These last few months, I have been very busy juggling personal life, some client projects, and two large projects I am undertaking to grow my business.
One of these growth projects is a software application that will significantly reduce the time technical authors need to spend compiling their books for print, eBook, and training.
To build the software product, I had to dust off my developer skills and learn quite a bit. For example, I know and understand XML, Xhtml, C#, ePub, Visual Studio, localization, and object-oriented programming, but I had limited practical hands-on experience.
Building software and writing a book are very similar. There are days you can sit down and type beautiful code or crank through a thousand words. Then there are the dark days. These are the days where focus and attention to detail go out the window. It is just you and the computer. That screen staring back at you with the always-blinking cursor taunting you to do something, anything worthwhile.
During those dark times, I would sit in front of my computer trying my best to fix a bug, improve the grammar in my book, or fester over a small but all-consuming issue. Just recently, I ran into a serious problem with my software product. Usually, I can turn to freelancer.com and get a developer to fix a problem for a few hundred dollars, or ask a question on stackoverflow.com, but this time no one had the answer.
I searched and searched some more for the answer for three full days. I wrote code that I knew in my heart of hearts should work, but it was not to be.
Do you watch the cooking show Good Eats? The host, Alton Brown, would cook a dish that should not be touched and used a great line for a drive that point home. For example, while rice is cooking, you never lift the pot, so Alton used his signature line: “Just walk away. That’s right, just walk away…”.
Channeling my inner Alton Brown, I walked away from the technical problem. I still pondered it but refused to sit down and write any software code for three full days. This morning, I woke up and realized my approach was all wrong and the answer to my coding problem came to me all at once. Reinvigorated, I fired up Visual Studio, commented out more than fifty lines of broken code, and replaced it with the one single line I thought might just work. I pressed the F5 key to run the code and waited for the screen to load. Hesitantly, I clicked the button that would run my masterfully simple one-liner.
It worked on the first try! I looked around but there was no one to high-five, so I just sat there with a big smile on my face and got back to work.
I led a lot of projects in my lifetime, and I could always sense when someone was getting burned out or needed to take a break, so I would pre-empt this by giving them some time off or making them promise to do something else and come back to it later. That is something I should have done for myself a long time ago. Three weeks ago to be exact.
The next time you get stuck in your head or you are stuck with a problem you cannot solve, please take this advice: Just walk away. Come back and don’t give up, but don’t rush yourself. You will be better for it.