2017 Update:
Now available as an interactive flowchart!
Productivity Flowchart

Just as writers are prone to writer's block, programmers are prone to GeekBlock.

Maybe we can't find the cause of a particular bug,or maybe we just can't stop surfing the web when we know there's things we should be doing.

Having found myself in the clutches of GeekBlock more than once, I've put together some notes from the inside.

I can think of three different situations which can give rise to the dreaded GeekBlock

  1. You are stuck by a specific problem
  2. You lack motivation
  3. You are procrastinating

In each of these situations you might feel that there is no way of moving forward, or that any technique of moving forward is extreemly slow. But all of them can be overcome, if you are willing to deal directly with the problem.

Notes on each situation are included below.

You are stuck by a specific problem top

You've been handed a bug to resolve - but you're not making any headway. Or you're developing a component for a large project, but one small part of it has got you beat.

Some ways you might want to deal with this situation include:

  1. Tear your hair out
  2. Tell your manager that it cannot be done
  3. procrastinate
  4. Quit your job

Since these methods are not particularly rewarding in the long term, you might prefer to consider some more sustainable techniques for problem solving.

Take the time to analyze around the problem. Ask the following questions - and don't settle for simple answers.

  1. What's the problem
  2. Do you lack knowledge about the problem?
  3. Do you lack Technical Knowledge?
  4. Can you work around the problem?

Identify the problem

  1. List making
  2. brain storming
  3. talk it out

(if need be, talk it out very very slowly)

Do you Lack knowledge about the problem?

(eg, a bug that can't be reproduced)

  1. Find the people who raised it
  2. Talk to anyone who knows more about it
  3. If it's a bug - can you reproduce it?

Lack of Technical Knowledge?

  1. Acquaintances
    1. Colleagues
    2. Friends, old colleagues
  2. Web
    1. Google
    2. product speicifc sites (eg: MSDN for microsoft products)
    3. Your Personal Favourites
    4. Other people online who've had the same problem (write to them)
  3. Books
    1. Office library
    2. Personal library
    3. State/Government libraries
    4. Bookshops

Can you Work around the problem

Can it be solved through another means?

What's the underlying business problem?

You lack motivation! top

  1. The task is mind numbingly dull!
  2. The task is too big.
  3. I just don't feel like working on it.

I just don't feel like working on it.

Maybe you are depressed, even clinically-depressed. You can get treatment for that - so go for it.

  1. Take a break
  2. Take control
  3. List making
  4. brain dumping
  5. talk it out

Take a break

Sometimes the brain is just exhausted. Sometimes the spine has been in the same position for far too long. If you've sat staring at a problem, or staring in to thin air, for twenty minutes or more with no success then you're entering paraletic brain shut down and you need to step away from the keyboard.

Drink some coffee, read a magazine, look at the sky. If you work from home then go out and dig in the garden. If you work in an office then go outside and dig in the corporate rose bush. You never know what you'll unearth.

Take Control

When true procrastination sets in, you're mind can travel far away from the problem. If you've lost your focus then it may be time to sit down and try to work out exactly what the problem is.

List Making

Making a list, revising a list and expanding on an existing list are my preferred ways of approaching particularly difficult conundrums.

Brain Dumping

Sometimes there is other junk knocking around in your brain that clouds your critical faculties. When I start to feel that way I try to list each of the separate topics I am concerned with - not in any detail, not neatly - just quickly and thoroughly. Sometimes this can reveal extraordinary things about where your real concerns lie.

Talk It Out

Suffering from "Super Procrastination" top

Procrastination, or hesitation, can be an immensely enjoyable exercise, particularly when you are facing looming deadlines. SOme of the best activities to perform while procrastinating include:

  1. Surfing the web
  2. Ripping CDs into MP3s
  3. Drawing
  4. Emailing/chatting
  5. Cleaning your keyboard
  1. Little steps
  2. List making

My book "Choose Your First Product" is available now.

It gives you 4 easy steps to find and validate a humble product idea.

Learn more.

(By the way, I read every comment and often respond.)

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