What I Do When I’m Stuck

A quick little post today on my routine that I go through when I’m stuck. Let’s say that I’m programming and I’m hitting a wall, maybe I’m getting frustrated that I can’t figure something out, and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Despite being a supreme genius of the universe, this happens to me all the time. Now I have a little routine that I go through systematically, and eighty percent of the time or so it gets me moving again.

The first thing I do is I clean up my desk. I hate to admit that I’m influenced by such trivial things as desk clutter, but a nice empty clean desk has a real calming effect on the mind. Sometimes I even wipe it down with soap and water so that it’s really clean. This sounds a little bit crazy, but I’ve noticed a consistent improvement in motivation when I do it. I also clean anything in front of me. In the RV, that’s the two front seats and whatever’s on the kitchen counter beside me.

Next I drink about sixteen ounces of water, even if I’m not thirsty. Left to my own devices, I drink very little water unless I’m at a restaurant, so I use frustration as a cue that I might need more water. Sometimes I have tea cold-brewing in the fridge, and I might drink that instead. Being even moderately dehydrated brings on feeling of fatigue, which can be confused with (or a part of) not being able to concentrate. Drinking water doesn’t always have an effect, but sometimes it wakes me right up.

After cleaning and drinking some water, I play my violin. You can substitute anything left-brained here, like sketching or playing piano. I have theories about why this helps– maybe it spins up the left brain and starts using it to tackle the problem at hand, maybe it gives the right brain a break to recharge its chemicals, or maybe it’s all placebo. Regardless, I find that a good portion of the time after I play some music, I’ll think of a totally different solution to the problem that I hadn’t even considered before.

The last step I take before getting back to work is turning off my monitor and spending just a minute or two thinking about the problem. When the computer is on, I have a tendency to just start mashing at the keys trying to solve the problem, but if it’s off for even a couple minutes that gives my brain a chance to wrap itself around the problem.

This may sound like an unnecessarily complex ritual to go through, but it actually only takes 5-10 minutes, which is a nice little break to take every few hours anyway. You may be able to find a better process for yourself (leave it in the comments), but if you don’t have one, try this is as starting point next time you find yourself at an impasse.


Japan meetup is TODAY (Saturday Japan time). Looks like it’s going to rain, so we’ll probably be meeting up at the cafe. Link is here: http://tynan.com/community/tokyo-meetup

Photo was taken by Brian… we climbed up the wall of Osaka Castle.

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