5 ways to get out of a rut

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for some weeks now but the ideas weren’t flowing nor did there ever seem to be the time to actually sit down and draft something out.  I’m off for a week over Easter and I finally had some time to consider what was wrong.  I would like to share a few tips that I’ve used over the past few days.

Consider external factors

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or seen it displayed as a pyramid with the most basic physiological need such as food, sleep and shelter are at the bottom, progressing through to self-actualisation, or the need people have to achieve their full potential.  You cannot begin working on the more psychological growth needs until the more basic needs are satisfied.

Over the past few days, our son has been having trouble sleeping at night, constantly waking almost every hour. This has led to an unhealthy lack of sleep for both of us.  The off shoot of this is as well as being chronically tired, we’re not taking time to eat well or exercise which perpetuates the cycle.  If you’re not feeling particularly inspired, have you stepped back to ensure all of your basic needs are being met?

Try the 5 Whys Technique to establish the root of the problem

The 5 Whys technique was created by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries in the 1930’s and the company still use it today.  I first read about this in a blog post and have found this an excellent way to pinpoint the exact cause of my worries.

You begin by defining the problem and then ask ‘Why?’.  When you have answered this question, ask yourself why in response to your answer.  This process continues until your answers to why produce no more useful responses.  The five in the 5 Whys is subjective, you may be able to reach the root of the problem in only 2 or 3 whys or you may need to keep questioning further.

In my situation, I felt the cause of my lack of productivity was caused by uncertainty about our housing situation. I’ve previously written about where we want to eventually live but we are still currently saving our deposit so feel a bit in limbo at the moment.

Look at your long term goals and check the short term goals that you need to achieve them

It’s important to set goals however it can sometimes be overwhelming considering the steps required to take action. Unfortunately simply dreaming about what you want will not get you where you need to be.  Similarly, dwelling on potential problems can be as equally paralysing.

Instead, break the goal down into smaller, easier-to-tackle parts. Completing these smaller steps can generate positive momentum, a bit like the debt snowball you frequently read about on personal finance blogs. If you need help with setting goals, the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) is a useful tool for drafting them.

Our end goal is to own our own home.  To do that we need a mortgage so one of my smaller attainable goals has been reading everything I can about the process to maximise our chance of a successful application.

Take action

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

– Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

Of course, writing your goals down is the easy part.  Enacting them is the challenge which is why it is important to have a time scale in mind. Regularly review your goals and check your progress, are you on track to achieve them in the time you’ve set?

Taking action can also mean admitting to yourself something is not going to plan and rethinking and potentially abandoning that goal. Some of the bloggers I have read that have been steadily working towards FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early) have achieved the goal, successfully retired early and then have found that it’s not the right path for them. Have they failed? Certainly not! They had to reach that point in order to know it wasn’t right for them and now they are setting new goals for the future, with far more financial resources to help them.

One of our mini goals was filling one of our Lifetime ISAs for the current tax year. And it does give you a boost to know that you’re on the right track.  We now need to check our goals for our next achievement towards that ultimate goal.

Take a break

Sometimes, you just need to take a step back to recharge. Scientific studies have shown that the brain is able to perform better when given the opportunity to divert from a task. A chance to rest and the time away can give you a fresh perspective when you return to the task and help avoid getting into a rut in the first place.

I’m only a couple of days into a week off work and already spending time with my family and using my free time to pursue my hobbies and even just sit back and watch Netflix has enabled me to approach my projects with fresh eyes.  I was able to look at some of our house buying goals and not feel hopeless anymore. Incidentally, I do believe this is going to be my longest blog post to date so I’m going to accept that as evidence that taking a break works!