Feeling stuck? Try these simple creative problem solving techniques

feeling stuck creative problem solving - work your way


“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Abraham Maslow,  Toward a Psychology of Being


Have you ever felt stuck?

So stuck, that whichever way you turned, you couldn’t see a way out?

And then simply felt like tackling the problem with a hammer?!

In my case, it’s whenever I’m working on a new project.

Coming up with the idea is easy enough, as is diving into it head first in a flurry of excitement.  It’s when I’m almost finished – would you believe – that I get a bad dose of analysis paralysis.

Was this the right thing to do after all?“

“Should I do XYZ instead?”

“And suppose XYZ doesn’t work out either? Then what?!!”


There have been times when I’ve felt so annoyed with myself, that I’ve simply put the task to one side, put on some soothing music and crawled back under the duvet.

Mind you, leaving a challenge to simmer for a while is not such a bad thing. It can help you view the problem with a fresh new perspective once you return to it later on.

What’s not such a good idea, of course, is if you consistently procrastinate – leave off finishing your task or making that decision altogether.

Cue creative problem solving skills.

Here are just a couple of the strategies I’ve begun using to help me move forward.


Journaling for creative problem solving

I love having a space to keep a record of my projects, my goals and my mad cap ideas.

Lately, though, I’ve been using journaling as a problem solving tool. A place to work through my ideas, until I’m clear on how to go ahead.

I’m old fashioned, so I still use my notepad and pen. If you’re thinking about journaling and would prefer something more sophisticated (for example, the ability to quickly share your thoughts and ideas across different platforms – PC to mobile etc – check out these ideas on Lifehacker “Five Best Journaling Tools”

For me, jotting things down is the perfect way to be as creative with the thinking process as possible.

It’s almost the equivalent of having someone to brainstorm with, someone who can throw random ideas my way from a variety of different angles.

I also find this helps to avoid that circular pattern of thinking, where you find yourself coming up with the same solution each time.

When you can see your thoughts on paper, it’s easier to realise where the gaps lay, so that you can keep tackling the situation from a different angle. Keep the process flowing until you reach your ‘ah-ha’ moment.

If nothing else, it’s a satisfying release. Almost like having a good old clear out upstairs!

Write it down, let it go. Leave it for a while. Return to it later – or don’t return to it at all. It’s all part of the process of working it through.



Reframe the problem

My other tactic is to reframe, or redefine the problem. Once again, it forces me to change my perspective and come up with creative solutions to move forward.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Let’s suppose you’re a photographer and one day, you reluctantly admit to yourself:

“I not making enough money from my photography.”

Your focus is narrowed on taking photos and selling them, so you set about looking for ways to sell more photos. Perhaps you look at ways you can sell your photos as stock, or as digital prints. Or perhaps you decide to dig deeper into your pockets to spend on advertising – an ad in your local newspaper, national magazine, or some flyers, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these ideas as a solution to the particular problem of selling more.

However, if you redefine the problem as:

“How can more people benefit from my expertise as a photographer?”

You’ve broadened your scope to consider ways in which you can sell your expertise, not just the photography itself.

So this could include:

  • Webinars
  • Tutorials
  • Workshops
  • Trade/Corporate Workshops
  • Monthly membership programs
  • Consultancy
  • And much more..

All of this running alongside your traditional photography sessions!


It’s a technique that takes a little practice, but once you start the process, you’ll find it an extremely powerful way of coming up with new ideas when you’re feeling stuck.

So, have you tried any of these strategies? What tips would you add?



I’m Mary Cummings, a ghostwriter, collaborator and all round word doctor. I help business owners write and publish business books; I'm also passionate about helping creative freelancers find work that they love - their work sweet spot with work on their terms, projects they love and clients who are a dream to work for.

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