by Help Scout
All creatives get stuck once in awhile (or a lot, or just about anywhere in between). Time now to address this frustrating and often painful situation:
e first step (always the hardest, right?) in solving a problem is recognizing you have one.
We’re all familiar with the feeling of grappling with a head-scratcher for longer than we’d like. It can take a while to connect the time we’ve lost staring at the screen with the fact that we’re stuck on something and it’s time to try a new approach. Stuckedness isn’t always immediately apparent, and we arrive at the realization in different ways.
Embarrassing as it is to admit, I know I’m avoiding tackling something big when I catch myself playing too much solitaire. Some of us procrastinate more productively—like Help Scout head of engineering Chris Brookins, who admits to sometimes taking on “a bunch of easier tasks to avoid a big one.” Meanwhile, the tasks that loom largest on our lists remain undone.
Once you identify your personal problem-avoidance tactics, it’s easier to recognize the “I’m stuck” moment.
And that’s powerful, because it’s in that moment that you can start to do something about it.
Here are a few tactics to deploy the next time you notice you’re deep in the stuck.
1. Apply tried-and-true problem solving frameworks
The bad news? “There is no formula for problem solving,” says Michael Kallet, author of Think Smarter. “If there were, we’d plug the world’s problems into the formula, and we would have no problems.” The good news is there’s no shortage of “ways to look at problems that generate ideas for solving them.”
My teammate Gregory Ciotti is fond of mental models—consistently available ways to frame and give perspective to the abstract—for problem solving. “A very practical one is inversion thinking, which is useful for addressing the negative,” Greg says. “Instead of, ‘What can I do to be brilliant?’ you can start by asking, ‘What should I do to avoid being stupid?’” In that way, inversion thinking can eliminate nasty problems.
Help Scout engineer Craig Davis, a former EMT, swears by “OPQRST,” a mnemonic device medical providers use to diagnose patient issues. “With a little practice,” Craig says, “it can be used to quickly diagnose almost any problem.”