This feeling of hitting a plateau is remarkably common. Some say it’s an all-out American epidemic. It’s also, in a way, human nature.
We’ve all been there. After some amount of time at a new job, or in a new position — or after years in the same industry — the excitement we once harbored for our work wanes, and we start coasting or falling into what some call a “lull.”
There have been several times in my own career when I’ve felt myself hit a lull. Sometimes it’s been a result of disaffection with the work — the sense that the company I worked for wasn’t fully utilizing my skills — and sometimes it’s followed a period of personal frustration with my team. I still, from time to time, hit these lulls, like I’m not being as productive as I could be, or my team isn’t realizing their fullest potential.
This feeling of hitting a plateau is remarkably common. Some say it’s an all-out American epidemic. It’s also, in a way, human nature. We’re creatures of habit. As people, we seek out reliable repetition, yet repetition itself can lead to stagnation.
Regardless of how common, however, the truth remains: a decline in commitment to your work, or in your excitement about your work, is innately damaging. It can lead to both a drop in your professional performance and in your personal happiness.
Given that, professional apathy needs to be actively combated.
Here are a few different tactics I’ve adopted both as a leader and as an employee over my career to help pull myself out of a lull.
1) Try to promote and facilitate collaboration.
The chief source of complacency I’ve seen in the folks who’ve worked for me over the years has stemmed from siloed work environments. When day after day you work alone at your desk, completing only the tasks you’re responsible for, you lose sight of the company mission which might have galvanized you initially. You begin to feel like you can’t accomplish as much as you might want. You feel limited and alone.
It’s better, instead, to foster or encourage an environment that’s inherently more collaborative — one where your people are inspired to contribute and compelled to do so in creative, important ways.
This is something you can do as a manager or director by rearranging your teams, modeling the sort of collaboration you want to see more of, or otherwise adjusting key elements of your culture so that your people are more meaningfully incentivized to collaborate. You can work to build that into your foundation.
As an individual employee, meanwhile, you can seek out opportunities to go above and beyond, in this sense, and create value alongside your peers in a way that might open new doors for systemic collaboration in the future. The key is looking for and then summoning the energy required to capitalize on those opportunities.
2) Take a “field trip.”
If there’s something specific you’re trying to accomplish at work but you either aren’t feeling motivated to do it or you don’t know exactly how to do it, go out and conduct some research.
Find someone you know or whom you know of who has the wisdom or intelligence you’re after. Then, go observe them in action. If you’re looking to restructure your organization, for example, pay a visit to a company who already has a similar structure in place.
Or, go to a place, event, or lecture that’s semi-relevant to the work you’re doing. This is something we’ve done as a team at World Changers by attending conferences together. Through those events and by engaging in team-building activities, we’ve left feeling energized and motivated to contribute more meaningfully to our work. You might be surprised how much it could fuel you and your team with the same inspiration.
And that’s the key: this is something you can do on your own or with your colleagues. You’ll be surprised by how breaking out of your routine and expanding your perspective even for just one day can open your eyes to new opportunities and means of reinvigorating your work.
Similarly, our outputs, in general, are a direct product of our inputs. So, if you’re ever in a rut, go pick up a book and re-acquaint yourself with the experts and authors who themselves have spent lots of time thinking about the very things you’ve been struggling over.
Studying the solutions, ideas, and minds of others can prove a great source of inspiration. Light bulbs go off when you read. You either say to yourself, “Oh, I’ve never thought of X like that,” or you say, “Wow, I can do this!”
By reading about people or organizations who have been in similar situations, you can learn how to combat the specific lull you’re facing.
As a manager, it’s crucial you encourage your teams to invest in their inputs. For example, I recently had my team at World Changers read Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud to help all of us spark new, more creative ideas for taking our work to the next level and getting even better as an organization. It worked so well, it’s now something I ask my people to do once every few years.
4) Ask for feedback.
Asking your manager, director, or CEO for feedback on your performance can also be an excellent way to reset your perspective. Often, these constructive conversations will help you do things like set new milestones or establish new objectives to focus on.
As it turns out, that intentionality is crucial toward developing professionally. It’s a means of combating our natural human tendency to become complacent in our routines. And to this end, it’s on us to “own” our cognitive development. This is good in and of itself, but it’s also a great thing to do anytime you feel yourself becoming complacent.
Energy is useless if it’s not directed toward something tangible and specific.
5) Secure an outlet unrelated to your work to focus on in your down time.
Finally, if all you have in your life to direct your energy towards is work — creative or otherwise — you’ll burn out or grow bored.
For me, finding a few other things I really cared about and that I could work to improve at made me happier in my personal life, as well as more focused when I was in the office. For me, this was interior design and travel. By focusing on getting better and more creative at the former, and allowing myself to reset and relax by way of the latter, I found I was able to return to the office each morning more fresh and ready to kill it.
Here’s the truth: at the end of the day, unless you challenge yourself to continue growing and developing, you’ll inevitably stagnate.
In other words, this is on you.
All of us are in control over our own destinies and our own minds. All of us possess the power to combat professional stagnation. It’s a matter of being self-aware enough to realize when you or the team you’re in charge of need to make a change, refocus, or simply try harder.
It just so happens that doing this is essential not just to our satisfaction in our work and in our personal lives, but also in our continual development and growth as people and professionals.