Eight ways to get out of a career rut

People sometimes feel that they’re going nowhere at work or that they lack direction. This is usually due to a combination of factors, such as inertia, disengagement, a lack of clarity about goals and a lack of opportunities. But how do you get your career back on track? Here are eight tips on getting out of a career rut:

1. Look for happiness at work. Think about what makes you happy in what you do. People who are happy at work tend to be engaged, work harder and progress faster. Many people do not actually expect to find happiness in their work, but there’s plenty to like. Work offers friendships, shared experiences, stimulating conversation, challenges and rewards.

2. Think big. It’s well known that feeling that you’re part of something bigger is very motivating, no matter what level you work at. It can also help if you think about who actually benefits from the work you do and how you make a difference to them. For instance, if you’ve saved money for clients, you might consider how you’re helping them to create jobs and safeguard their business’s future.

3. Think small. In terms of day-to-day motivation, there’s a lot to be said for completing little tasks and breaking big tasks down into manageable chunks. It can be as simple as making a daily “to-do” list and crossing things off when you finish them. Small good deeds, such as helping those you work with and giving yourself rewards to look forward to, such as lunch with a friend, can provide mini boosts. These incremental actions may seem trivial, but they really do help you stay engaged and drive you forward.

4. Set goals. Often, as the saying goes, we are so busy with our jobs that we neglect our careers. But not taking time out to think about long-term strategy and goals is exactly what gets many people in the career doldrums in the first place. Having clearly defined goals gives you something to shoot for – the very act of focusing on and clarifying what you want often forces you to take stock of where you are and begin to reshape your role. Goals should be specific, measurable and broken up into the short-, medium- and long-range.

5. Make opportunities. If you find your job unsatisfying, ask your boss if you can expand it or be given extra responsibilities. If this isn’t possible, look at what else is available in the organisation. This could be anything from formal training and qualifications to putting yourself forward to sit on committees, or involving yourself in the business’s corporate social responsibility side. Volunteering for your organisation’s charitable activities is likely to make you feel satisfied, raise your profile and introduce you to new contacts and opportunities. People tend to assume that if they hang around they’ll get noticed, but you need to work at it and put yourself out there. Fortunately, large organisations usually make this very easy to do.

6. Look outside work. Feeling motivated and engaged in other areas of your life can spill back into your work. This could be anything from sport to amateur dramatics to donating your time and skills to charitable organisations. In a related sphere, physical and mental inertia are often sides of the same coin, so taking up cycling to work could help get you back in the saddle, literally and metaphorically.

7. Avoid negative groupthink. If you’re feeling directionless and demotivated, colleagues and friends can be an enormous source of support, and may bring opportunities your way. But if you belong to a group in which everyone moans about similar problems, the reverse is likely to be true, and you may end up magnifying and perpetuating each other’s problems. You need to get out and find people who want to solve problems, not people who want to dwell on them.

8. Know when to move on. Sometimes the rut is the company, not the job – and this can be particularly true of smaller organisations that offer limited opportunities. If, after everything, you decide that your goals are unlikely to be achieved within your organisation, then you may need to look elsewhere. But even if you’re unsure, the act of looking elsewhere can be positive as it makes you aware of the options that are available.

Rhymer Rigby is the author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work and writes a weekly careers column for the Financial Times.