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Siddharth Kanungo (primerlabs.io)
Siddharth Kanungo (primerlabs.io)

Posted on • Originally published at siddharth.blog

A guide to getting out of a rut when you are working alone

For a while, I had been in a rut. If you don't know what rut means, here is the dictionary definition for you.

a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change

I have been working alone on a project for so long, and the rest of my life took a hit. I didn't enjoy anything else. I would bail out when my friends call. I didn't like the foods I used to like earlier, and I didn't feel like doing anything for a while.

Gradually, even my passion project, Primer , seemed a bit too much for me. I didn't enjoy working on it anymore. Seemed like another "job" to me. That's when I knew I was in a rut. Something needed to change. The following is what I did to recover from the rut and I am writing this guide in the hopes that it will help you get out of it too.

Here's the tl;dr version

  1. Find what you love and schedule it
  2. Measure your productivity
  3. Go to sleep at the same time and try to wake up at the same time
  4. Exercise (Show up at the gym, everyday)
  5. Make plans with friends
  6. Plan a vacation that you look forward to
  7. Listen to classical music
  8. Write Night Reviews

Find What you love and schedule it

I have a keyboard, a guitar, and a ukelele and have never got around to actually learning any of them. The first thing I did to get out of the rut was to pick up a hobby. My hobby always had been programming and reading about the latest computer science advancement. While other people browsed too much Facebook or Instagram, I found myself checking out Hacker News or Less Wrong, sometimes multiple times a day. I am also a movie buff, so I would look out for Screenplay breakdowns often.

I decided it's time to change hobbies now.

I started learning the uke and surprisingly it's fun. Maybe next year, I will graduate to learning guitar as well. For now, the ukulele is a good thing to learn. The best thing about the ukulele is that you start seeing progress soon enough.

When you start getting good at something, you start enjoying it more.

I think I read this in the book, The Now Habit, which recommends making room for play in your schedule. I scheduled one hour daily for uke and have been enjoying it for a while now.

Find what you love and let it kill you schedule it in your calendar.

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Measure your productivity

The second thing to get out of the rut is to measure your productivity. I work in terms of Pomodoro.

One Pomodoro = 30 minutes

In my calendar, you can see I have three Deep work sessions. In which I target to do roughly 15 pomodoros. Each day is different and getting yourself to work is one of the most difficult things to do. And it never gets easier either. But, it is a good system to have.

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Another metric I have is words written. My work at Primerlabs \is mostly writing self-paced computer science courses. The platform is developed and I am not keen to code much features anymore. So, I track how many words I have written. I write using Typora , without the internet. It helps me focus.

I rewrite a lot because of my perfectionism. My perfectionism also took me three years to build the course platform. So, that's also something I am dealing with.

I try to keep it simple with just two metrics. It's a less number to keep track of. There are other few columns in the excel sheets: note/reason for not meeting the targets, which I have hidden. Because frankly, it's embarrassing.

Keep few metric and log them religiously.

Also, use work mode/ DND mode on your phone to help you focus.

Go to sleep at the same time and try to wake up at the same time

I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

Go to sleep at the same time.

For me, I go to bed at 10 and my wind-down begins at 9:30. That's when I put on my headphones and do my Night review, which I will discuss later in the post. I also have a premium "meditation" app subscription. I won't name it, because I am not happy with it. But it is really easy to guess.

Wind down is a feature in iPhone and it has useful automation built-in. Whenever the wind-down begins, it automatically prompts me to do a few actions, such as reminding me to close my laptop, dim the lights, start winding down on the "meditation" app and start night review.

Getting 8 hours is difficult for me as I have difficulty sleeping. But I consistently try to go to bed at 10 PM nonetheless. Overall, I am finding it easier to sleep frequently than before and my mood is better the next day.

Waking up early is difficult, but I have days when I woke up without an alarm. So, I am definitely making progress.

Exercise ( Show up at the Gym )

Exercise has helped me a lot to get out of the rut. I got a yearly membership at a cheaper price at a local gym and my goal has been to show up at the gym. Moving my goal from doing exercises ( which my trainer kind of forces to me go on hard mode ), I try this mini-goal of showing up in the gym.

Sometimes, I think, I can always just run on the treadmill and cycle and then bail out.

However, after a run, I automatically feel to work out. So, if you are just starting out, I recommend, making a goal to just show up.

Just show up at the gym everyday

Make plans with friends

When you are in a rut, it's natural for introverts to avoid people like plague (or pandemic). But making plans with friends is a good way to destress for people who usually work alone ( digital nomads, freelancers, solo founders, etc). It's easy to become self-centered and keep on postponing your social debt to your friends. However, what many people forget is that it's a debt that you must pay for your own sanity.

This pandemic made me realize that I don't really like to be alone. And it's really awkward when you are in need and you want to suddenly ask for favors from friends out of blue. So, make plans, even if all your friends are lazy ass introverts. Take initiatives and make plans. It is worth it.

One of the things, online gaming does is help reconnect with friends. I have been playing chess with friends more often. And sometimes, call of duty on mobile as well. It's a great way to spend time with friends with whom you cannot meet directly due to distance.

Plan a vacation that you look forward to

When you are working alone, you might wait for the next big goal to hit, when you will finally enjoy some time off. At least, it was for me, I would think, I cannot take a vacation until I get XYZ done. But when you plan a vacation and book your tickets ( which are at a low cost ), you can plan for months ahead. Your targets are well-defined in the time frame. I have had difficulty planning and organizing my life, because of the mess of working alone. But planning a vacation helps a lot in helping you prioritize what you actually need to do.

Say, your vacation is four months from now, you can make a list of things you need to in four months. And then work your way backward, for monthly goals and weekly goals and stuff.

Plan a vacation and backtrack your work schedule

Listen to classical music

It might not work for everyone, but I listen to classical music while I work. I used to be a fan of lo-fi and trance music combined with famous OSTs from Interstellar, Social Network, etc. But I now listen mostly to classical music.

I have read that classical music helps in focusing, but for me, I have really started appreciating the music. It also helps when you learn a bit about classical music. I can highly recommend this course from Coursera.

I listen to a mix of western and Indian classical music. I listen to Indian Classical music at Ragya which is plays music depending on the time of the day.

Write Night Reviews

Writing night reviews consist of the following things for me:

  1. Going through what I did throughout the day and what I could have done better
  2. Logging my metrics.
  3. Plan for the next day and some targets to meet.
  4. Write what you are grateful for

Doing night reviews has been a great way to let go of the worries of the day and prepare for the next day.

Review your day, daily

Closing Note

This is my second month, doing this and I already feel that I am out of the rut. You will start seeing good changes in your mood in two weeks or so. So, stick to that. If you found this write-up useful, you can connect with me on Twitter . And if you are interested to know what I am working on, you can check out this comic-based blog post to understand more.

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