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One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

About a year ago, I found myself experiencing quite severe headaches. They were manageable thanks to painkillers, yet, of course they persisted. After a while they suddenly stopped, this was a relief but quite a surprise, until I realized that the stress I was experiencing was causing them. Once the stressful situation stopped, the headaches stopped.

I realized then, that the only sure fire way of resolving an issue, is to resolve or eliminate the root cause of the issue. Much like when you are weeding your garden, unless you remove the roots of the weeds, the weeds will just continue to re-grow.

Essentially, when a regularly occurring problem arises, you have to go through a causal analysis of the issue,[1] to identify the causes of the problem and treat that, not just the symptoms. When I was only using painkillers for my headache, I was only treating the symptoms, and so, the headaches continued.

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We tend to seek the easy way out when it comes to solving a problem.

As humans, we seem to prefer immediate satisfaction. When a problem arises we tend to go for the issue which will be resolved quickly. As such it is totally understandable why we tend to only treat the most obvious symptoms to the most obvious problems, then stop when we mistakenly think things are fine. We neglect probability[2] and become blind to the most obvious causes, going for the black and white answers and immediate resolutions, without knowing, or appreciating that things are never so clear cut.

Ultimately, when we only treat the symptom, the real issue remains untreated and gets worse. I was lucky that my headaches came from a stressful situation which resolved itself (and the headaches along with it). I merely thought that I was having headaches because…I was having headaches. Were my headaches due to a severe underlying issue, or were caused by continuing stress, then they would have only got worse.

In tolerating the issue, or only treating obvious symptoms, we become at risk of normalizing the issue. Willfully allowing it to continue as we are reluctant to apply the real effort to resolve the issue through and through.

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Finding the root cause can solve a problem once and for all.

Applying a root cause analysis isn’t just useful for resolving personal problems, but any recurring issue or problem that might arise, in any field. Much has been written about applying causal analysis’ in business, or in the workplace.

Identifying the source of a problem, and resolving it there is the only real way of making sure the problem goes away for good. But how do you identify the root cause of an issue?

In the 1970s James Reason, a cognitive psychologist called James Reason realized most human errors originated when the person making the error was working automatically, in a state of absent mindedness, and not paying true, due attention to their work.[3]

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With Reason’s findings understood he became an important innovator for patient safety in the healthcare industry, as now people were more aware of the possible causes of issues (human error) and thus could eliminate the issue from the root, perhaps by improving staff awareness and staff training so no errors born from absent mindedness could occur.

But how do you go through a causal analysis?

Approach the problem

When you intend to uncover the root cause of a problem, you need to approach the problem with three things in mind.[4]

  • What exactly has happened/is happening?
    For example: “I am having a headache”
  • Why did it happen?
    For example: “I am currently going through a lot of stress”
  • How can I stop this from happening again?
    For example: “I need to manage my stress levels better”

With careful consideration of these three things, you should be well on your way to resolving it forever.

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A root cause analysis follows the rule of cause and effect, and assumes things behind the scenes are often interlinked in interesting and surprising ways. As such, you may be surprised what may be the true cause of the problem, so you should be open minded and perhaps be prepared to dig.

Analyze the problem carefully

To be thorough in your causal analysis there are seven steps to follow:[5]

  1. Firstly the problem needs to be identified and studied in considerable detail. Ask yourself: what are the exact symptoms of the issue?
  2. Try to collect as much data and information about the issue. Consider if there is a genuine problem, consider how long that problem has persisted, and consider the impact.
    Under careful consideration, the problem’s cause may begin to be clearer. If the problem affects multiple people, talk to them to get as much information as you can.
  3. Try to identify the cause.
    This can be difficult, you need to go through the exact sequence of events that led to the problem, or leads to the problem occurring. If this problem has occurred multiple times, note any similarities in the events.
    Be aware of any underlining conditions which allow the issue to occur, and be aware of any other related problems which may help your analysis.It could be a good idea to break the issue down into smaller and smaller pieces into you have a clear picture of things. Or consider the cause and affect relationships which connect things.
  4. Once the root cause has been identified ask yourself why it exists, ask yourself why it occurred. You might find it worth analyzing the casual factor itself.
  5. Think about what can be done to the root cause. Try to think of possible solutions to it, and consider, through understanding the problem, what might occur if the root cause removed or changed.
    Under consideration you may come to the ideal solution.
  6. Implement the solution.
  7. Pay attention, and with luck, no more work is needed.
    But if the problem persists, return to the root cause and consider further solutions.

This all sounds incredibly complicated, but trust me, its not.

The trick is, to not go for the immediate resolution, but take time to reveal the solution.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Changingminds: Causal Analysis
[2] Changingminds: Neglect of Probability Bias
[3] Bright Hub Project Management: Overviews of Different Root Cause Analysis Methods
[4] (Mind Tools: Root Cause Analysis
[5] Bright Hub Project Management: Overview of Root Cause Analysis Techniques

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Arthur Peirce

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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

Reference

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