Getting Out of a Rut

Sometimes we slip into periods in our lives where we’re not productive, we eat more unhealthy foods, we don’t get enough exercise, and we stop taking good care of ourselves. It can last for a few days, a few weeks, or possibly even longer. You can have a month when you’re on top of everything, and then all of a sudden, you lose motivation to do anything except eat, sleep, and play.

This has happened to me this week. Since I returned to my parents’ house just after the UK lockdown was announced, I’ve been waking up at around 12 noon each day, written no blog posts, and started playing loads of video games again. Now I’m out of term, I’ve only revised for my exams for an average of an hour a day (could be much worse, though still miles off of my target of 4 hours per day). Being more sedentary than usual because of the lockdown, I’ve had barely any exercise as well.

I don’t get that annoyed at myself as I used to, and I’m generally good at regulating my emotions, but this lack of action is starting to get to me. Now, I’ve decided to kickstart myself back to my usual productive self. So here, I’ll try and explore my tactics for getting back on track.

Establish a routine

Humans need routine. We need a certain degree of order in our lives to be reasonably productive and not waste all our time. Waking up at the same time each day is an excellent place to start. If you can wake up at the same time each morning, you ground yourself in a routine in which other positive habits can be built upon. If you can manage this, it’s a great stepping stone to get the rest of your life in order.

For me, this is incredibly difficult. It takes me over an hour to fall asleep each night. Waking up at a specific time in the morning is a hell of a challenge for me. I can’t have my previous alarm setup because I’m at my parents’ house now, which doesn’t have the soundproofing of my Uni accommodation. Regardless, I’ve been trying different alarm setups every day — and sadly, absolutely none have worked so far, so I’m going to have to keep trying.

Even if you can’t wake up at the same time each day, other routines can still be made. I’ve decided that I’m only allowed to play video games or watch YouTube after dinner each day. The rest of the day has to be filled with more productive activities, like exercising, revising, eating, blogging, programming, reading, etc. If this can settle into a routine, then I’ve definitely gotten out of my rut.

Gradual improvement

If you’ve hit a low point in personal productivity, then immediately switching to a higher productivity state will be very challenging and won’t last very long. The way to counter this is by incrementally making adjustments and increasing the time spent on productive activities.

It’s similar to the concept of ‘progressive overload’, where you only push yourself slightly outside of your comfort zone until you adjust to the new level. Take the example of running. If you’ve never run more than 5km, trying to run a marathon isn’t an intelligent thing to do. You need to start running small distances and gradually build up to longer distances. When getting out of a productivity rut, you should start small and build up the time you spend each day working on truly productive tasks, until you reach a level that you’re satisfied with.


If you’ve been in a rut for a while and start to make progress, it’s super easy to fall back down again. This is where persistence plays a role. If you’ve decided to launch yourself out of the rut, keeping to your plan is important. Though one slip up doesn’t have to spell the end to your escape attempt.

If that one slip up ends up snowballing back into despair, then all is not lost. Try again. Each time you try and escape a rut, the more fervour and energy you’ll have for your next attempt, given that you let yourself slide back down a bit to get some grip. This is my third attempt at escaping this lull, and it’s going way better than my last two attempts. After I finish this article, I’ll be going for a run and then doing some revision. After each failed attempt to escape, I wait a day and then try again. I’m not letting myself settle for the subpar state of being, valuing expedience over meaningful things.

Make a conscious decision

You will only be able to leave your rut if your circumstances change, or you change. Consciously deciding that you will get back on track is such an important step, yet it seems so trivial. However, the decision to change may take a while to manifest — it may take time to realise that you really want to improve. It comes after some deep thought, and this deep thought has to take place at some point.

Once you’ve decided to make an improvement, set a time/date for when you will start your journey upwards. Always have it set for some point in the next couple days, or else any motivation you will have gathered for the change may have waned. Setting it to start immediately also works, though often I’ll be making the decision late at night once I’ve realised that I’ve wasted another day, so I then decide to put myself straight starting the next day.

If you’re in a rut currently and you’re reading this article, at least you’re taking time to try and improve. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you may just need to start moving towards it at a quicker pace. I hope that some people reading this will realise that they may be in a rut and will make the decision to improve. Even after I’ve been immersed in personal development for a while, I’m still susceptible to an occasional fall. Put some trust in yourself, it’ll help set you straight.