June 17, 2010
Solving a Puzzle
I am known to work on the occasional crossword puzzle. Maybe every week or two I try my hand. I'm not like some friends who can whip through one in thirty minutes. In fact, it usually takes me a few days to finish. But I've seen a remarkable pattern in how I manage to solve them.
Usually I'll pick off the easy ones and maybe complete a third or quarter in a half hour. Then I slow way down, maybe only filling in a half dozen more words in the next thirty minutes. In fact, no matter how long I work, that's about all the further I can go.
But if I wait till the next morning, I can whip through another quarter, until I get stuck again. If I keep working on it, I hit nothing but dead-ends. But if I wait till before bed, then in a flurry I can fill in a dozen more. And so it goes till I finish.
My point is not to offer strategies for working crossword puzzles--though if that helps, well and good. Rather, it illustrates a basic problem-solving strategy that I've noted before here and here. When working on a knotty problem, give your brain space and time to rest.
Maybe you can't figure out the right title for a book. Maybe there's a workload quandary in your team. Maybe your schedule is out of whack. If it is not a crisis requiring an immediate answer, take a break and do something entirely different. Listen to music. Ride a bike. Paint a picture--or the trim in your bedroom. Get your brain doing something entirely different than it normally does at work.
You might even try working a crossword puzzle.