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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.

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      Ana Erkic

      Social Media Consultant, Online Marketing Strategist, Copywriter, CEO and Co-Founder of Growato

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

      The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

      Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

      In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

      When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

      Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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      1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

      When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

      As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

      That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

      The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

      What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

      Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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      There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

      So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

      2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

      When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

      No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

      3. Move Your Body

      A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

      It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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      So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

      4. Connect With Another Person

      Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

      One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

      Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

      5. Use Your Imagination

      When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

      That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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      And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

      Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

      Final Thoughts

      Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

      Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

      More on the Importance of Taking a Break

      Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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