How to get unstuck when you're working from home

July 13, 2020

"Wonderful ideas build on wonderful ideas" according to Eleanor Duckworth, PhD & Harvard Professor of Education. And I agree. Whether my role in the room has been as team coach, or team member, the best ideas I've ever heard at work have rarely been the first one suggested. More usually it's the idea that expands on the idea, that expands on the idea, that was sort of related to the first suggestion.

So what happens when you're all out of ideas and there's nobody else around to get you started? Whether it's a relatively low impact problem, like what to include in a short client presentation or something more meaty like your organisation's growth strategy, we all get stuck sometimes. Here's a few ideas from my coaching toolkit that clients have found useful that could help you out:

Question bursts

Like brainstorming but without the pressure. Instead of coming up with ideas or answers, use a mind map to jot down all the questions you can think of. This works particularly well if you can phrase your issue as an open question, e.g. What should our growth strategy be?

Bursting with questions

If a particular question interests you and sparks others, keep going with it until you run out of follow ups. Once you're finished:

1. notice how you feel about your issue now - how has the exercise changed your attitude about it? You might find that something that felt like a chore before now feels more interesting, or perhaps that something that you were excited about doing now seems pretty hard to justify.

2. read through all the questions - have any helped you re-frame your issue? Which are most interesting to you? Dedicate your time to getting answers to those questions and you'll soon be back on track.

Build it out of Lego

Loosely based on the family therapy tool - systemic constellations - the idea here is to help you see things from a different perspective and surface what's really blocking you.

Actually, it works just as well with Play Doh. If you don't have a kids toy box you can raid, scrunched up scrap paper might work, or you could draw instead (you don't have to be great at art - simple line drawings will do it).

Think about the thing you're stuck with and build or draw something that represents it or how you feel about it right now. The first picture below is an example of the lego scene I might build if I was stuck on a sales meeting with new clients.

Take a picture, or set it to one side if you have enough materials and then re-build how your ideal state (second pic).

Customer - in the crown - turned away from me and not interested in what I'm saying as I talk through a slideshow. He's higher up because I feel like he's got all the power and is looking down his nose at me
Me and my customer sat side by side, on the same level, building something together

What do you need to do to make things more like your ideal state?

In my example, I might change my approach and prepare an interactive prototype instead of slideshow presentation for my customer meeting.

Explore all the bad ideas

This one's pretty self explanatory, just ask yourself, what are the worst ideas? What would happen? Have fun with it - jot them all down, no matter how ridiculous they seem. You might realise that something you were already writing off, consciously or not, isn't such a bad idea after all. Especially if you combine it with that other good idea you had earlier.

Pretend to be someone else

If you don't know what to do next, become someone else who might. Basically role play or putting yourself in someone else's shoes, this works best when you think about your problem as if you are someone COMPLETELY different. What would your five year old daughter/your favourite footballer/Michelle Obama suggest you do? What can you learn from that?

Take a warm shower

Ok, so I haven't actually done this in a coaching session! Research suggests that Dopamine + Distraction = Creativity. Doing something that you enjoy and relaxes you will flood your body with dopamine. If there's also something to distract you from focussing on your problem, you hit the sweet spot known as the idea incubation period and your creativity starts to kick back in.

Beware though, too much distraction and your brain will totally shift focus. Distractions that are based in habit or things you can do with consciously thinking work best - like taking a warm shower, going for a walk or reading a trashy magazine.

I hope these tools help you get unstuck, I'd love to hear how you got on.

Get in touch here if you or your team would like help generating new ideas or getting unstuck.