How to Stay Motivated and Avoid Work Ruts

I’ve been a part of Distilled’s Outreach team for nearly two years, and during my time here I’ve built some awesome relationships, worked with some great clients, and had a lot of personal success.

I love my managers and my team. My projects are pretty awesome too, BUT every now and then, I find myself hitting a brick wall in terms of motivation. Staying motivated can be a real challenge; anyone who has been part of a long outreach project or has had to target a difficult niche knows what I mean. Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last couple years that have helped me stay on track and get out of a motivational rut.

This is how I feel when I'm stuck in a rut. This is how I feel when I'm stuck in a rut.

Stuck In a Prospecting Rut? Switch Your Method Up!

I usually get stuck in a rut after working on the same project for months on end or when a creative piece I'm pitching just isn’t connecting with the niche I’m prospecting. Either way, there are moments when I feel I’ve hit a brick wall and get discouraged. Along the same lines, I’ve heard too many people say too many times that "the well is dry." THE WELL IS NEVER DRY. I get it, prospecting is very tedious and super time consuming, but there is no possible way you have found every single blog relevant to the project you are pitching. There will always be an infinite amount of blogs---you just have to know where and how to find them!

I prefer to use advance search queries, but tools are a surefire way speed up prospecting. I use these three tools on a regular basis. Most veterans know about these, but if you haven’t tried them yet, now might be the time to help get you out of that rut:

  • Followerwonk - I use this Twitter tool to see who’s linking to my content and find prospects in my niche.
  • GroupHigh - Instantly filter sites in their database that match your project.
Maybe you’re not having any troubles finding sites, but you’re striking out when it comes to your email response rate. This may be the one situation when achieving inbox zero is bad thing. So how do you cope with a low response rate?
  • Ask contacts for referrals - I start by going through my list of wins and asking for referrals from all my valuable contacts. More often than not, each person knows someone who is interested in working together. Referrals also tend to have a really high success rate.
  • Get feedback on your pitch - Is your pitch dull? Too long? Not personal? Have someone critique your email and provide honest feedback. Also, if you don’t know what separates a good email from a great one, watch this White Board Friday from Moz.
  • Testing - I divide up my prospect list and send emails out in batches, not all at once. This lets me test out different tactics and different pitches. My emails are personal, short and sweet.

Try a New Way of Thinking

Tools, referrals, and testing are all helpful additions to a person's individual outreach methodology, but it may take more than just tools and testing to rescue you from your rut.


The reality is that we, as human beings, tend to dig ourselves into a hole. It’s easy to stick to our old ways and old methods. The biggest piece of advice I can share to combat this is to change your perspective.

Talk to your team, brainstorm, and find new ways to look at old projects. I once was asked to build links to a toilet paper page. TOILET PAPER! My team turned a potentially shitty situation (zing!) around by brainstorming blog post ideas in new niches. At the time, I was feeling unmotivated and a bit discouraged, thinking the project wouldn't be successful. My team helped me turn the project around. Now it’s a bragging point that I have guest posts about TP.

The Outreach team at Distilled has multiple brainstorm sessions per month, with some being scheduled and others happening on the fly. Each session is a little different, but here are three common methods we use to shake up our team and get our creativity flowing:

  1. Brainstorm/Sprint Plan - the Outreach team meets once every month to plan the following month’s projects. This includes brainstorming niches and different tactics and bouncing random ideas off the team. We find this works best when individuals come prepared with their own ideas and present them to the group vs. idea generation as a group.
  1. Switch up projects - Every Tuesday, each team member trades projects and works on a new project he or she hasn’t been involved with on a day-to-day basis. We found that booking time from team members who aren’t deeply involved in the project injects new life and a new perspective, allowing the project lead to see from a fresh set of eyes where the project could grow or improve.
  1. Change your environment - A change of scenery can do wonders. Our office has two sets of couches, tables outside, and private conference rooms. Coffee shops have free Wi-Fi for a reason! Working in a new environment can change your outlook and get your creativity flowing. Can’t get away from your desk? Plug into or and get in the zone.

