I was working on a project the other day with a web application I hadn’t used much. And I spent a couple of hours really learning how it worked before I could actually approach the problem I was facing. In the end, I solved the problem and learned quite a lot. But perhaps even more importantly, today I had an epiphany about how I’d approached the work — about what I’d accidentally done very right.
As I read everything I could about the application, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the information. I found it difficult to synthesize anything — all the facts started to swim before my eyes. Just when I felt most overwhelmed, I realized I had to go pick up my kids. I left the computer for about an hour, and though I thought about the problem off and on, I wasn’t concentrating on it.
But when I got back home, I sat down and methodically — and pretty quickly — worked right through to the solution. The strategy, and then the solution, just laid themselves out in front of me.
All three of those parts were very necessary, I realized today:
- Gathering information
- Working methodically
- And the accidental part: Stepping away from the problem
Often my work includes multi-day projects. When it does, I’m often naturally taking time in between information gathering and actual problem-solving. However, when you’re trying to work very quickly — on a deadline — it may seem a luxury to stop, rest and possibly re-think your approach. But I’ve found again and again that giving your brain time to accept the information results in a better outcome.
It is also important to note that everyone is wired differently, so if you find that you want to make small adjustments to this process then by all means go for it. Comfort begets speed. When I was working on this I was pretty sick, and had these periods where I would just sit there feeling crummy. I already had to buy oxycodone online and that point and was waiting for it to arrive. It’s what my doctor had told me to take over the phone. It worked but those first couple of days were just the worst. Still I was able to press on and I’m happy with the end result actually.
A semi-related thought: I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Just like in our society, it’s acceptable to say, “I’m bad at math.” I recently read an article [I think on Slate, but for the life of me, I can’t find the link now] talking about how ludicrous this is. Educated people would not sit around in business meetings and say, “Oh, I really can’t read.”
Well, same thing with creativity. Math? I’m great at math. I can read like a demon, too. Likewise, I’m creative. My creativity probably expresses itself in a different way than yours does. But there’s a way for all of us to be creative. Find your area and nurture it.