What Frustrates You?
I hate spooling.
Spooling is when my brain gets stuck—when I can’t solve a problem. I slip into an unproductive loop which makes me feel frustrated. Which makes me even less productive. Which makes me feel more frustrated…spool, spool, spool.
Be gone, spool!
I’ve spooled so many times that I can usually see it coming before it gets too intense. I’m not spool-proof by any means, but I have developed several good coping mechanisms. Perhaps they can help you when you’re stuck and need to solve a tough issue.
Here’s what I do to get back on track:
1. Talk about it
I talk to someone who knows me, but doesn’t know the current problem I’m facing. It can be anyone—a colleague, family member or friend. People who know me and care about me genuinely want to help me out of my predicament. The fact that they don’t know my issue at hand means they will raise questions I may not have considered.
Lately, my three-year-old son is a great sounding board. I’m forced to articulate my situation in such a straightforward manner that I often gain clarity on what’s really stumping me. For example, when I was recently trying to decide which new air conditioner to buy, my son got right to the point in no time.
Son: “Whatcha doin, Dad?”
Me: “I’m trying to pick the best air conditioner.”
Son: “So why don’t you just pick it?”
Me: “Because I don’t understand the difference between these two air conditioners.”
Son: “What’s the difference, Dad?”
Me: “Well…besides price, I’m not sure. They have all the same features, except this one is a 14 SEER unit, and the other is a 16 SEER unit.”
Son: “What’s a SEER, Dad?
Me: I have no idea.
Son: Why is that, Dad?
Me: Because I haven’t tried to look it up.
Son: Dad…you should probably look it up.
Me: You’re right.
Unspooled! And off I went to focus my research on SEER ratings so I could finalize my decision. (I went with the 16 SEER. Seems more efficient and cost effective in the long run.)
This is a simple example, but the strategy of talking it through with someone else can quickly help you solve a problem.
2. Write, then edit
Writing lets me clear my mind of all the clutter. I find a quiet place, put on instrumental music (anything without lyrics) and write down my stream of consciousness—even things unrelated to my current struggles.
For example, things like: I need to do my expense report this week, I want to get my suit dry cleaned before the wedding next month, do I have time for a haircut after work today? I get all of it out of my head and documented somewhere else. I can refer to it later when I have more time.
The key is that I never write and edit at the same time. That’s like trying to hit the gas and brake simultaneously. First, I get all the junk out of my head. Then, I’m able to take a step back and evaluate it and start to solve more effectively.
3. Do the opposite
If I’ve been spooling for a while, it’s often because I haven’t realized that I’ve been trying to force a particular solution that just won’t fit—like that old suit in the back of my closet.
When I can’t make something work, I eventually stop and ask myself, “What would be the opposite way to look at this?”
For example, I was trying to decide on the best pricing strategy for an upcoming event, and I just couldn’t seem to make the Day Pass rate work with my budget. Finally, I realized that maybe we should consider eliminating the Day Pass rate altogether. Or, maybe we should withhold promoting Day Passes in marketing for now, and wait until we see the performance of the full-conference registration after the first month.
If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.
I hope some of these ideas can help you next time you find yourself stuck or spooling. If you have any proven approaches that you use, I’d love to hear about them.