Stop banging your head against the wall

Had a moment like this?
photo courtesy flickr user Alex E. Proimos


(MoneyWatch) I interviewed an artist recently who confessed that, late last year, she found herself stuck on a project. The project wasn't supposed to be taxing -- she'd budgeted a week for it -- but as one week became two and the ideas weren't coming, she started to feel serious trepidation. Her solution? Make Christmas ornaments. The project distracted the worrying part of her brain, filling the hours that would have been spent staring at a canvas. As a result, the creative part of her brain felt liberated, and got back to work.

Maybe you're facing a similar situation. A deadline is looming and yet you keep going around in circles. Throwing more hours at the problem doesn't seem to be helping. What can you do? A few ideas:

1. Do more research. This is tricky, because sometimes doing more research is just an excuse for procrastination. But sometimes, when a thesis for a piece isn't suggesting itself, I realize it's because I haven't interviewed enough people or found the right study that ties everything together. Budget some time for dumping in a new bucket of water and that might be enough to get the pipes flowing.

2. Start a new project. After the project that's vexing you is done, you'll have to start something new anyway, so why not start it now? At least you'll get something done, rather than staring at the wall, and the breathing space you give yourself might allow for solutions to percolate.

3. Try something completely different. Like making Christmas ornaments. Or scrapbooking. Or taking three Zumba classes in a row. If you do this in the office, people will think you've completely lost your mind, which is why getting stuck on a project is an excellent reason to work at home for a day or two.

4. Tackle what you can. In any big project, there are small, doable parts, even if the whole remains elusive. You don't know what your overall story is, but you know there will be a page about sales trends in a new product line, so work on that page. Once you figure out the big stuff, putting the little pieces together will be like doing a jig-saw puzzle where all the pieces are end pieces. It will be quick and pretty mindless.

5. Trust in the process. You've steered yourself out of dead ends before, and you will this time too. Often the toughest projects turn into your favorite, because you're forced to do your best work. Someday this project could be the crown jewel of your portfolio -- so keep that image in mind and you might relax enough to get things done.

How do you get unstuck?

Photo courtesy flickr user Alex E. Proimos