Oftentimes when starting a new project I have a tendency to just dive in. It makes me feel immediately productive and I know I can just go back and tweak whatever needs tweaking. Yet almost always I suspect I would have been better of if I took the time to take a step back, get a sheet of paper and a pen, and think through the various steps and flows, even it was just a series of doodles.

In addition to taking a step back and slowing down it’s the changing of the medium that has strongest impact. Software tends to force us into a given structure but using a pen and paper gives us the ability to think differently. We don’t have to start typing or dragging elements onto a screen but are able to whatever we want. This opens a new possibility and especially for a problem requiring a creative solution provides a healthy boost.

Whiteboards have the same effect. It’s amazing how much more valuable whiteboard discussions are rather than conversations around a computer screen. It’s useful to start with a well structured document or presentation but the creative juices really start flowing when the whiteboard gets involved. A whiteboard removes the need for perfection and encourages ideas to keep growing on top of one another. Many will be crappy but even a crappy idea may engender a great one.

If you find yourself stuck with a problem staring at a computer I suggest changing the medium and going to pen and paper. It’s surprising what that simple act will do.

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