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10 Step Power-Method To Systematically Solve Virtually Any Problem

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10 Step Power-Method To Systematically Solve Virtually Any Problem

What is the first thing you do when you have a problem? Find solutions?

The first thing you have to do to resolve any problem is not to find solutions. It’s to ask yourself important questions.

Similar to a mathematical problem you had to solve in elementary school, there is always a question at the end of each problem. If there isn’t a specific question at the end of each problem, you won’t know what to solve.

Below are 10 steps you can follow to systematically solve any problem you have. At the end of each step, you’ll find suggested questions that help you solve your problem.

1. Assess if your problem needs to be solved.

Why find solutions to a problem when your problem doesn’t need to be solved in the first place?

Your mind loves to create problems for you to solve. It’s mentally stimulating. But sometimes, if you take a step back and assess your problem, you may find that your problem may not be something you need to solve.

For example, my friend told me that drinking coke is his vice. But his vice isn’t necessary something that needs to be solved. If the benefits he receives from drinking coke outweigh the benefits of not drinking it, why does he need to change his habit? Even if he tries to change, it’s highly likely he would fail because of the benefit he receives from drinking coke.

So whenever you face a new problem, first ask yourself why you want to solve the problem. Assess the cost and benefits of solving and not solving the problem and determine if the problem is still a problem you need to solve.

Suggested Questions:

  • Why do you want to solve this problem?
  • What are the benefits and costs of solving or not solving this problem?
  • Is the benefit of solving this problem more than the benefit of not solving this problem?
  • Is the cost of solving this problem more than the cost of not solving this problem?

2. Identify the underlying problem clearly.

Every time you have a problem, go deeper and ask yourself if there is a deeper underlying problem. What you define as the problem may just be a symptom.

For example, you have a constant headache. Taking medicine will only resolve this problem short-term. It will only help you ease your pain for now. Your headache may just be  a symptom of the problem.

The real problem could be a lack of sleep and dehydration. And if you go deeper and understand why you allow yourself so little sleep, you may find that the bigger problem you have is poor time management or work stress.

Identifying the underlying problem helps you get to the root of the issue. Solving it helps you remove all the small, recurring symptoms that it creates.

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If your problem isn’t clearly defined, then there is no point in finding solutions to it. Because you will end up solving the wrong problem or a problem that is of little value to you.

Suggested Questions:

  • What is the underlying problem here?
  • Is the problem you have defined a symptom instead?
  • What could be causing your current problem now?

3. Define specific and measurable objectives.

Now that you have defined your problems clearly, you can start to develop a strategic plan to tackle your problem.

But before you think of solutions, think of the objectives you are trying to achieve first. Because your problem will never be resolved if you do not have specific and measurable objectives to tell you that your problem has been resolved.

For example, you have identified that your problem is not having enough money to support yourself.

Finding more ways to earn money is good but without a clear objective you can’t check at any point in time if you have resolved your problem or not.

However, if you have determined your objective is to earn $5,000 each month in order to solve a financial problem, you will know that you are beginning to solve your problem when you do earn $5,000 in a month.

Moreover, it’s easier to come up with strategies and test their effectiveness when you have specific and measurable objectives defined.

Suggested Questions:

  • What are your objectives?
  • What are you trying to achieve by resolving this problem?
  • Are your objectives specific and measurable?
  • Does your objectives let you know your progress at any point in time?
  • Does your objectives help you determine if you have solved your problem or not?

4. Come up with as many solutions as you can.

The key to this step is to not filter any ideas you have.

No matter how crazy or how impossible your ideas may sound at first, write them down. Think about the constraints later (discussed in next step.) For now, just let your mind think freely and come up with as many solutions as possible.

For example, if you want to spend 2 hours more each week with your family, think of all the things you are willing to give up for your family. It could be spending less time watching TV, cutting down your commute time or spending less time at work. Even if they don’t seem possible at first, don’t dismiss them yet.

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If you are lost, look for other people who have the same problem as you and understand how they have solved their problem. Their experience will give you great insights into how to solve your problem.

Suggested Questions:

  • What can you do to reach your objectives?
  • What do you think is impossible to do but could help you achieve your objectives?
  • How can you achieve your objectives if you aren’t limited by any constraints?
  • Who has the same problem as you?
  • How did they solve their problem?

5. Determine your constraints and refine your solutions.

Now that you have come up with solutions, it’s time to determine your constraints. Your constraints could be time, deadlines, money, resources or even fears that are blocking you from reaching your objectives.

Using the same example above, you have identified that to have more time for your family the solution is to spend less time at work. However, you feel that it’s not possible to knock off work time because you have so many things to do.

Determine if your constraints are true or just assumptions. Can you eliminate your constraints? Perhaps some of your work doesn’t need to be completed urgently.

Even if your constraints are true and you can’t eliminate them, use them to help you come up with better solutions. Combine your constraints with your initial solution and ask yourself a better question.

