Dave Lee

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The “Just look at it” hack to problem solving (Productivity Tip #4)

This past week I was faced with a difficult problem.  A really difficult problem.

In fact, it was painfully difficult.  And I was struck with a flood of emotions: fear, anxiety, despair, etc.

I just wanted to sleep and not deal with it.

But instead, I did the “Just look at it” hack.

The “Just look at it” hack is something I’ve been thinking about the past few weeks.  The essence is that if you just face a challenging problem by looking at it, then your brain will naturally respond with creativity and ideas to overcome and solve the problem.  In other words, you don’t need to try to solve the problem with your raw effort.  Rather, just stare at the problem and let you brain do the work for you.

I printed out all my notes regarding my difficult problem onto two 8.5 x11 pieces of paper.  And then I went to the couch in my living room, and just stared at it.  I told myself, “you don’t need to solve it or fix it right away.  You don’t need to do anything but just look at it and let your brain think about it.”  So that’s what I did.

I sat for about an hour, just staring at the two pieces of paper and letting my brain do it’s work.  Then, it started to happen.  One by one ideas started to form and I began jotting them down.  No magic moment of epiphany, yet.

I kept going and in another hour or two, I was getting epiphany.  I had the solution to my really difficult problem.  And my fear and despair turned to ecstatic relief and confidence.

So the next time you’re faced with a really difficult problem and you want to run away and not face it, try the “Just look at it” hack.

1.  Jot down all the notes regarding your problem/challenge and print it out.

2.  Just look at the printed notes and let your brain mull it over.

3.  Keep at it.  It’s ok if you start dozing.  Just wake up and keep looking at the printed notes.

4.  When inspiration comes, start taking notes.  But keep going until you get the creative solution you need.

(Read my other posts on Productivity Tips.  Check out my other series too.)

Great discussion on Hacker News regarding this post.