A woman sleeping on her desk in front of a computer with notepads around her. Her brain is stuck in a rut.
Image: © jcomp/Stock.adobe.com

Is your brain stuck in a rut? Here’s how to fix that

27 Feb 2019

We can all get a little stuck in a rut at work and when our brain just won’t work at the pace we want it to, it can be hard to get back to our productive selves.

Sometimes, our whole lives can feel a bit stuck in a rut, whether we feel that our career is at an impasse or we start to feel the need for a change.

But there’s also the other kind of rut. The kind that’s just a random day of being stuck in a rut at work where we simply can’t get our brain to work the way we want it to.

If you’re lacking motivation and productivity today, here are some tips and advice on how to get your brain back in motion.

Why is your brain stuck in a rut?

There can be a number of reasons you feel unmotivated and only you will truly be able to figure out the reason.

Are you eating well? Are you staying hydrated? Are you particularly worried or anxious about things in or outside or work that could be calling for your brain’s attention?

Once you narrow down the reasons behind your brain rut, you may be able to fix the problem, but if it’s one of those days where there are no outside factors and it’s just the work that is in front of you making you feel stuck, here are some quick tips to try.

Change the scenery for your brain

This could mean a physical change of space, such as switching desks or moving to a different area to work, or it could mean mentally changing what your work looks like.

There is something called the ‘sunk-cost’ fallacy, which pertains to being too focused on a particular project because of how much time, money or effort you’ve already invested in it.

While abandoning it, starting from scratch or changing tack could feel like a lot of time wasted, it might be the only way to get your brain out of the rut and actually finish the project in question.

Break down big tasks

Often, big, looming projects can cause our brains to freeze up and cry out for procrastination, hence the feeling of getting stuck in a rut. You can’t fully move onto something else until this one is done, but you’re struggling to tackle it in the first place.

If a large project seems to daunting, break it up into smaller tasks. When breaking it down, make sure you do so logically. Make each step achievable within a certain time frame and when you complete each step, take a break and focus on something else to allow your brain time to breath.

Throw out the to-do list

Sometimes we can get stuck in a rut when the same tasks have been staring back at us from our to-do list for hours or even days on end.

This comes back to the sunk-cost fallacy, whereby you’ve committed to completing certain tasks right now, and you can’t move on until their done, but the longer they sit there, the harder it can get to commit to them.

Furthermore, feeling like you’re not making progress can be deeply unmotivating and can make you even less productive. Sometimes the only thing you can do is throw out your to-do list and write a completely new list. The fresh approach might be the best way to get your brain moving.

You can’t edit a blank page

Whether it’s a big project or a small one, spending too long looking at something and not knowing where to start can make it really hard to progress.

You can easily get bogged down with making sure you’re doing something absolutely perfect, but it’s hard to work with something you don’t have.

Writers often reference the quote: “You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.” The same can be true for starting work projects. Sometimes, the best way to climb out of a rut is to start and possibly complete the task. It’s easier to work on something for which you’ve already laid the foundations.

The magic of fresh air

We’ve said this many times when helping you clear your mind and increase your productivity and we’re saying it again because it’s such an important step: get out into the fresh air.

Even if it’s just a quick 10-minute walk around the outside of your office building, giving yourself a short break to stretch your legs and breath in some fresh air will do your brain the world of good and help you focus when you return to your desk.

Tackle the task you’ve been avoiding

Depending on which part of your job is currently affecting you, sometimes, giving your brain other things to do first can get you ready for a big project. But other times, you just have to ‘eat the frog’ – that is, tackle the task you’re dreading the most.

Sometimes you’re stuck in the rut because you’re avoiding slogging through a task that you really don’t want to do and the only way to get yourself out of that rut is to power through that task.

Once it’s done, it will be easier to tidy it up and move on to new tasks, which can often give your brain a new lease on life. Just be sure to give yourself a well-deserved break after completing the big job. Maybe get some of that fresh air we talked about.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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