The Jigsaw Method

The other day, in the midst of all the other fantastic things this lockdown has brought into my life, we were sitting around completing a jigsaw puzzle. The initial excitement slowly waned and it dragged on for the next few days, sitting unfinished on the dining room table.

As it sat there uncompleted, there were mixed feelings; scrap it or power on. When the final few pieces fell into place, I could not help but notice the similarities between completing this puzzle and completing other tasks, from day-to-day chores to big assignments. One-by-one, the pieces fit together and slowly, the images will start to form until you have the completed vision on the front of the box.

Just like everything else, we tend to start with a goal in mind; what we want our room to look like after we have finished cleaning it, or how our presentation will be received by the audience. Then, step-by-step, we go about putting away the clothes, then vacuuming, or constructing the slides and accompanying speech that fit with our vision.

With that in mind, I set out to develop an outline called the jigsaw method; an approach to tasks which I would love to share with all of you so you too can tackle any task!

Start with the vision

When we start a jigsaw puzzle, knowing what the final picture will look like inspires a great deal of energy. We are instantly able to identify roughly what pieces go where based on colours and which image it is a part of. Comparing that to an unlabelled puzzle box, we would have no idea if the blue pieces make up the sky or the water, if the browns and greys are from trees or elephants or if the dragon is in the middle, at the top, or at the bottom of our puzzle.

As a result, before starting any task, we need a vision. This is important for three main reasons:

One) There is a clear picture of what we are setting out to achieve. An objective is essential to give us that initial burst of motivation. Just like when the puzzle comes out of the box, we are keen to get started on making our vision a reality. As a result, we can immediately sort through the pieces, whilst comparing them to our vision and seeing how they may fit together. In the example of starting an assignment, we need to sort the information we have currently and arrange it in a way we understand. Only then can we start placing the pieces together.

Two) It becomes easier to identify the necessary steps we need to take to get to our vision. When we start a jigsaw puzzle, we all have a method. That might be start from the borders and work inwards, sort the colours out or try to build the key features of the picture. However we can only do this when we know where those parts will go; what we thought was the sun may in fact just be a dandelion. Similarly in our assignments, once we have an idea of what we want to produce, the research we need to do becomes apparent; and the motivation to do it is right there because we know what role it will play in our finished product.

Three) We will know when we are finished. Just as important as knowing where to start is knowing when to finish. The beauty of a jigsaw puzzle is that it has a defined end. Once that last piece fits snugly with its buddies, the job is done! There is relief and satisfaction that it is all over and we can marvel at the finished product. The importance of this in assignments and other tasks is that it stops us from wasting time on a finished product. A lot of time can be wasted on making minor adjustments, in the hope of making it perfect but the effort would not be worth the results gained from it. Having a clear idea of when you are finished allows you to avoid this and still be satisfied with the final product.

Defining your scope

After sorting through the pieces, the first part of the jigsaw we always aim to complete is the border, or the frame. This might be because they are the easiest to put together, since one of the sides are already given, but it helps in more ways as well. Once we have completed the border, we know immediately that all the other pieces will fit somewhere inside of it. This gives us a frame of reference as we can begin to imagine where the different key features of the puzzle reside.

Similarly, once we decide the limits of our assignment, be that an essay or a presentation, we have a structure of what we will then put inside of it. As a result, when doing the necessary research, it is easier to separate what is important from what is not since we are completely aware of what will be included in the project. Once we have a clearer idea, the facts and figures will come easily. Not only that, but just like in the jigsaw puzzle, they will start to fit together and build themselves which leads onto the next step in our method.

Focus on key parts

Once our border has been established, the next obvious step is to focus on the images which stand out. They will have similar colours or defined lines and shapes which will differentiate it from the others parts of the puzzle. This makes identifying the right pieces much easier and gives great clues as to how they fit together.

This happens the same in our tasks; when we focus on the large ideas, the relevant information will flow seamlessly and will arrange itself neatly for us as well. Further to this, we can develop a flow which lets us put together piece after piece of information and conceive ideas further from what we had originally thought.

The second advantage of this when solving jigsaw puzzles, is that by diluting the pool of pieces that remain, it is easier to picture where the rest of the pieces will go. There will be fewer pieces to choose from and those pesky clouds which originally looked all the same, will slowly reveal their unique subtleties that give their position away. This applies to our assignments since, as we slowly put into place the relevant pieces of information, the small ideas that we thought may not make the cut are able to fit around the bones of the project.


There are still many other similarities between the two but these three main concepts should get you well on your way to completing whatever it is you need to do. What I would like you to do is think about how you can apply this; ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want the finished product to look like?
  • What are the things I must include and what can I ignore?
  • What are the main concepts or ideas that I should focus on?

Try this with your next assignment and let me know how it goes! 

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