So for the example above, ask yourself questions such as:

  • How do I knock off work time while completing the work I need to produce? (Maybe I can trade tasks with my colleagues and do the work that I can do more efficiently.)
  • How can I do my work faster and produce the same outcome? (Maybe I can improve my personal workflow or change the existing way of doing things.)

Suggested Questions:

  • What constraints do you have that prevent you from solving your problem?
  • Is your constraint true or just an assumption?
  • Can you eliminate the constraints you have?
  • What questions can you ask yourself to come up with a better solution?
  • How can you do things differently but yet produce the same results?

6. Pick the best solution.

Having many solutions is good, but it’s important to pick one solution and focus on it.

To pick the best solution, go through your list of solutions and identify the solution that will give you the most results but takes the least time, effort and resources.

Why should you do this?

Implementing the solution that produce the most results will be fine if your solution works out. But what if it doesn’t? You need to think about what you will lose if your solution fails completely. Is it something you can live with?

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Choose a solution which you can implement quickly and test if it works or not.

However, bear in mind, don’t pick the solution that is quick to implement but doesn’t produce the result you want. Always think of the results a solution can potentially provide, then implement the solution.

Suggested Questions:

  • How well can this solution solve your problem and meet your objectives?
  • How much time, effort and resources do you need to implement this solution?
  • Which solutions give you the most results but takes the least time, effort and resources?
  • If this solution fails, can you live with it?
  • Will this solution provide the results you desire?

7. Break the solution down into small action steps.

If you don’t make your solution actionable and easy for you to do, you won’t do it.

Let’s say you have a messy home and your solution is to clean it up. But cleaning it up seems like a lot of work. So what do you do?

You break it into smaller tasks that you can do within 5 – 30 minutes. For example:

  • Put the books on the table back into the cupboard.
  • Empty the trash.

Instead of tackling your problem or implementing your solution fully, chunk it down to bite size so that you can do a bit each day without overwhelming yourself.

Suggested Questions:

  • What do you need to do to implement this solution?
  • How can you break the solution down into small action steps?
  • What can you do within 5 to 30 minutes?
  • Are the action steps manageable or still too overwhelming?
  • How can you break your action steps even further?

8. Ask for help.

You don’t have to solve your problem alone. But you also don’t want to turn your problem into other people’s problem.

After you break down your solution into small actionable steps, it’ll be easier for you to ask others for help, and others are more likely to help you because you will have made it simple for them to help you.

Go through your list of action steps, pick tasks that you think others can do better and faster than you. And simply ask others for help. It doesn’t have to be restricted to friends and family. You can hire a virtual assistant online or someone professional to help you implement your strategy.

Apart from helping you with action steps, you can also ask or hire someone to be your accountability partner. For example, hiring a trainer to help you lose weight.

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You will report your progress to that person every week and tell him or her what you are going to do next week. Having someone holding you accountable will keep you on track.

Suggested Questions:

  • What action steps are easy enough that others are willing to help you?
  • What action steps can others do better and faster than you?
  • Who will be suitable to help you with these tasks?
  • Do you need someone professional to help you with some of the action steps?
  • Who can you seek or hire to be your accountability partner?

9. Prioritize, schedule and follow up.

For the remaining action steps, prioritize them according to importance. Similar to step #6, pick the action steps that take the less time and effort to do but give you the most results.

You want to start off with some easy tasks to get your momentum going and let them build up your confidence.

Pick a few action steps that you think you can complete in a week and schedule them. Then, find a time each week to schedule your next action steps for the week.

For those action steps that you have outsourced to others in step #8, you also need to schedule a time to follow up with the other party and check their progress.

This step is crucial because it minimizes procrastination. If you don’t put your action steps on your calendar, you most likely won’t do it.

Suggested Questions:

  • What are three to five action steps that you can complete this week?
  • When would you be doing these action steps?
  • What actions do you need to take next week?
  • When would you be following up on the action steps that you have outsourced?
  • Have you scheduled these action steps on your calendar?

10. Take action and go back to the previous steps if necessary.

After you have scheduled your action steps, take action accordingly. If you are stuck, go back to any of the previous steps and revise your strategy.

Don’t be afraid to start all over again. You have already gained knowledge and experience in solving the problem from this process.

Even if you are not stuck, it’s good to take a step back and see if you are solving the correct problem, using the most effective strategies and making progress.

Also, check if you have already resolved the problem with the objectives you established in step #3. If you have resolved your problem, there’s no need to carry out the other miscellaneous action steps. Just celebrate what you have achieved so far and congratulate yourself for a job well done.

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Suggested Questions:

  • Are the actions that you have taken producing any results?
  • Are you feeling stuck or not seeing any progress?
  • Which step do you need to go back to and revise your strategy?
  • Have your objectives in step #3 been met?
  • If so, do you still need to carry out the other miscellaneous action steps?

Featured photo credit: Worried!/Alon via flickr.com

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Yong Kang Chan

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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