Pro tip: Working solo and don’t have a team to brainstorm with? Grab a beer with a fellow freelancer. Hit up contacts from your last conference or go to Search Love San Diego and find new ones. If you don’t have the time/budget to travel to a conference, sign up with and find a local gathering filled with like minded individuals.

Changing your perspective is an awesome way to reinvigorate a project and lift yourself and your team out of a rut. New perspectives = new wins.

Share Success

Here at Distilled, we always make an effort to praise publicly, but what exactly does that mean and how does it motivate?

Way to go Jacob! Way to go Jacob!

Praise goes a long way. A pat on the back or an 'atta boy is a big motivator. Simply telling someone they are doing a great job can light a fire in that individual and push him or her to keep going and do even better.

Praising publicly takes it to the next level. Sharing success company-wide or with clients is HUGE. Internally, we use Google+ to privately share success company-wide. It’s less formal than email and gets coworkers from other offices and teams involved in the conversation.

Take every opportunity to acknowledge success. At Distilled, we have awards such as the ‘Duck of Awesome’ and ‘Duck of Ownership’. We literally have rubber ducks on our desks that we earn for doing a kick-ass job. Praise is contagious, not only does it motivate, but it builds morale and can influence company culture.

They never Copyscape ;) They never Copyscape ;)

Make it Fun

How fun is your job? Not all of us get to surf Reddit for hours on end like some people. Work shouldn’t be your personal hell and since most of us are here for eight hours a day, you should be able to make the most of it.

Thankfully, I work at a place where the exec team prides itself on fostering the best place for the best people to work, but it takes individual effort from every single member of the company to actually live up to this standard.

If it's on the internet it's true. If it's on the internet it's true.

Here are some examples of how I personally foster the best place for the best people to work. On each of my team member’s birthdays, I enjoy crafting a surprise to wish him or her a happy birthday and celebrate the milestone:

Mr. Luke Clum’s work station Mr. Luke Clum’s work station

Mrs. Kyra Kuik’s work station Mrs. Kyra Kuik’s work station

Mr. Robert Toledo’s work station Mr. Robert Toledo’s work station

I may be wasteful with office supplies (and tinfoil), but it’s for a good cause. Not only does everyone get excited to see what’s going to happen for an office birthday, but the team gets pumped seeing me sneak around and seeing the birthday boy/girl’s expression first thing in the morning. Each prank becomes a conversation piece in the office and online.

Having fun makes me feel better, but more importantly, having fun amps up team morale. We don’t limit this to birthdays and work anniversaries, which we celebrate too. Here is a short list of things the Seattle office of Distilled has done just this last month in the name of fun.

  1. Dinner club – Each month the office plans a dinner at new restaurant.
  2. Happy hour – Drinking!
  3. Office games – Wii and ping pong are played daily.
  4. Beer O’Clock – More drinking!
  5. Mini Golf – We joined a Seattle miniature golf league.
Making work fun is a no-brainer, but it's not always easy to prioritize. We work in an industry where it’s easy to put on headphones and type away for hours without actually saying a word to anyone. Every company has its own culture. If yours doesn’t have something fun for people to do or look forward to, then start something. It can be as simple as an office candy stash or as big as a ping pong table.


The ability to stay motivated and avoid falling into a rut does more than just translate into more wins. Avoiding the dreaded work rut, staying motivated, and having fun are all directly related to increased office morale, improved productivity and better efficiency.  Here are four takeaways anyone can use to stay motivated:
  1. The right tool for the right job – Using the right tool can make a tedious task fly by and open new avenues you haven’t considered.
  2. Change your perspective – Stuck? Need motivation? Leverage your team and/or your network to bounce around ideas and get feedback. You never know what will come up.
  3. Praise publicly – Positivity breeds motivation. Praise your team where others will recognize their efforts and you’ll see better results.
  4. Have fun – It’s not work when you’re having fun.
Now is your turn to get me motivated. Leave a comment and share what you do to avoid falling into a rut and stay motivated.

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