Here’s a productivity hack that works just as well for solo workers as for those who work in big offices with lots of co-workers around.
Whenever you get stuck on something, you have to try to solve the problem by yourself for 15 minutes, but then when the 15 minutes are up you have to ask for help.
People tend to fall on two ends of a continuum. Either they don’t put in any effort and ask someone right away, or they get really into something and keep at it for hours even though they don’t make any tangible progress.
Typically those who ask right away are those who have very low confidence with the problem at hand. I’ve seen this many times with older people who haven’t grown up with computers for example. They are afraid of doing a mistake and breaking things, so they will ask someone to help them at every little step, even though with some thought (or a Google search) they could definitely have arrived at the answer themselves.
On the other hand, those who act obstinately and become all worked up on a problem for a long time tend to be people of high technical ability. They have tons of confidence in their abilities and believe that they’re just one step away from the solution. They can sometimes forget how much time has passed since they started to tackle the problem. When they do realise how much time was wasted it sometimes makes them feel even more frustrated and ashamed that they haven’t solved it yet, and spend even more time on it.
The work environment also plays an important rule. Working on your own tends to encourage the second type of behavior, while working in an office where colleagues are close by and very accessible means we are more likely to ask right away before putting in any work. Asking too soon will waste other people’s time and it also means that you’re less likely to learn things properly so you can do them yourself without any problem in the future.
I’ve done both of these mistakes many times in the past. Nowadays the 15-minute rule helps me avoid these situations.
This is also related to the rubber duck method, which I use especially if I don’t have quick access to someone who can help and I’m stumped. Here’s how that works:
Step 1) Beg, borrow, steal, buy, fabricate or otherwise obtain a rubber duck (bathtub variety)
Step 2) Place rubber duck on desk and inform it you are just going to go over some code with it, if that’s all right.
Step 3) Explain to the duck what your code is supposed to do, and then go into detail and explain your code line by line
Step 4) At some point you will tell the duck what you are doing next and then realise that that is not in fact what you are actually doing. The duck will sit there serenely, happy in the knowledge that it has helped you on your way.
Note: In a pinch, a coworker might be able to substitute for the duck, however, it is often preferred to confide mistakes to the duck instead of your coworker.
Original Credit: ~Andy from lists.ethernal.org
Of course, the rubber duck can also be substituted by anything else. One college professor used to keep a stuffed dog outside his office. Before being allowed in to speak to him, you had to explain the issue to the dog first. The dog solved 50% of the questions. It might be hard to believe at first but try it out, it works!