Having an “off” day is one thing; feeling like you’re constantly churning with no end in sight can exhaust you and result in a life of misery. In an era where the lines are blurry between work and life, feeling an overwhelming drudgery for your work is unhealthy for the mind and physical being.
Whether you’re stuck in a career or certain predicaments have made you lost your way, below are five strategies to consider the next time you desperately need to break out of a career funk.
1. Change your environment.
In the 1950s, biologist Jonas Salk was working hard to find a cure for polio. No matter how much progress he made, the dark basement in Pittsburgh that he used as his laboratory just wasn’t stimulating the breakthroughs that he needed. So, Salk traveled to Assisi, Italy and stayed in a 13th century monastery to clear his head. His calming new environment proved to be beneficial and eventually, Salk’s head cleared and polio vaccine was developed. Knowing fully well the role his environment played in his success, Salk partnered up with architect Louis Kahn in 1959 to build the scientific facility Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. with the goal to “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso” that serve as a “crucible for creativity.”
But Salk isn’t the only successful person to realize just how important a role our environment plays in our thought process and creative abilities. Numerous studies have found that office design directly relates to innovation. This phenomenon is even more true in the modern workplace when we have smaller spaces to work with and more technologies to distract us from our tasks.
The next time you’re feeling disengaged, take a look at the space around you. Is it cluttered? Are walls and high panels blocking your access to natural light? Does your space make you feel isolated and separated from the rest of your team? Is your desk messy or neat? There are benefits to both.
A 2011 study found that rounded furniture is more pleasing and inviting compared to those with straight, sharp edges. Office plants are believed to increase happiness and lower stress levels. Certain music is said to boost productivity. And feeling better about your career is sometimes just a few organizational projects away.
2. Organize priorities better.
When your days are long and dreary and it seems you’ll never get through that long list that needs tackling, it might be time to think about prioritizing differently. First and foremost, learn how to say “no.” Saying “yes” to everything might make everyone else happy to work with you, but it won’t get you out of your always-churning, scrambled worklife.
If you haven’t started making to-do lists yet, start now. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done says if you don’t write things down, you won’t be able to know what’s most important. Why? Because your brain wasn’t made for “remembering and reminding,” he said in a video interview with Fast Company in 2008. Instead, your head is designed “for making intuitive choices about stuff.” When you don’t have tasks written down, your psyche won’t be able to prioritize effectively and you end up overcommitting to responsibilities.
When you’re spread too thin because you haven’t prioritized your goals and values, it’s much harder to understand your purpose in life.
3. Take up a new interest.
Whatever you do, don’t let your mind get stale. It’s almost the worst thing that you can do to your career and your life, according to Robert Greene, author of the bestseller book The 48 Laws of Power. When your brain gets rigid, creative breakthroughs are almost impossible because you’re not opening up your mind to full capacity. To inspire that kind of breakthrough, you need to loosen up your brain, almost like exercising the mind. When you feel bored with the work you’re doing, spend some time taking up a new interest or delving into a new subject that has nothing to do with your work to inspire new ideas and perspective.
4. Open up your mind.
Delving into a new interest is great way for coming up with innovative ideas and thinking differently about your work and life. Opening up your mind can alter the structure of your brain, easing the pain of work responsibilities that have become tedious. Various studies have found that meditation and other forms of relaxation have the ability to mold your brain and create new cells and pathways. One of the more popular classes offered at Google called Search Inside Yourself focuses on what’s happening in your brain when you have different emotions, allowing you to better reflect on emotions instead of react to them. This skill is crucial to have if you are feeling overwhelmed or your work has become tiresome and dull.
5. Know that you’ll never be ready — so do what makes you happy.
When you think about what you want your life to look like in 20 years, what scenario would make you proud and happy? Is it a different position? Is it a new career? If this is the case, there is no better time to make your move than now. If you wait until you’re ready, it’s already too late. Think about the people who started before they were ready. Before Richard Branson became the business magnate he is today, he was a 16-year-old high school dropout looking to start a small student magazine. His small and humble recording studio became a massive record label and hundreds of companies followed shortly after.
Whatever it is that you think will make you most happy, focus your energy on figuring out how to get there. Consider creating a career plan on Google Doc so that you can continuously add to this plan, look back on what you wanted five years ago, and see how far you’ve come.
When work is so much a part of your life, hating the job you’re in can be hard to live with. While some feelings may come and go, if the funk you’re in seems to exist more often than not, take steps to shift your life in the direction you think will make you happiest. Remember, our careers are no longer something that most of us can leave at the office, so it’s important to identify your career funk quickly and climb out of it effectively.