Productivity Groove vs Productivity Rut

Posted on Sun 26 June 2022 in Life • 3 min read

David Cain wrote a recent article about being in a rut that felt like it was describing my current feelings perfectly.

It can be deceptively hard to get out of a rut, because the task has quietly changed, from maintaining the easy momentum of traveling on a marked and paved surface, to driving up the side of a muddy ditch and merging with traffic. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard though. I mean, the road is right there. You’re traveling parallel to it, but the going is slower and messier, and ultimately not connected to your destination — ditches only join deeper ditches, and ultimately terminate in a reservoir somewhere. The ditch, the rut, is a very different environment to the road, with different rules.

This encapsulates what makes a rut so frustrating for me. My brain says that I should be able to "just do it" the same way I was doing it. Instead, the "doing it" aspect seems like an insurmountable task.

When facing a block of time where I can decide what to do, I often categorize things as:

  1. Things I know I should do

  2. Things I want to do in this current moment

  3. Things that make me feel accomplished

When I'm in a productivity groove, a task ends up being all three categories. For example, working on a new feature in a game I'm developing can be the thing I want to do, the thing I should do, and the thing that makes me feel accomplished. There are also productivity grooves where I don't necessarily want to do something like household chores, but I know I'll feel accomplished and it doesn't take much willpower to do the thing I know I should do. When I'm in a productivity rut, it seems like the thing I want to do is not what I should do and is not going to make me feel accomplished, but I have an overwhelming urge to do it anyway. This usually manifests itself in doing what I consider "mindless activities", like social media browsing or playing an old game that I know how to play so I don't have to think.

While in a rut, my decision usually comes down to two possibilities:

  1. Embrace the rut and do the things I want to do in order to recharge.

  2. Force myself out of the rut by jump-starting work on something I should do.

Embracing the rut actually requires some effort to enjoy. I sometimes feel guilt that I'm not being productive or accomplishing anything. However, I have been more mindful of my downtime recently, so I try to go into those mindless activities with the goal of enjoying the moment. If I stop enjoying the moment, I try to move on to other things. This effort often ends up being my way out of the rut, as I cycle through the things I enjoy and eventually come back around to wanting to be productive. That said, I still have to force myself to get back into the productivity groove.

I often wonder if factors like stress or diabetes management cause these ruts, but I haven't been able to find a true correlation yet. My desire to capture and analyze data often drops when in a rut, which makes it harder to come to conclusions about the source of the rut. Maybe one day I'll have been through enough ruts that I have the data to understand it better. For now, it'll have to be a mental battle I fight every time it happens.

This post is brought to you by my current attempt to get out of my current productivity rut.