How to Exit a Rut

How to Exit a Rut, (by a person who is in one)

Here’s a small disclaimer before I start: When I say I’m in a rut, it doesn’t mean I’m not doing things. I get out of bed, I finish things I Have to finish. I don’t finish them to the best of my ability, but things get done. Mostly, the state of rut for me means I have too many tasks going on in my head at once. I get very little done, and the backlog continues; often I’ll forget things. Generally, I’ll be in a foul mood (even if it seems like I’m in a good mood, inside it’s foul, trust me).

The problem begins when my planning system breaks down and I stop writing things down, processing them, evaluating how much time they’ll take and planning for them. Instead, I’m left having to remember a whole bunch of stuff. As the brain pile gets bigger, I begin to triage; I stop doing things I don’t have to do. It’s good to triage a little most of the time, but as I wrote in Nothing Will Happen, there aren’t many things that I necessarily have to do. To be more specific, I haven’t been running for the past few days, I haven’t posted a blog, I’ve procrastinated with other things like volunteering at the Radio Archives, getting school work done and many more. I feel like a bad person. My projects are on hold when I’m in a rut. Basically, this sucks.

So how will I fix it?

– First, I’ll Do Some Planning : I’ll figure out all the things I really need to do today and tomorrow, maybe after-tomorrow as well and put them on a sheet of paper (I like real sheets better than computer notepad sometimes). Then I’ll ruthlessly evaluate and plan, as specifically as I can, how my days will be laid out. I know I won’t stick to these to the minute (random tasks and interests always creep up), but I’ll have the comfort knowing that I don’t have to worry about what I’m doing. This usually doesn’t take very long. Maximum thirty minutes.

– Second, I’ll Go Over My Priorities in big-picture view. I don’t have to write this stuff down. In fact, I usually do this while I’m driving, or walking somewhere. I consider the things that I’m doing and figuring out whether they are priorities for me in the long run. This may seem counter-intuitive to the previous point, but it really isn’t because this is not very concentrated thinking. Instead, it’s useful to let my mind consider possibilities, redefine my values etc. nothing has to be exact, no plans have to made, no decisions have to be made. It’s simply an overview. Besides, the tasks I’ve brainstormed up in the previous step are mostly have-to-dos anyway.

– Third, I’ll Go Back to the Basics, I mean strictly survival style. Am I lacking sleep? Am I hungry? Just do an inventory of basic needs and if they’re being met. Usually when I’m in a rut, they aren’t. When my sleep cycle becomes regular, and I eat a balanced diet, I become chipper again. It’s just one of the ways to exit a rut. Occasionally, especially when I’m very busy and I can’t get enough sleep at night, or a full meal, I’ll take power naps in the car and eat snacks. These are temporary hacks until I can bring my head back above water.

– Fourth, Resort to Routine : Routines are somewhat difficult to maintain for me. My schedule and moods often vary, so for me, a routine is a way to get back on track more times than not. And it works, do something the same for a week or a month, everyday, or every other day; could be something as simple as waking up at exactly the same time in the morning; doesn’t really matter as long as you’re expecting it. When you’re uncertain about the future, it’s useful to create small expectations to get you by. But make sure it’s something productive; don’t plan on doing lines of coke in the bathroom of a seedy nightclub every evening at precisely 10:17PM. A good friend of mine is actually meditating everyday from 10-10:15PM, she has her alarm go off, and stops no matter what she’s doing and does the meditation. This is a good example of resorting to routine.

– Five, Smile! : Sometimes the physical manifestation of happiness brings about the mental aspects. You don’t have to feel like smiling, just do it. Close your eyes and smile. Smile while driving. Force yourself. When a person is happy, they are more productive. Period.

There we go. Five steps I will take to get out of my rut. I’m sure they’ll work.

Oh, by the way, I’m smiling as I type this.

– OLEG KAGAN (lifeinoleg at

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