What Do You Do When You’re Stuck?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I had a number of writing projects to complete and everything I wrote stunk. I have had bad writing days before, but this one was a doozy. Everything I wrote stank. (I was bored reading it!) What could I do?

I tried different approaches. I’m writing a blog post on why managers like estimates. I rewrote that blog post 3 times, all 700-800 words of it. But I did try different approaches.

I tried writing different things. I worked on that blog post, some workshops, and an article for techwell.com. I managed to finish the article for techwell.com. But, in order to write that article, I had to stop the article I started.  I wrote a different article. I was able to send that one off to the editor.

I almost asked for help from some of my colleagues, but I was tired. I took a nap. That was the most useful thing I did all day.

If I had been around other people, I would have asked for pairing help.

When I’m stuck, I do these things:

  1. Notice I’m stuck. I have a 15-minute rule. If I’m stuck for 15 minutes, stop doing what I’m doing and find another way. Why should I waste time?
  2. Take a different slant on the topic. Maybe I’m writing (or coding or testing or managing) from the wrong perspective. Another perspective often changes the situation and allows me to unstick myself.
  3. Work on something else. I have a number of projects in progress. I don’t have a lot of work in progress, but I do have projects in progress. I can work on one of them, clear my head, and return to my original work.
  4. Talk over the problem with a colleague.
  5. Talk to the duck.
  6. Pair with people and develop something together.
  7. Take a nap.

I realized today what the problem was. I am getting over a bad head cold and I was exhausted. After my nap, I was better. I was able to think more clearly and see what to do. I might not have the blog post written yet, but I know where I’m going. I’m still making progress.

Yes, it took an entire day for me to realize what was wrong with me. On the other hand, it didn’t take more than a day.

Do you notice when you’re stuck? You might be having a bad developer day, a bad tester day, a bad manager day. In my case, I had a bad writing day. Oh well. The first thing to do is notice, so you don’t create more bad work. You’ll have to undo it at some point.

Dear adaptable problem-solvers: What do you do when you’re stuck? If you have other advice, I would love to hear it.

6 thoughts on “What Do You Do When You’re Stuck?

  1. Isabelle

    I take a walk. If I can I get someone else to walk with me and talk as I walk. Most of our important family decisions have been made during our “thinking walks” ;-)

    1. johanna Post author

      Gee, I wish I’d thought of that! I’m shaking my head, laughing at myself. So smart of you.

      Changing your physical perspective is a great idea. Thanks, Isabelle.

  2. Cecile

    Thanks Johanna for this new “question of the week”. I agree with Isabelle too, walking and going out for a few minutes is quite useful.
    I have recently read “Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies” by Joshua Waldman. He explains that you can’t stay focus on your work for more than 30 minutes. He gives the following advice: work for 30 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes (walk or do something else), work again for 30 minutes etc. Repeat the prcess 4 times, until you have worked for 2 hours. Then take a longer break for 30-50 minutes. Obviously it’s hard to take such a long break every two hours but having tried this process a few times, I can say that I am more efficient when following it.

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