Week 7: Feeling stuck? Take a bath
When I was working, one of the most common phrases I would hear over time was — “I don’t feel very productive today”, or conversely, “I feel very productive today, I’m smashing through tasks!”
Most of us have this notion that being productive means constantly doing something, checking off item after item on our to-do list(s). What if I told you being productive could also mean going to sleep, or watching a movie, or taking a stroll through the park?
When it comes to problem-solving, I’ve always been a believer of sleeping on things. In the past, I often found that problems get solved when I walk away from it, and then come back to look at it from a new angle. For my data and analytics friends, it’s a bit like that code that won’t run even after hours of debugging, but when you leave and return after a while, you suddenly notice the bracket you forgot to close and then it starts working again — magic.
In Design Thinking lecture this week (yes, I’m doing a Design Thinking subject as part of my Masters. How cool, right!), we were introduced to a book — “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young. In it, he outlines a 5-step process for developing ideas.
And one of the steps seemingly explained all my “sleeping on it” moments in life. This was step 3, the incubating stage.
“…you make absolutely no effort of a direct nature. You drop the whole subject and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can“— James Webb Young
The subconscious is a fascinating thing. When studying Neuropsychology for my elective as an undergraduate student, examining the subconscious made up our first lecture… and the bulk of the semester.
Our breathing, heartbeat, and digestion process — to name a few —are regulated by our subconscious. But our subconscious is also a large database of memories, skills, beliefs… and without us not noticing, drives a lot of our conscious thoughts and behaviours.
Going back to James’ step 3, perhaps it can be argued, then, that doing “nothing”, or doing something that is seemingly unrelated to the task at hand, is also a way of being productive, especially when there’s a need to come up with new ideas and ways to solve problems.
Of course, this is all under the assumption that you have done steps 1 and 2 (gathering your data and working over them in your mind) well.
“What you have to do… is to turn the problem over to your subconscious and to stimulate the unconscious, creative processes.“ — James Webb Young
So the next time you’re feeling stuck, or are faced with a problem that feels impossible to solve, try going for a walk, or doodling on a notebook, or listening to a few songs. Chances are, you’d find yourself with an idea to start with not long after.
After all, if the famous story was true, the Archimedes principle would not have come about if Archimedes had not dropped his work to take a bath.