Life productivity: Getting out of a rut

Regardless of the reasons behind them, ruts can be demoralizing and they almost always crush creative and general life productivity.

I hate them.

What exactly is a rut?

For me, it’s those times when life just isn’t right; when life feels out of control, out of sync and I can’t figure out why. There’s a general yuckiness and I can’t quite put my finger on. And nothing meaningful gets done.

Various factors can lead to falling into a rut but sometimes it’s just about getting caught up in unfavorable circumstances or bad habits. Often, ruts creep up so insidiously that we don’t realize what’s happening. We come to accept negative circumstances and emotions as normal. It’s almost Stockholm Syndrome-ish; befriending the oppressor. But once we become aware, we can choose to get out by taking a proactive, pre-emptive attitude and a few practical steps.

There are a few things I have found highly effective in staying consistently rut-free in spite of circumstances.

Refuse to accept defeat — Once you suspect that you may be heading downward, refuse to roll over and accept negative emotions and circumstances as normal.

Choose to live life deliberately, with purpose and with an awareness of triggers. Reject anything that feeds self-pity or laziness. Refuse to believe that you are helpless. Take the bull by the horns and say, “I don’t think so!”

Fill your mind with usefulness — When I learned how recognize triggers and to stay focused on productivity, the darkness lifted. Rather than coddling negative emotions, I fill my mind with practical, positive, useful information and activities that cater to sanity and wellness.

I load up on writing and PR. I run to the grocery store to stock up on good eats. I go for a walk. I learn things that make me marketable and useful. Between having taken care of my body (next step) and mind, I end my day(s) on positive note.

There’s also a great sense of dignity that comes from knowing you did something proactive, small as it may be, in the direction of your goals.

Get healthy — Being proactive about your health can do wonders for overall productivity and state of mind. For me, staying healthy has meant, among other things, avoiding fast food, staying well-hydrated, green smoothies, walking, getting enough sleep and long showers first thing in the morning.

We are whole beings and what we do to one part of our being affects the other. Unhealthful habits breed negativity; healthful habits breed life and vitality. This step alone will do wonders for your state of mind.

Stay busy and connected — When you recognize the yuckiness coming on, make it a point to stay busy and connected. Get out of the house. Head to the mall or read magazines at the bookstore. Work on a creative or manual project. Cook something. Connect with the things that bring you joy.

There is so much healing power and spiritual value in even small amounts of manual labor. Idleness breeds self-pity, drama and bitterness, all of which kill the spirit and eventually destroy the body. Reject them. Keep yourself occupied, even if you don’t “feel” it. Your feelings will catch up.

Avoid drama — Drama will drive you further into a rut and bleed you dry of sanity and precious time. The best approach is to shun it like the plague. Mind your own business, don’t gossip, don't respond to every little provocation (no matter how right you might actually be) or engage in petty back and forth, even if it ruffles feathers.

Do as the prophet Nehemiah did when he encountered gruesome, envy-driven opposition when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Five times his enemies tried to distract and discourage him with fear and false accusations but he remained unflinchingly focused. “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’…” (Nehemiah 6 ). In today’s language he might have said, “Ain’t no one got time for that!”

The results of his focus were epic.

Stay focused on handling your business and let go of everything else. You ain’t got time for that either.

Manage your time — Be deliberate in how you manage your time. When we allow outside influences to dictate how we spend our time, we perpetuate our rut because more often than not those influences are not positive ones.

Set a timer for certain tasks so that no one activity hogs up all your time. Limit TV/mindless entertainment consumption. Screen calls and messages. (Also a useful tip for implementing #5.) Be mindful of the minutes. Knowing you managed your time rather than letting it control you is a tremendous mood, and productivity, booster.

Declutter your space (and heart) — The physical stuff we hold on to can wrap itself around our heart and weigh it down. Decluttering your life of the old and worn lays out the red carpet for the new and amazing; new people, new purpose, new opportunities.

Toss old furniture, ratty clothes and anything that takes up space without paying rent. When you’re focused on the future, the past loses its grip and the old stuff doesn’t mean much anymore.

Overall, decluttering does wonders for your state of mind and boosts general life productivity, even if it’s over a period of time.

Be proactive — Simply choose to approach life from a proactive mindset where you are living deliberately and with purpose. Learn to recognize triggers. Refuse to be a helpless victim of circumstance or a slave to emotions. You have the power to choose what you feed your mind and body, what you occupy your time and hands with, and what you do with your emotions. We can’t always control what happens to us, we all have down days, but we do have a choice not to allow ourselves to be dragged down by circumstances or feelings.

These steps can also be applied to daily life when you just want to be more productive or make changes. They can help you get your personal house in order so that you think clearly, stay focused and prepare your heart for bigger and better blessings that are surely on the way.