My friend Robert Tucker over at Innovation Resource has some great tips for getting “unstuck.” I’ll share a few of them here, and then link to his excellent article.
If you solve problems for a living, you’ve probably had it happen. Just when you least expect it — and just when you need to be brilliant — you’re suddenly blocked. You pour on the coffee and tell yourself you’ll power it out. But all you produce is the jitters. You try burning the midnight oil, and all you do is exhaust yourself. Face it: your “idea factory” has decided to shut down. You’re stuck.
The condition can be so jarring that authors have a name for it: writers block. For them, it’s the inability to produce satisfactory new work. In some cases, it can last for years, as it did for such luminaries as Stephen King, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote. For the rest of us, it’s usually a temporary condition, but no less frustrating if you’re coming up on an important deadline and your well is suddenly, inexplicably dry.
Getting stuck doesn’t have to become a personal crisis. Not if you have a few tools in your toolkit for just such times. Here are seven surefire ways to avoid the time- wasting, agonizing period of non-productivity known as being stuck — and get quickly back on track:
1. Recognize that you’re stuck. But don’t panic.
“Getting stuck is all part of the process,” the senior engineer at a defense contractor remarked recently. “It doesn’t scare me like it did when I was younger.” Don’t let it scare you either, but learn to recognize the symptoms. If you find yourself aimlessly surfing the Internet and avoiding the project you’re on, this could be a sign. If you draw a mind-map but can only come up with several options, this could be a heads up that you’re stuck.
2. Consciously shift your environment.
Start shifting your environment, your perspective, and your approach to the problem you’re working on till you get back into a flow state. How? Start by changing where you’re working on the problem. Change your physical environment. Go work in the conference room.
3. Consciously shift your approach.
Tried and true problem-solving steps can sometimes be ignored as we try to cut corners and produce brilliant work on the fly. If you’re feeling stuck, revisit these steps: identifying the problem, setting goals, brainstorming possibilities, and assessing alternatives. Solutions to the bigger problems and projects often come, not when we command them to appear, but because we’ve incubated ideas for a period of time.
4. Shift your perspective.
“If stuck, I try to bounce the problem off others, thinking out loud,” observed one manager. “This always worked for me when I used to do software development.” Assumption assaulting is necessary because the human brain is designed for efficiency. It takes what neuroscientists call “perceptual shortcuts” to save energy.