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7 Incredible Techniques to Easily Solve the Root of Any Problem

7 Incredible Techniques to Easily Solve the Root of Any Problem

Do you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over? Have some of your poor choices morphed into bad habits? All of us can probably agree that there are things we’d like to change about our actions or circumstances.

Maybe you keep getting drawn into bad relationships, or you can’t stop binge-eating cupcakes, or you are never on time. Perhaps your car breaks down every week, or you always get into arguments with your in-laws. Regardless of what problem you face, there are many ways to reach a solution.

Our problems tend to stick around when we treat the symptoms rather than eliminate their causes. Our knee-jerk response to whatever troubles us may provide temporary relief, but the problem will continue to manifest itself unless we can identify the root.

Get to the heart of your problem, always.

Reactivity is the enemy of a calm and happy existence. Instead of developing sustainable strategies to address your problems, reactivity forces you to spend your days putting out fires. To solve problems, you will need to be proactive.

Performing causal analysis or root cause analysis can help you identify the root of your problems so that you can eliminate the issue for good.[1] Causal analysis can help you anticipate future problems, eliminate current issues, and develop an action-plan to resolve trouble.[2]

When you perform root cause analysis, you can differentiate between correlation and causation. We most often think of using this type of analysis to understand current or past problems, but hypothetical causal analysis enables you to predict outcomes before you commit to an action.[3]

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Seven tried-and-true techniques for solving any problem

Employing one of these causal analysis techniques can help you find a sustainable solution.

1. 5 Whys Analysis

One of the simplest causal analysis methods involves asking yourself “why” five times.[4] You start by identifying the problem. “My house is always disorganized.” Then, you ask yourself why that is the case. You create a chain of inquiry that offers insight about the core of the problem. Find out how to do a good 5 Whys analysis here.

2. Pareto Analysis

This is sometimes referred to as the “80/20 Rule.” The idea here is that 20% of your actions cause 80% of the results.[5]

Usually, when you are having a problem, there are a few major contributors, referred to as the “vital few.” Then there are the “trivial many,” smaller problems which can deepen the effects of a poor habit or problematic mindset.

Many people go after one of the “trivial many” instead of focusing on the “vital few” causes that are creating the most trouble.

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    As you can see from the diagram, the x-axis contains contributing factors for tardiness. The left y-axis represents the number of instances in which the lateness occurs. The right y-axis shows you how the number of instances stacks up against the percentage of the total problem. The orange line is the cumulative percentage of the problems that contribute to lateness overall. As you can see, traffic, child care, and public transportation were the major contributors to tardiness. If you wanted to improve your punctuality, you should focus on traffic, child care, and public transportation issues because they are the most common causes for lateness.

    While this method appears complicated, there are many software templates available to you to facilitate this type of visualization.

    3. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

    This multi-step causal analysis can illustrate the root of your problem, but it is also an effective way to anticipate difficulties when you are trying something new.[6]

    1. Begin by ascertaining the problem (real or anticipated).
    2. Then, name all the things that are contributing to the failure.
    3. Ask yourself how often the failure is occurring.
    4. List the actions you have taken to ensure that the failure does not recur.
    5. Analyze whether those solutions worked for you.

    You can revisit this line of inquiry at any time, but it is especially valuable after you restructure a procedure or policy.

    4. Fault Tree Analysis

    This visual model for ascertaining the root of problems is best employed where matters of safety are concerned. While Boolean algebra can make this model more robust, at its most basic level, you begin this analysis by naming the problem. Below the problem, you create boxes which contain factors contributing to the undesired outcome. Unlike other models, which encourage you to think about broad potential contributors, fault tree analysis requires that you look at what is known and deduce meaning from that.[7]

    5. Current Reality Tree (CRT)

    When you are dealing with a number of problems at the same time, the CRT can be an effective way to understand what the problems are and what connections exist between them.

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    For example, you may have noticed that your boss is mad at you all the time, you are late on a frequent basis, and you are often too fatigued to work.

    1. Place each of these undesirable effects, your angry boss, tardiness, and fatigue, into their own box at the bottom of your tree.
    2. Brainstorm the possible causes for each of these problems independently, and place each cause in its own box as a “branch” sprouting from the tree.
    3. Take time to analyze each of the problems that you listed in connection to one another as “If…then” statements. “If my boss is angry with me, then is it related to my frequent tardiness.”
    4. Connect ideas in your CRT with arrows.

    Eventually you will notice common threads between the undesirable effects.[8]

    6. RPR (Rapid Problem Resolution) Diagnosis

    This type of causal analysis involves three main steps.

    1. In the discovery phase, you collect information to ascertain problems.
    2. During the investigation phase, you create a plan based off the data that you have collected.
    3. Finally, you set your plan in motion.

    If you choose to use this type of causal analysis, you should periodically check in to ensure that you properly identified the problem and your solution is working as intended.[9]

    7. Cause-and-Effect Diagram or “Fishbone” Diagram

    This means of visualizing a problem is useful whether you are working on your own or with a team.[10]

    As with other models, you start by identifying your problem. One horizontal line, cuts through the center of your diagram like the spine of a fish, hence the name. Several diagonal lines radiate from the spine.

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    At the top of each of these lines, write the type of cause that contributes to the problem. For example, if your problem is that you are frequently unhappy, categories of causes that contribute to your problem could be family, work, and health. Ask yourself why each of these categories feeds into your problem. These are the causes for your symptoms. A symptom of your unhappiness rooted in your family might be that you feel disconnected from your partner. Brainstorm as many causes in the categories as you can.

    After you finish your diagram, you will have a better sense of where your problem originates. You may notice that some categories have more causes that contribute to the undesired symptom than others. You can also think about how these categories are connected. Rather than trying to chop the head off the hydra, you can develop of systematic plan that deals with the issue at its core.

      Which method should you try?

      There are a plethora of causal analysis options with varying levels of complexity. If you have lots of data about your problem, Pareto analysis and fault-tree analysis, are great options. All the models are fairly flexible to accommodate a wide range of problems, though some were developed specifically for business or IT. The common thread in all of these methods is that they require self-reflection and a chain of inquiry.

      Next time you feel like you are spending more time putting out fires than living your life, give one or more of these causal analyses a try. You’d be amazed at how effective your problem-solving will be when you can get to the heart of the issue.

      Reference

      [1] Bright Hub Project Management: Overviews of different root cause analysis methods
      [2] Quality Assurance: Causal Analysis Guidelines
      [3] LinkedIn: Causal Analysis
      [4] iSixSigma: Determine the Root Cause: 5 Whys
      [5] Project Smart: Pareto Analysis Step by Step
      [6] ASQ: Failure Mode Effects Analysis
      [7] Clifton Ericson: Fault Tree Analysis
      [8] CIRAS: Building a Current Reality Tree
      [9] MBA Brief: Rapid Problem Resolution
      [10] ASQ: Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram

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      Angelina Phebus

      Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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      Last Updated on May 20, 2019

      How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

      How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

      Time.

      When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

      As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

      Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

      Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

      The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

      There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

      Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

      And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

      So, how do you start?

      Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


      The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

      What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

      Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

      A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

      Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

      Assess Your Current Time Spent

      Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

      For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

      To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

      Tricks to Tackle Distractions

      Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

      Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

      Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

      1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

      One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

      Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

      2. Beware of Emails

      Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

      Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

      Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

      3. Let Technology Help

      As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

      Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

      4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

      Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

      This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

      So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

      Time is in Your Hands

      At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

      You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

      Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

      So what are you waiting for? 

      Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com

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