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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Big Signs You're Stuck on Autopilot at Work (Plus: How to Snap Out of It)

Routine at work is a blessing and a curse. It can provide framework—which encourages productivity and accuracy. But it can also shut down our abilities to lead, innovate, and consider creative solutions. Yes, it gets that scary that quickly.

Worst of all, routine in your role can result in you running on autopilot, which almost inevitably leads to job dissatisfaction and apathy.

If you’re not sure if you have a perfect routine or if you’re actually zoning out every day, here are some sure signs that it’s the latter. And before you worry that your only choices are to accept being a zombie or quitting your job, I’ve including solutions to help you snap out of it at your current position.

1. Your Job Description Hasn’t Changed

The first sign that you may be on autopilot is that your job description has stayed stagnant for a long period of time. Studies show that staying engaged and happy in a job requires something called “continuous learning” and development.

So, if you take a look at your routine, and it hasn’t evolved much in the last quarter, there’s a chance that you’re not learning anymore.

Often times, training and development can fall to the sidelines when there’s an unusually high volume of work. The goal can become to finish as much as you can, rather than learn how to do it better or incorporate something new. Over time, this short-sighted strategy will turn into complacency, apathy, and boredom.

Snap Out of It

Follow your curiosity and some of the initial excitement you once had for your job. Think back to your first few weeks and the parts of your job you were most eager to learn about. Is there something that you’ve forgotten about and could bring back onto your plate?

For example, if your initial goal as a marketing associate was to also learn about long-term social media strategy (and not just scheduling out updates), you can implement a new way of running Facebook. An opportunity to work on new projects forces your brain to exercise its incredible learning capabilities—and pull you out of that monotonous cycle.

2. You’re Avoiding Opportunities for Leadership

Maybe you’re past the honeymoon stage of being the new person on the team, but you’re still hesitant to suggest leading a project (big or small). Even though you’re fully trained and capable, you’re sticking to the safe shadows where routine work can slide by and not be evaluated. There are times where every member of the team must pick up busy work so others can manage, and if you’re avoiding the opportunity to exercise your leadership skills in these moments, you’re on autopilot.

Snap Out of It

Here’s how you can step up your game: Offer to take the lead on the next project that comes your way. If your manager’s offering it to you, it’s because he or she thinks you’re capable. So just raise your hand and start— even if it’s simply offering to lead your team through a weekly meeting. By speaking up and taking responsibility, you challenge yourself to approach each day with more intention and accountability.

And when you set goals for yourself that are tied to the success of your team, a healthy level of anticipation and pressure can encourage you to act with more authority—often resulting in a better final product.

3. You Get Stressed When Your Routine Is Interrupted

The ability to adapt is a crucial skill for workplace development and success. Getting stressed over small changes or requests during your day can confirm that you’re running on an unhealthy amount of routine.

Educator and author Bruna Martinuzzi discusses Laurence Gonzales’ book Everyday Survival: Why Smart People do Stupid Things and what he describes as “behavioral scripts” from routines, which eventually automate the actions we take. And though these scripts help simplify our world and increase efficiency, they also, in Martinuzzi’s words, “divert our attention from important information coming to us from our environment”.

So, if one unexpected phone call amplifies your cortisol levels and puts you in a state of anxiety, chances are that you’ve fallen into a routine negatively affecting your ability to adapt, prioritize, and problem solve.

Snap Out of It

Luckily, there are several ways to remedy this.

  • Give yourself a lunch break each week and explore a new place. Scheduling yourself into new environments help you stay in an open state of mind for the rest of the day.
  • Join or start some friendly competition at work (like a monthly health or work-related challenge). Just a bit of competitive energy goes a long way in moving outside your comfort zone and pushing your ability to adapt and try new things.
  • Ask your boss for a time each week to meet and discuss priorities and strategy. This time can encourage you to ideate and think at a higher level, and thus bring in new solutions or processes to your routine tasks.

As you can see, there are so many opportunities to change up your schedule—so don’t hesitate to try it out.

Taking the time to check back into your work can help you identify any potential areas of growth or change you may have been avoiding. Challenge yourself by turning off the autopilot and steering your vision back to a present and engaged state of mind. Your career will thank you.

Photo of steering wheel courtesy of Shutterstock.