7 Ways To Solve A Problem You’re Stuck On

How to get past it, even if you don’t know what to do

Currently I’m in the midst of a rather simple but important problem to solve. I know what needs to happen, and I’ve figured out what the problem is I just can’t figure out how to solve it. It’s a rare occasion that figuring out the how becomes harder than understanding the what and why.

So in hopes of solving this problem mid publishment of this post I’m going to give a try and writing how one would approach this situation if I were speaking to them and they were in my shoes.

I have a few ideas of what one might try when they seem not to be able to make anymore progress.

#1 Define your problem

If you can’t clearly state the problem to a few people without looking at anything or showing something you probably don’t fully understand it. You’ve got to get to clarity before you’ll have any reasonable chance at solving it.

#2 Try the first 3 solutions that come to mind

My guess is that you have had about 100 ideas of how you could solve it. And it’s a little bit crazy to try and sort all those ideas out without going crazy. My recommendation: try the first 3 and see where you land. I’ve learned that more often than not I learn a lot more about the specific problem by trying a couple things.

And hopefully, you’ll find the solution in those first 3 attempts :)

#3 Take a step back

This is the point at which you begin to feel frustration or annoyance with the fact that you haven’t been able to solve it yet. Now is the time to chill for a bit and switch tasks and see if you can figure something else out that you need to work on.

Sometimes I’ll go for a run or walk during this phase and just try to get my brain reset and forgetting about the problem long enough that I can approach it with a clear head again when I return.

#4 Use a whiteboard

I’ve been amazed at the ability to solve problems as you write out the whole process on a whiteboard and explain what is happening at each step, and then epiphanies often result and you find solutions on a white board. Why do you think all the super smart math and science geniuses use whiteboards full of equations so often? It’s the original rapid prototyping tool.

#5 Ask for help

This seems obvious and perhaps you’ve done this earlier, but I like to leave it until about this point, because I have some ideas of what won’t work, I have clarity on what the problem is, and I have some ideas and documentation on the process. Even if it is someone that doesn’t have the technical ability to understand all the little details, often just talking through it with someone helps.

#6 Get specific advice

If basic help asking doesn’t do the trick, now is the time to start searching forums, blogs, and books for similar problems and adaptive solutions. If there is a support line you can call, or chat with or submit a ticket, this is a good time to do it.

#7. Adapt, Retry, Solve

The reality is you’ll be able to solve the problem. At some point you’ll come to a solution, and you’ll try and fail with enough things that you can see what will work. Each failed attempt is a step closer to a sustainable solution. Don’t be afraid to take lots of breaks, and mix up your work so you can see more clearly. Write down lots of ideas, ask lots of questions and get help from people smarter than you.

You’ll figure it out.

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