Getting stuck on a problem is something Tandem developers and designers encounter often in their work, whether it be a messy codebase, a new pain point in the UI, or a wavering project team dynamic. Try not to feel defeated when you get stuck — instead, try some of our team’s most effective tips for getting unstuck:
How to Get Unstuck While Coding
Retrace Your Steps
Sometimes the easiest way to move forward is to go back the way you came. When you hit a programming wall, walk through the coding problem from the beginning step by step. Or, work backward! Consider the end state and what possible steps immediately precede that, then what comes before those, and continue until you reach the starting point. This way, you can comb through to see anything you may have missed.
Tailor this process to your learning style, whether it’s auditory, visual, tactile, or a combination. For instance, if you are an auditory learner, verbalize each step and talk through it aloud. As a visual learner, you may find it useful to whiteboard the problem step by step to see everything from a distance. Tactile learners walking through the problem may want to write everything on post-it notes and arrange them sequentially to figure out where they missed something.
Find a Rubber Duck
When stuck on a programming problem, don’t be afraid to call for reinforcements — in this case, your coworkers! Find someone available to pair with you. They may not even need to dig into the code, but instead, be a rubber duck and ‘bob’ alongside you as you untangle the problem. It’s beneficial to talk through the problem with someone else; their presence alone may help you realize something you didn’t before.
If no one is available to pair, talk through it to your pet, roommate, or whoever is nearby! They may not understand programming, but they can provide a listening ear.
Leave and Come Back Later
Sometimes getting unstuck means taking a step back. If you have been trying to solve a problem for a while, it’s best to come back to it later. Give your brain a break by focusing on something else: go for a walk, listen to music, do some dishes, tidy up your documentation, or whatever works best for you. Even taking a nap is helpful — who knows? You may wake up with new methods to try!
How to Get Unstuck in UI/UX Design
Mess Up On Purpose
It may sound counterintuitive, but design something you know is bad. Change the color of a button, move an element off-center, whatever you can to purposely mess up your design (with the undo button handy, of course). The desire to fix it will overcome your inability to get unstuck. Sometimes, any amount of forward motion is better than none, and editing is easier than starting from scratch.
Get Another Set of Eyes
Pair with someone — a fellow designer, a developer, or a friend. Getting another person’s ideas and critiques can help shed light on the challenge that has you feeling stuck. Talk through the problem with them step by step. They may not even need to provide feedback; just the presence of another person can help you see things in a new way.
Take a Walk
Rather than staring at your designs until they don’t feel real anymore, go for a walk, clean up a bit, or dance to your favorite song. Putting some distance between yourself and the problem can help you come back with fresh eyes and a calmer mind. Moving around releases endorphins, so using physical activity as a problem-solving strategy can help you feel energized and ready to get unstuck when you sit back down.
Other Ways to Get Unstuck
If you are fresh out of ideas, try one of these all-purpose methods to help restart your brain:
Consider an analogous problem for which you do have a solution. See if there are parallel structures that spark new ideas or insights or apply to the original problem. Or solve a simpler version of the problem and try to find correlations. Watering down the problem by breaking it into smaller ones can help you start solving things, allowing you to feel like you’re getting somewhere.
If getting out of your seat isn’t an option or of interest, try meditating. Listening to binaural beats or theta and alpha waves can help get you in a zone of relaxation — which is especially helpful when the problem gets frustrating!
When you’re working to solve big problems, you’re going to occasionally get stuck. Don’t give up! Try some of our tips above, and if you need a partner to help your team get unstuck, let us know how Tandem can help.