Sometimes it pays to stop up and consider if the task you’re currently working on is framed right. Also, it’s a good idea to consider if there are other paths to your goal than the path you’re currently on.

Let me illustrate this with a recent example from my own life.

I had to send an email to a client with an exercise as an attachment.

Easy task, right? Only, I very quickly got stuck when opening the document to convert it to PDF. Because I had received the document with the exercise from a different person (with her permission to redistribute it), but the figure in the document looked all wrong because she uses Microsoft Office while I currently use LibreOffice.

What to do??

I didn’t really want to spend time fixing the figure. And my old Windows laptop is currently broken – it craches right after booting. So I thought about getting access to a Windows PC, but I was at a remote location and didn’t really want to spend 45 minutes by car. So my last option seemed to be to contact somebody and ask if they could create a PDF document for me if I sent the document to them by e-mail.

The last option was probably the easiest, but I was reluctant to involve other people. Mainly because I was slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t able to perform this simple task myself. But also because I didn’t want to interrupt anyone to do me this favor.

So I felt stuck! And annoyed! Not happy!

Several hours later, I had still not decided what to do. And then it struck me: I could just make an exception and e-mail the client the Word document (instead of a PDF). I know she has Microsoft Office, so it wouldn’t be a problem for her to see the figure as it was supposed to look.

I couldn’t help laughing out loud. It was such a simple and elegant solution, and I was able to send her the exercise right away.

And the next day, I sat down with LibreOffice and with a clear head and no pressure, it took me less than 15 minutes to fix the figure and generate a PDF file that I can send to future clients that I want to give this exercise to.

So if you feel stuck or frustrated, I can only recommend that you ask yourself: Are you overlooking a simple solution?

I also recommend that you try to question your assumptions about the task. Maybe you can perform the task in a different way (in my case sending the Word document) while still achieving your high-level goal (which in my case was to send the exercise to my client)?

Are you overlooking the simple solutions?