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Having Excellent Problem Solving Skills Can Make You More Successful, These Are Steps You Should Follow

Having Excellent Problem Solving Skills Can Make You More Successful, These Are Steps You Should Follow

Have you noticed that some of the problems you are experiencing either in interpersonal relationships or work, seem to be recurring?

For example, a person who has had some unpleasant arguments with their co-workers in the past, can expect to go through similar struggles moving forward, no matter if they are in a completely different work environment. And the underlying theme of different arguments is the same – that person has a problem to establish a functional communication with their co-workers.

This is just one example, but many of us tend to repeat the problems and some of us eventually start feeling hopeless, thinking it is just our flawed character and there is nothing we could do about it.

Actually, the reason certain problems keep repeating is because we are not using an efficient problem solving technique. Luckily, we can become better problem solvers and therefore, lessen the number of problems we face.

Your life can be seriously affected if you have poor problem solving ability

Whether we’re happy or successful are largely determined by our problem solving ability. If you just leave problems being unsolved, you may suffer in the following ways:

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  • There are countless complicated and ambiguous problems in interpersonal interaction. If we’re not efficient problem solvers, we can hardly clear misunderstanding in communication and get close with people around us.
  • Workplace is where we learn how to tackle different kinds of unexpected problems. If we don’t keep looking for new solutions, our work performance will worsen and we will easily feel frustrated when problems pile up.
  • It is common for us to attribute poor mental health to unpleasant personal experience or genetic factors. But the inability to tackle problems in life can harm our mental health. According to a 1983 study, scientists found that people with weaker ability to deal with interpersonal issues are more prone to depression.[1]

So what are the causes of poor problem solving?

Problem solving is just like other skills we need to master in life. To be good at it, we need to practice it with the right approach. Unfortunately, many of us may not realize the common mistakes we make when solving problems. Here are some examples:

Mistaking symptoms for the real causes of problems

Most of us tend to spend a lot of energy to deal with the symptoms of problems without realizing the real causes. To identify the root causes of a problem, we need to challenge the first conclusion that pops up in our mind and keep asking the right questions until we can see beyond the phenomenon of the problem.

Looking for quick fixes instead of the most effective solutions

It is our tendency to look for quick fixes of problems. This leads us to believe in our intuitive without looking into the causal relationship behind the problem. And that’s why we seldom get to the core of problems and adopts the ineffective solutions.

Relying too much on our knowledge

Finally, we become ineffective problem solvers because of our over-reliance on our knowledge. It is a common misconception that the more we know, the more capable we are to tackle problems. But the fact is mere knowledge doesn’t enable us to become effective problem solvers. What we also need is logical thinking skills, the ability to think critically and creativity.

How to be better at problem solving

In order to become better problem solvers, we need to follow these 4 steps whenever we deal with any problem in life:

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1. Defining the real problem

The first and most important step is to identify the root cause of the problem. One of the most effective approach is 5 whys invented by Sakichi Toyoda in the 1930s.[2] Totaya suggests that by asking “why” for 5 times can help us better identify the core problem.

For example, your problem might be that your business website is not getting enough traffic.

  1. Why is the traffic declining? Content on the website is not engaging to readers.
  2. Why is our content not engaging to readers? Our content doesn’t fit readers’ needs and interests.
  3. Why can’t our content fit readers’ needs and interests? We don’t have much understanding of our readers.
  4. Why don’t we have much understanding of our readers? We haven’t conducted any research in this area.
  5. Why haven’t we conducted any research to understand our readers? We have no resources for research.

The solution – allocating more resources on the research to understand our readers.

Please note that we only apply vertical thinking to delve deep in one possible problem, which is unattractive content in this case. If you think there is another possible reason for declining traffic, you should do another set of 5 whys. By doing this, we can train up our logical thinking skills and so what we see from a problem does not stay at the superficial level.

2. Generating alternatives

After we define the root problem, it is time to find possible solutions. Here’s where we can use the lateral instead of learned, vertical thinking.[3] That means, rather than spending all of our energy and time on transforming one initial idea into a perfect solution, we should rather think of at least ten possible ones and write them down first.

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By doing so, we won’t draw the conclusion too early or limit our choice to the first few ideas that pop up in our minds, Instead, we postpone our decision making and make use of our creativity to generate potentially better options. Although it takes us more time in this stage, we’re more likely to come up with better solutions later on.

3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives

After generating possible solutions, it is time to select the best one. To make sure we make the right decision, we should list the pros and cons of each option and then compare them on the basis of cost and benefit. In this way, you are more able to make rational choice instead of being deceived by your unreliable biased judgement.

4. Implementing solutions

Although you have gone through 3 stages and take many factors into consideration to pick the best solution, you shouldn’t have the false hope that you solution is going to to be perfect. But it’d be good to implement your solution first and then keep evaluating its effectiveness and make adjustments afterwards. Then you have a clearer direction in mind of how to tackle your problem strategically.

Recommended Reading Materials

By now, you are equipped with the efficient problem solving techniques. But if you want to learn more to further improve your problem solving skills, here are two great books you can read for more insights:

Thinking, Fast and Slow

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    This book gives a magnificent insight into two types of thinking going on in our brains, and what conditions each. By giving us background to our behavior, the book helps us become better at understanding our programmed ways of dealing with problems so that we can hopefully find a more effective, unbiased ones.

    Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People

      It is a practical, illustrated guide that teaches us critical thinking and resourcefulness in problem solving.

      Reference

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      Last Updated on August 16, 2018

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

      How about a unique spin on things?

      These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

      1. Empty your mind.

      It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

      Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

      Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

      Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

      How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

      2. Keep certain days clear.

      Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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      This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

      3. Prioritize your work.

      Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

      Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

      Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

      How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      4. Chop up your time.

      Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

      5. Have a thinking position.

      Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

      What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

      6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

      To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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      Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

      7. Don’t try to do too much.

      OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

      8. Have a daily action plan.

      Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

      Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

      9. Do your most dreaded project first.

      Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

      10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

      The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

      11. Have a place devoted to work.

      If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

      But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

      Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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      Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

      12. Find your golden hour.

      You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

      Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

      Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

      Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

      13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

      It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

      By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

      Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

      14. Never stop.

      Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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      Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

      There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

      15. Be in tune with your body.

      Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

      16. Try different methods.

      Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

      It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

      Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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