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Ask yourself these questions to find out why you’re in a work slump

When you’re in a rut at work, it can be hard to pinpoint what’s behind it. Start by asking these questions.

Ask yourself these questions to find out why you’re in a work slump
[Photo: Wavebreakmedia/iStock]

Even the most motivated employees experience tough times at work. Whether it’s the aftermath of a big project, having someone on their team suddenly leave–resulting in more work for less people–or just a feeling of indifference about everything, most people hit a work slump from time to time. Sometimes the reason is clear, but other times, it might not be so obvious.

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So how do you pull yourself out of your workweek blues when you don’t even know what’s causing it? Start by asking these questions below:

Why am I here?

People choose to accept jobs for different reasons–be it money, career progressions, lifestyle, or organizational culture. But as you get used to your day-to-day responsibilities, it’s easy to forget why you were there in the first place. Sometimes all you need is that reminder, and if that “why” no longer motivates you, it might be time to do some self-reflection and consider taking steps that align with that why–whether it’s moving to a different role, taking on new responsibilities, or even looking for a new job altogether.

If it turns out that your “why” still drives you intrinsically, you can make a conscious choice to stay, or choose to walk away if you decide that the rut is too much to deal with. Either way, the realization that you’re in the driver’s seat can help you get out of the slump, said sports psychologist Bill Thierfelder in a previous article for Fast Company.

Am I doing what I can to develop and grow professionally?

Career coach Lisa Lewis previously told Fast Company, “Most career ruts are caused by a lack of challenge, resulting in comfort, complacency, and boredom.” If you find yourself asking why you’re stuck despite being a high performer at work, this might be why. Lewis explained that slumps tend to happen after someone reaches a certain level of success. Once you’ve mastered your role, it stops being exciting because you’re no longer growing and learning.

If this is the situation you’re in, it might be a sign that it’s time build the groundwork for that next promotion, or look for projects you can take on to stretch yourself. And if those opportunities aren’t available in your company, then it might be time to look externally. After all, you’re not going to do your best work when you’re in a rut.

Have I experienced anything unusual at work?

Sometimes a career slump is simply the result of an event that’s out of the ordinary. Perhaps you had a recent change in supervisor, and he or she has a different working style than your previous manager, and that style isn’t conducive to you doing good work. Or maybe the company has changed direction, and even though your day-to-day job remains the same, you’re finding it hard to get behind their new mission. It could be that someone on your team left and you’re being forced to do parts of their work that you don’t enjoy. As Tiina Salo and Marju Kettunen previously wrote for Fast Company, these are all factors that can lead to burnout, which results in lack of motivation at work and a work rut.

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Can I find more meaning outside of work?

If none of the questions above provide any hint as to what’s causing your work slump, then perhaps it’s time to look outside of the office. Are you feeling down at work because you feel like you don’t have the time to do things that are important to you outside of work? Do you feel like your days are hurried and busy, yet at the end of the week you struggle to pinpoint what you’ve accomplished personally and professionally?

According to Laura Vanderkam, one way to get out of this slump is to be deliberate about scheduling activities you can look forward to. In her book, Off The Clock–Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, she writes, “I found that people who had the most abundant perspective on time–who felt present, relaxed, and in control–were highly likely to have done interesting things on their recorded day. One woman went to salsa dancing lessons. Another subject took the family out to a movie. A big band concert appeared on another log. Not all the Monday adventures were elaborate–it could just be a family walk after dinner–but for the most part, these people had created the conditions for creating memories.”

What is my gut telling me?

Your gut might not be right 100% of the time, but listening to it can point you in the right direction. Professional development coach Hana Ayoub previously told Fast Company, “Your gut is this collection of heuristic shortcuts. It’s this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive… It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.”

Listening to your gut often forces you to pay attention to how your body reacts to certain situations, which can provide clues as to what’s making you uncomfortable or unhappy at work.

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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