Todd Dewett | March 31, 2019
To be stuck is the state of feeling that your brain has hit a mental wall when trying to work on a problem. It’s like walking in two feet of wet cement. Over several days, you’re getting it done, making progress. Then it hits you. Indecision. Confusion. A lack of focus. Hey, it’s normal. It happens weekly or monthly for most of us. Add on physical fatigue, hunger, and many other possible stressors that are encroaching, and progress stops. If this persists for more than a few minutes, you’re stuck.
No worries. You can beat this. Here’s how to get unstuck.
Step one is to admit you’re stuck and that it’s time to stop beating your head against the wall. Stop what you’re doing. Don’t try to win the fight immediately. Assuming no imminent deadline, just walk away. Why would you choose to continue swimming in glue? I know the typical response is to swim harder. Feel free to give it a try. However, when you pass the normal effort it takes to get your brain moving forward again, just stop.
Next, it’s time to unplug your brain. If you’re at work, this means leaving the tiny place you call your office or work space. Go wander the halls. Get something to drink. Walk around the building three times. Sit under a tree and think of something funny to tell your partner or kids when you get home. You have to allow your brain to take a breath and not focus at all on that thing that created the river of glue.
Third, after ten to twenty minutes, choose a new work issue. Make your first few minutes back at work about this new issue. Something smaller is perfect. Make that call. Reply to the email. Send your team your thoughts about the upcoming meeting. Whatever. Get it done. Getting something done is like a drug. It feels good. Like any drug, you don’t want to over indulge. Don’t let yourself become overly focused on the simple tasks. In this situation, however, you are using a simple task strategically to get refocused and ready.
Finally, return to the task that caused you to get stuck. Before you dive in, let’s mix things up. Grab your laptop and go find a new temporary work space. An open office, the break room, a conference room, outside. If you normally sit, try standing. Now, dive in, but consider a new approach. Attack a different aspect of the problem. At this point, you’re very likely to see the problem differently and make progress. One hour later if you’re still stuck it’s time to bring some of your friends to the fight. A colleague, a friend with relevant expertise, your boss, who knows. One solo attempt at getting unstuck will usually work just fine. If not, it’s time to form a gang.
We all get stuck. If you’ve not felt stuck recently, you’re clearly not working very hard. For the rest of you, no worries. Follow the advice above and know when to call a friend. Stuck happens, and so does unstuck.