! I'm supposed to be working!"
If you think logically you will realize that these arguments don't apply. You are in a work rut. You haven't been getting anything done anyway. Forcing yourself to sit at the desk for 8 hours hours while achieving absolutely nothing is a psychological compulsion left-over from the evil training instilled in you by our outdated industrial age education system. You are already wasting time if you are sitting at your desk trying to force yourself to work.
Besides it's your business - there is no "supposed to” only “what I want to do”.
So take drastic action today and watch yourself climb slowly out of that work rut. Let me know how it went in the comments below.
*Photo by Julie Edgely