What to Do When You’re Stuck

Posted by Laura Kowalczyk - August 11, 2020


We’ve all been there. From design to development to management and anywhere in between, we’ve all had that moment of hitting a wall in our work. With more of us working from home or having limited social interactions with our teams, it’s become even easier to feel burnt-out or stuck. Maybe you’ve been assigned your next big project and you have no idea where to begin. Maybe you’ve been coding and hit a snag that you can’t figure out how to unravel. Or maybe you have an article to write with a deadline fast approaching. The tasks might be different, but the uncertainty of “What do I do next?!” remains the same.

Breaking the Ice

So, what do you do?

First, don’t panic. Remind yourself that you can get through this. Just as we’ve all been stuck, we’ve also all gotten ourselves unstuck before. You are capable and you will figure it out. Don’t be afraid to say it out loud if you need to (it just might help)!

Begin by taking stock of your situation. Write a list of exactly what you need to accomplish, and break it into small, manageable chunks. Think about different ways you might approach the task. If it’s a big new project, try creating an outline for yourself of what needs to be done and when. If it’s a tricky code issue, review what you’ve tried already and see if any new ideas come to mind. Do your own mini-brainstorm, keeping in mind that no idea is too far-fetched. Even the most ridiculous notion can spark a more usable idea. As an example, perhaps it’s not feasible to repaint the entire office to a more motivating motif, but maybe you can hang some new artwork on the walls or update screensavers to relaxing nature scenes.

Step by Step

Often, getting started is the biggest hurdle. There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank screen, document, or slide. Start by getting something out there, even just rehashing your objectives. Take one of your brainstorm ideas and develop it further. Reward yourself for milestones, and then keep at it. For example, commit yourself to filling half a page, writing a few lines of code, or creating a few slides, no matter how good or bad. Then allow yourself a ten-minute brain break to take a short walk, pet your dog, or chat with a co-worker. Keep that up and before you know it you will have a couple pages written, or a good chunk of a course created, or a section of the project coded, and lunch will have arrived! Form a pattern of progress then reward.

Find Your Muse

Sometimes a little outside inspiration can help jumpstart our creativity. If you’re stalled mid-project or need more input than a personal brainstorm, try these techniques:

  • Browse iStock or a favorite photo site.
  • Read industry-related or motivational articles. (Might we recommend some of these?)
  • Listen to music.
  • Change up your scenery – sometimes changing physically where you are can change your perspective. Instead of trying to write at your desk, maybe take it to your back porch.
  • Talk your ideas or process over with a friend or trusted colleague. Even if they can’t relate (i.e. you are explaining a complicated coding issue and they aren’t a developer), sometimes just talking another person through the situation (and by extension putting it in order for yourself) can help you work through it.

Be Patient with Yourself

Sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away for a bit. If you tried and tried, and still can’t fix the bug or find the perfect phrase, give your brain a rest. Put the task aside for an evening and come back refreshed the next day. I have solved many a complicated work problem while out for a morning jog, running errands, or preparing a meal.

To that effect, be prepared for those bursts of inspiration. Keep a notepad app handy or pen and paper and jot ideas down when they come to you. Never assume you will remember it later!

Reach Out

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t wait until the last minute. If the project is due at three o’clock on Friday, don’t wait until two to tell your boss you are stumped. Even if you are self-employed, you can always reach out to people in your network or call a friend for a pep talk.

Care to share your stories of hitting that wall and what you did to break through? Feel free to reach out to us with your own tales or advice.

Topics: eLearning developer, Instructional Design

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