How to solve a tech problem: A guide for non-techy types

So you have good work to do in the world but you need to sometimes use computers to do it. You have a clear and distinct zone of genius, and it is NOT solving IT problems. And yet, you want to start a mailing list or maybe even build a website! There are so many affordable or free services and programs available these days — you can drag and drop and use templates — but if you are using computers, SNAFUs are inevitable. And if you lose your shit and climb under your desk and turn into a little ball of anxiety every time the computers don’t do what you want them to, you are going to wear out your stress response and get totally stuck in whatever it is you are trying to do. You might even quit your business.

This guide is for you if you don’t enjoy solving technical IT problems, but you don’t want to call in for back-up every time you get stuck (or if you don’t have any back-up!) (Remember: a man is not an IT plan.)

I recently launched my business website and I’m really proud of myself. I overcame a LOT of technical problems to get there and though at times I got very angry and frustrated, I am proud of myself that for the most part I was able to calm myself down and not give up. Now my business is able to move forward. I feel a strong sense of mastery, and I want to share what I’ve learned — both the things I did well, and the things I could have done differently.

So here’s the step-by-step:

1. Put aside 30 minutes each workday to work on the issue.

No less, no more. Don’t use the time limit to get yourself into a flow and then trick yourself into doing extra time. If you reach the end of 30 minutes and you’re ready to do more, put the timer on for ten minutes and do something pleasant in that time. Only go and do another 30 minutes if you really have the energy.

This advice is based on the housekeeping guide Unfuck your habitat.

I followed this advice and it really helped to get me doing a bit of work on an unpleasant task every day.

(Although at times I reset the timer and kept working without taking a break and it always ended in me getting overwhelmed and then taking longer to calm down. Things not to do!)

If you only have naptime available to work, I would strongly advise against doing any more than 30 minutes. You need to rest of the naptime to relax and congratulate yourself on doing a hard thing!

2. Once you have set your timer, sit down at your work station with an A4 notebook that sparks joy, or a few pieces of A4 paper. Write at the top of the page what the problem is you want to solve. If you have several, write them all down. Then pick one (don’t take too long to pick, just follow your heart). Draw a line below the list and rewrite the problem you are going to work on in this session.

3. Stay tuned into your body and physically relax your body if you feel it becoming tense. If you find your belly, jaw, neck, pelvic floor or any other area clenching, pause your work and consciously relax the area. Take some nourishing breaths and send them to the tense area. Plant your feet on the floor and feel supported by the earth. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart and send yourself some love.

It is really important for you to stay relaxed and not let yourself get too far into the stress response. When you’re stressed, the part of your brain that solves IT problem switches off, so you will only get more and more frustrated and you won’t be able to solve anything.

4. I can’t tell you the step-by-step of actually solving your problem, apart from starting with turning it off and on again, or whatever the equivalent is (eg. closing a browser and then reopening it). Ask yourself what the next step you need to take is. Then take it. Write down everything you try as you go if you can.

5. If you get really stuck, write an email to the helpdesk of whatever program you are using. This is a really good exercise in defining the problem. Feel free to draft the email in a word doc instead of bashing it out in email and sending it straight away. The more care you put into describing the problem the easier it will be for the helpdesk person to help you instead of having you to ask you a million follow-up questions. But only do the best you can do — don’t put pressure on yourself to write the perfect email.

When you are drafting the email, take any emotional language out of it. It’s okay to put any anger and frustration in the first f draft, but edit it out before you send it.

(Don’t make the mistake I did — I got a response from helpdesk and it was super unhelpful. I was furious and responded straight away, expressing my frustration (even though it wasn’t my allotted half an hour — also not advised: instead, send your response during IT time!). This really put my helpdesk person offside an marred our future interactions. We solved the problem, but I had to put up with a lot of attitude after that ill-advised email I sent.)

If you send a helpdesk email, call it a day even if your 30 minutes isn’t up. And don’t work on that problem again until you get a reply, which could be days. I mean it: Just wait!

All of this advice might seem like a slow way to get things done, but have you heard the one about how slow and steady wins the race? It is better off to take things slowly and look after your wellbeing throughout the process than racing ahead, getting all churned up, then avoiding the problem for weeks, months, or even giving up altogether on what you were trying to do.

6. Evaluate.

At the end of the 30 minutes, if you didn’t write down notes as you went, write them down now. Use these prompts:

  • What did you try?
  • What have you achieved?
  • I am proud of myself for…
  • What is the next step/s I need to take?

If you do decide to do more than one 30-minute session in a work-day, do this evaluation process at the end of the 30 minutes, then make sure to take a 10-minute break doing something super pleasant (oxytocin-boost break) before you set the timer for another 30 minutes.

7. When it’s time for another 30-minute session, use your notes from the previous session to define the specific problem you are trying to solve and what your first step needs to be./ Then start from step 1 again.


Well done!

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