I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. Even though I’ve released 297 episodes of the Resourceful Designer podcast, a show I created to share tips and strategies for running a graphic and web design business. I still don’t have all the answers.
And even though I consider myself a successful entrepreneur. After all, I’ve been running my home-based design business for 17 years. Plus, I started my niche side business, Podcast Branding, just over three years ago, and it’s doing better than I ever imagined.
And yet, I still struggle.
I don’t struggle much with finding clients or design projects. I’ve been fortunate in that aspect. What I find myself struggling with from time to time is motivation.
Some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do list, I don’t feel like working. I feel lazy. I’ll sit at my computer in the morning with the best intentions, having thought of everything I wanted to work on that day. But at the end of my work day, I look back and realize I didn’t accomplish any of them.
Sure I answered some emails. I read a few business-related articles. I watched some tutorials on YouTube. But actual work, the thing that makes me money, not so much. Not enough to compensate for an 8-hour work day.
Luckily, one of the perks of working for yourself is you don’t have to answer to anyone. As long as you get the work done, it doesn’t matter how or when you do it.
And everything would be fine if this was a sporadic occurrence. But that’s the problem. Sometimes it isn’t. When I get in a rut like this, it could last days.
I’ll chastise myself at the end of the day for my lack of drive, my laziness. And tell myself I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow. But then tomorrow rolls around, and, for some reason, it happens again. Sure I’ll get some small things done. But not nearly enough to satisfy me.
A few weeks ago, I needed to start a website project. I intended to begin it on Monday. It was a big project, and I planned to get ahead of the timeline. But for some reason, I found other things to do. A lot of them non-productive.
So Monday went by, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and I still hadn’t started the website. To me, Friday is never a good day to begin something new. So I told myself I would finally start it on Monday. A week later than I initially wanted. And you know what? I didn’t start it on Monday either.
It’s as if I knew how much work was involved with designing and building the website, and the laziness that had overcome me wasn’t motivated to get started.
I don’t know what depression feels like. And honestly, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I honestly believe I was feeling lazy. But whatever it was, I was in a rut.
Rut, what a funny word. I just looked up its meaning. A Rut is a habit or pattern of behaviour that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. That’s exactly what I was going through. I had gotten into the behaviour of pushing off the big things on my to-do list because I was feeling lazy and unproductive.
Maybe I should have called this post “Starting Is The Hardest Part.” I know now, as I knew then, that everything would be fine once I started the website. Once I worked on it, I would find the motivation to keep going.
Newton’s first law of motion says, “An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.” There’s more to Newton’s law than that, but we’re talking about laziness and work motivation here, not physics.
However, the principle still applies. As long as I didn’t start the website project, leaving it be was easier. But once I did start, I kept going and saw it threw to the end.
Do you ever feel this way? Lazy, I mean? Do you ever stall or delay getting things started for no good reason? And I’m not talking about procrastination. I feel that procrastination is something different.
I’m a notorious procrastinator. It used to drive my manager crazy when I worked at the print shop because I often waited until the last minute to start a project. But that was a conscious decision. And I still do that today.
If I have a deadline in three weeks and know that it will only take me a couple of days to do the task, I’ll often put it off until that third week and then plough through it. I like to think I work best under pressure.
But these ruts I’m talking about are not the same. I’m not consciously deciding to put things off or procrastinate. It’s the opposite; I want to start these projects. But somehow, I don’t. At least until I don’t have a choice because I’m running out of time. To me, that’s a rut.
And ruts come in spurts. I’ll go months, if not years, where everything runs smoothly. And then, I find myself in a rut for no apparent reason.
As I said earlier, I found myself in such a rut a few weeks ago. And what’s worse is I knew I was in a rut, and it annoyed me. But being annoyed by my behaviour wasn’t changing the fact that I felt lazy.
I got so annoyed that I googled “How to get out of a rut.” I found a good article on Forbes.com titled 6 Ways To Get Out Of A Rut. Here are the six steps the article recommends.
I had already done this, hence my google search.
Which said to make a to-do list and chip away at it one task at a time. I already work with a to-do list, so this wasn’t anything new to me.
Which talked about not getting hung up on perfectionism and that you should be satisfied with a project’s completion, even if it’s not perfect. This didn’t apply to me since my issue wasn’t finishing a project but starting one.
I was already going outside when I should have been working. So this step didn't apply to me.
This is a good idea for someone feeling stressed or anxious. But I wasn’t feeling either of those.
This was good advice. And yet I didn’t do it. I have a group of colleagues I could talk to in the Resourceful Designer Community, yet I didn’t for some reason. Not because I was embarrassed or anything. I think it was because I felt it was something I should be able to overcome on my own. After all, I’ve been in ruts before, and they never last. I guess I failed on this last step. I should have opened up to someone.
So even though this was a great article, It didn’t help me. Or at least I didn’t feel like it helped me at the time. I mean, after all, I am talking to someone about it. You. A bit after the fact, but I still think this counts.
Do you want to know what finally got me out of my rut? Believe it or not, it was a to-do list. And what’s funny is I got this idea from a different article, not on getting out of a rut, but on productivity. Which I guess go hand in hand.
The article’s title that helped is The Counterintuitive Secret To Get More Done Every Day.
In her article, the author explains that you should create a to-do list with two sections. In the top section, you write down one to three things you must accomplish that day. Then draw a line across the page. Below that line, write all the things you want to do that day but are not critical if you don’t.
The trick is not working on anything below the line until the item(s) above the line are complete.
I know, it sounds silly. But I decided to give it a try, and it worked.
The following day I wrote two things above the line.
Below the line, I wrote other items from my to-do list that I wanted to do that day. I wanted to do these things, but it wasn’t crucial that I get them done that day.
And you know what happened?
As I began my work day, I received an email from a client asking for a small change to their website. Something that would take less than 5-minutes to complete. Most days, I might do it to get it out of the way. But I looked at my list and added it to the items below the line. And then I got to work starting the website.
I did the same thing each morning until momentum picked up, and I no longer felt like I was in a rut.
This happened a few weeks ago. That website is complete, and my client is pleased with what I made for them. I also made that small change to the other client’s site, but only that afternoon after completing the above-the-line tasks.
I’m happy to report that things are going well right now, and I’m keeping on top of things. I’m no longer in a rut, and my business is again running like clockwork.
Do I still use this to-do list hack? No. I’ve gone back to how I did things before I was in the rut. But I’ve been at this long enough to know there will be more ruts. They don’t happen often, but they do. And when I notice I’m in the middle of the next one. I’ll think of this little trick. And hopefully, like it did this time, it will help me out of my rut and get back on track much faster.
I wanted to share this with you because I’m sure I’m not the only designer who experiences ruts like these. And I want you to know that you are not alone if this happens.
Feeling lazy happens. It’s normal, we all experience it, and it’s ok. Providing it doesn’t affect you long term.
I mentioned how I brushed off the idea of depression because I’m confident that wasn’t what was affecting me. However, depression is serious and not something you should be ashamed of if you think you may be depressed.
If you feel lazy, in a rut, lul, or anything else that seems to be stealing your motivation to work and can’t get out of it on your own, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. You can contact me via email at feedback [at] resourcefuldesigner.com.
You don’t have to go through it alone.