I’ve been working on a new kind of computer interface, and having a great time doing it. It’s kind of my “shiny new toy”. When I was six years old I felt the same way about a plastic dinosaur. Only now I get to make the dinosaur myself.
At some point a few days ago I reached a kind of impasse, not sure what next to add to my little project. Feeling restless, I went back and started playing with a completely unrelated project, something I’d worked on years before. Immediately I saw problems with the old project, and wanted to fix them.
Then it occurred to me — I could add things to the new project that would let me use it to tweak the old project. Suddenly my current project had renewed purpose and meaning, and it was clear to me what to add to it next.
It seems to me there is an important principle at work here. If you get stuck on something, the most productive solution might be to work on something completely different — something that will get your mind thinking in different ways and get you unstuck.
Sometimes the best way forward is sideways.