These Two Paragraphs Will Save Your Job

My morning began smoothly with a coffee and a banana. The daily status meeting zoomed past. I opened my editor and started to code.

Then, a half hour ago, I ran into a problem. I was unsure of my next step. I stared blankly at my screen until my screen went blank. I'm stuck.

Feeling stuck usually triggers some bad habits. I might scroll through Slack or Reddit. Worst of all, I might delve into my snack drawer.

But recently I found a healthier plan. When I am stuck, I write my two paragraphs.

Win At Life

A month ago I was click-baited by an article's bold and confusing title.

"The 8 Sentences 10xers Use to Win at Life."

Sentences? These career advice articles normally sell apps, tools, or strategies. Was "sentences" a new tech buzzword? Or were they normal, English sentences?

The article began with the author's journey toward career enlightenment. I scrolled past all that. Near the end, I found the core idea.

The Advice

When you are stuck, write two paragraphs which answer these questions:

  1. What was I working on?
  2. How did I get stuck?

That's All

The article ended abruptly. It didn't even explain the benefit. Useless productivity theater. I considered removing it from my browser history.

Just write? No one writes like that in the middle of work. What's the point? When you're stuck, you message a coworker, search online, or take a walk, right?

The mysterious advice stuck with me after I closed the browser tab. I went back to Reddit to scroll through my afternoon break.

A week later, one day before our big release, I took on a task that I thought was easy. I got stuck. My usual panic behavior set in.

I caught myself before I opened Reddit. I remembered the advice from the article. I took a deep breath and opened Notepad.

Just two paragraphs. First, what was I working on?

I assigned ticket BA-094 to myself this morning. I know it's the last day of the sprint, but it was similar to BA-093 which I just completed. I started by copying and pasting my solution to BA-093.

Questions and doubts pricked at me as I wrote. How formal should I be? How much detail should I include? Is there more caramel popcorn in the cupboard? In the end I wrote the way I speak to my coworkers.

One paragraph down, one to go. How did I get stuck?

The difference was that BA-093 only dealt with one database, whereas BA-094 accounts for a list of them. My previous solution did not work, because the library I used is single-threaded.

Did I write enough? Did I overexplain? How big are these paragraphs supposed to be? I doubted not only the article's advice but my ability to write anything at all.

I looked at my two paragraphs with half doubt and half pride. I had accomplished something, but I did not know what to expect next. I went to lunch.

When I returned from lunch, my two paragraphs were waiting for me. They looked unfamiliar. I did not remember what I wrote.

As I reread my own words, I found the answer I needed. I had picked one solution based on my previous ticket's requirements. So my next step was to look for another solution which satisfied both tickets.

I knew my immediate next step. I was no longer stuck. I felt my shoulders relax as I went to the search engine. I forget how tense I get when I'm stuck.

I also felt a little confused and bitter. Did the advice work? How could that stupid article actually help me?

A week later, I got stuck on another task. Would it work again? I wrote two paragraphs and went to lunch exactly as before.

When I got back, I reread what I wrote, but nothing happened—no miraculous epiphany. The first time was a fluke. The advice was silly.

I decided to do what I normally do when stuck, message my coworker. As I wrote my request for help, I realized with horror that my message matched my two paragraphs word-for-word. I stubbornly copied and pasted my two paragraphs from Notepad instead.

The two paragraphs were better than my usual "hey, you got a minute?". My coworker appreciated the complete description. She pointed me in the right direction over a few messages. Normally that took an uncomfortably long Zoom call.

The two paragraph exercise forced me to think through the issue before I reached out. I admitted to myself that the advice worked again.

In the two weeks since, I repeated the pattern a few times:

  1. I'm stuck
  2. I write two paragraphs
  3. ???
  4. I'm no longer stuck

The third step in the pattern seems random. Sometimes I found my answer. Sometimes I messaged a coworker. Sometimes I realized I was missing some critical piece of the puzzle that I had to go research.

One time the paragraphs didn't help. It felt like a waste of 10 minutes. But four out of five ain't bad.

For a few weeks, I was too proud to share the strategy with anyone. The great programmers who I admire on YouTube only write bit-mashing arcana under vaporwave neon lights. They don't write dry English in Notepad.

Eventually I told my manager. I expected a laugh, but he told me he writes paragraphs too. He said I should write my own article about it. Maybe I will.

But right now I'm stuck. I'm going to write my two paragraphs. What I was doing? How did I get stuck?


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