Few things are worse than a quitter.
Running out of ice cream just before a heat wave. Seeing a perfect rescue pup in an ad and arriving to find that someone else already adopted it. Being born into late-stage capitalism and watching it crumble around you, destroying The Earth in the process.
Okay, so some things are worse than a quitter. Still, we all know that one kid who nobody wants in their group because they can’t get anything done. Who knows, maybe they have some sort of legitimate reason for their troubles. Don’t judge a book by its cover, because you might’ve been that book once. I think many of us have experienced some form of this, whether at school, at work, or at home, and it goes something like this:
Them: “Hey, I can’t seem to get the printer to work. Can you help me?”
Me: “What’s wrong with it, any idea?”
Them: “I don’t know. I’ve tried everything. It just won’t print!”
Me: *Walks over to printer.* “Hmmm…have you tried…turning it on?”
Them: *Sheepishly presses the power button and prints document.*
Now, the issue wasn’t that they had a problem or experienced a roadblock in their productivity, that happens to everyone. The issue was how little effort they put into solving their own problem before seeking aid. Asking for help is fine. The way you ask for that help, though, can make a huge difference in any professional environment.
Matt Ringel has wisely suggested a system for asking for help in the right way based on his experiences at work. It’s called “The 15 Minute Rule,” or simply “you must try, and then you must ask.”
Are You Stuck?
Do you feel like you’ve hit a wall on a project or task and you don’t know how to proceed? Don’t give up. Take fifteen more minutes, no matter how hopeless you feel, to really examine the problem from all angles. Sure, you know you can ask for help soon, but only if you truly and seriously take those fifteen minutes alone first.
Being serious about those fifteen minutes means documentation. Paper, your phone, whatever you use to take notes or work—it doesn’t matter. Just be able to somehow prove that you didn’t spend the whole time twiddling your thumbs like a fool. Write down various views of the problem, solutions that have occurred to you (whether or not they seem totally viable), any part of your process you can document, and so on. Now you’re prepared to involve someone else without looking lazy.
Now, if the fifteen minutes are up and the problem isn’t solved, go ask for help. Even if you feel close, even if it’s going well, or even if you’re more hopeless than you were to begin with, go ask. As long as you have something to show for the fifteen minutes, you can stop, and go get help. Now is the time to “request assistance, state the problem, and show your work.” You aren’t guaranteed an answer, but you aren’t alone anymore either.
Why is this a good idea? A few reasons:
1. Time Is Money
Whether it’s your freelance labour, a company’s paid hours, or some kind of personal project, your time has value. There’s no glory in struggling with something for five hours that someone else could’ve solved in five minutes. This method will keep you from wasting too much time on something that will benefit your group, your company, or even just you. But hey, who doesn’t like helping themselves?
2. It’s A Positive Cycle
Working in this way makes others more willing to work in this way. If you show up asking for help like this, it shows respect for your professor, your coworker, or your group members. You aren’t just wandering up like a child, expecting everything to be done for you. You’ve put some time in, you’ve got some theories, and you just need a bit of outside energy to pull it all together. This will encourage others to be more willing to help you, and they might even see this method and adopt it for themselves, making you more willing to help them. No one wants to be carrying a whole group, so it helps everyone when the group as a whole is working together. Be smart about it, don’t waste people’s time or interrupt them, but with a bit of respect and care, this rule can help others to be happy to help you.
3. Everyone Has Something To Offer
Different perspectives can be incredibly useful when solving problems. Sometimes, you’re just looking at a nine upside-down, thinking it’s a six. All you need is for someone else to walk up, look at it differently, and clue you in. If you’ve truly tried to solve a problem, and can prove it, there’s probably some reason you can’t finish the job. There’s no point in punching the wall forever. Go ask! Someone else will have the knowledge, skills, or perspective needed to advance the game.
So, what’s the rule? Don’t give up when you get stuck, give it another try for fifteen minutes. Document your process so no one thinks you wasted that time. When the time’s up, stop and go find someone and request their aid. No one can do everything well, all of the time. Sometimes, you just need a little help. Don’t be foolish when you ask, but only a fool never asks at all.
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.