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How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

Ever suffered from confusion around a personal or business issue?

It’s difficult to think clearly and find solutions easily when you’re overloaded with complex and contradicting information. A puzzle with just too many pieces is quite confusing.

I believe there are three levels of thinking…

  1. Regular thinking (inside your head)
  2. Thinking out loud
  3. Thinking visually

Regular thinking is just you thinking in silence. This is the baseline – it only gets better from here on.

Thinking out loud brings a few benefits. Expressing your thoughts verbally forces you to clarify them. You also get to feed off each other’s ideas.

Thinking visually is incredibly powerful:

  • Visualizing  your thoughts makes them much clearer;
  • Ideas are automatically organized;
  • Your productivity is maximized by leveraging mind mapping and other types of diagrams.

Problem solving is considered the most complex of all intellectual functions. Hence, all the help you can get is very welcome!

The late Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a business management guru, introduced several thinking processes that facilitate problem solving  in his book It’s Not Luck.

Goldratt’s Thinking Processes

  1. Current Reality Tree (CRT): Here you list our your irritants called UnDesirable Effects (UDEs), and try to identify the root cause(s) of all of them. Once you’ve identified the UnDesirables, you start coming up with potential solutions (injections).
  2. Future Reality Tree (FRT): This process helps you validate possible solutions by visualizing what your future situation will look like should you enact those alternatives.
  3. Pre-Requisite Tree (PRT): A Pre-Requisite Tree (PRT) helps you uncover potential impediments to the implementation of your solutions, and the actions that you need to take to overcome those impediments.
  4. Conflict cloud: With a Cloud, you can solve an apparent conflict or dilemma between two actions.

    When applying the thinking process method, there is a proper sequence to follow.
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    For example, a Current Reality Tree is always the best place to start. Once you’ve developed a CRT you follow up with a Future Reality Tree, and lastly a Pre-Requisite Tree.

    The Cloud, on the other hand, is used whenever you come across a conflict between actions.

    I created a simplified version of these processes derived from the CRT and the PRT. I call this approach a Solution Map.

    Using a solution map allows you to visualize your problem clearly. Simply put, you find the root cause(s) for all of your problems. In the end, you come up with a list of prioritized actions that you need to do, which you know will fix those problems.

     

      You will need…

      Although I find that the best way to use the solution map is with a computer, you can do it with post-its. If you choose post-its, then you are better off also using a whiteboard, on which you will place those post-its. A large sheet of paper will work too, but the advantage of the whiteboard is that you can easily move post-its around and redraw the connecting lines.

      In order to implement the Solution Map, follow these five steps:

      1. List your UnDesirable Effects (UDEs)
      2. Uncover the root cause(s)
      3. Brainstorm solutions
      4. Identify the obstacles
      5. List the actions

      1. List your UnDesirable Effects (UDEs)

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      These are your problems, irritants, negative things in your business or your personal life. List all the UDEs that you can think of for now, or capture them over a certain period of time.

      Write each UDE on a separate post-it. Stick them to your sheet or whiteboard, in no particular order.

           

          2. Uncover the root cause(s)

          Build a causal tree. “Because of A, then B”. Add a line (or arrow) between each cause and its consequence(s). Consequences go in the top of the tree, whereas causes go in the bottom. The root cause(s) are the elements that don’t have any other element causing them. So in other words, the root causes are the leaves of the tree, in the bottom.

            In our example, the two root causes are “Allergies” and “Too much focus on my personal life”.

            Note that you might also highlight the root causes in a different color. I kept things as simple as possible to demonstrate the process, but having some color coding is useful.

            If you have more than one root cause, prioritize them.  To evaluate an element, rate its impact and your capacity at solving it. Then, multiply those two numbers. You get a relative result that makes it easy for you to decide what the priorities are. In some cases where the hierarchy in importance is obvious, you don’t need to evaluate each element with those criteria; just decide.

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            Impact * Capacity = Priority

            Mark the most important root cause by highlighting it.

                 

                3. Brainstorm solutions

                Since you now know which root cause(s) to focus on, it is the time to brainstorm solutions for that one, or for the top few. List all the potential solutions that you can think of. Place those post-its below their associated root cause. Draw a line or arrow from each solution to its related root cause. Prioritize with the same criteria (impact * capacity). Highlight the most important solutions with a different marker.

                       

                      4. Identify the obstacles

                      For each of the most important solutions, identify the obstacles to their implementation. An obstacle is something stopping you from implementing the solution you have for a root cause.

                      Did you notice the red dotted arrow? This is what is called a negative reinforcing loop. It is simply a loop in your irritants that keeps making things worse, and worse, until you solve it. In our example, “being tired” feeds off the problem of “lacking energy to stick to things I’m committed to”. It is said that a Current Reality Tree is not really a Current Reality Tree until you have a negative reinforcing loop.

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                          Then, prioritize the obstacles with the same criteria (impact * capacity).

                               

                              5. List the actions

                              For the most important obstacle or for the top few, identify the list of actions needed to alleviate it. An action is simply the thing you need to do to remove that obstacle. Prioritize the actions you find, using the same criteria.


                                  And you’re done!

                                  You now have an ordered list of actions to take, which will remove the obstacles to the implementation of the solutions. Once you’re done with those actions, you need to start implementing the solution itself.

                                  Obviously, I kept this example very simple, with only a few UDEs, root causes, solutions and actions. Your real-life situation might be a lot more complex.

                                  And this brings me back to making the suggestion of using the computer, or at least a large white board. You will need plenty of space to create your Solution Map. I personally use Mindjet MindManager, but any visual tool that allows you to position elements freely on a white canvas and adding lines or arrows between those will do just fine.

                                    More by this author

                                    Matt Tanguay

                                    Matt is the CEO and Chief Visual Facilitator of Fluent Brain. He writes about problem solving techniques and tips to supercharge the brain.

                                    How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps Master Your New Year’s Resolutions: The Ultimate Infographic How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map

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                                    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

                                    15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

                                    15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

                                    For most people, when they’re bored, they just sit there and don’t know what to do. They watch the clock ticks and the time passes by, and then several hours are gone.

                                    But what if I tell you that when you really are feeling bored and don’t know what to do during your downtime, there’re lots of things you can do to feel (and really be) productive?

                                    Here are 15 productive things to do when bored based on the principles of elimination, consumption and work.

                                    1. Eliminate Clutter

                                    One of the reasons why you’re not as prolific as you want may be that you have too much clutter.

                                    Productive things to do when bored include tidying up your desk, removing books you’ll never read from your bookshelf and deleting the smartphone apps you never use.

                                    Not only will you have done some housecleaning, the task might also give you energy to move on to the next, bigger task.

                                    This guide will help you make decluttering easier: How to Declutter Your Life and Reduce Stress (The Ultimate Guide)

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                                    2. Eliminate Distractions

                                    Is there anything in particular that’s distracting you? If you’re looking for productive things to do when bored, zone in on what specifically is slowing down your productivity.

                                    Social media is a popular detractor, for example. Sign out of your social networks so you can focus on things that actually matter.

                                    Take a look at these techniques to free yourself from social media distractions: How Not To Let Social Media Control Your Body and Mind

                                    3. Eliminate Concerns

                                    Are you worried about something? Is that concern getting in the way of your productivity?

                                    Deal with the problems that are keeping you from spending your time as well as you should. Examples include tasks like double-checking your schedule and sending follow-up emails.

                                    By removing all of your stressors, you’ll be a lot more prolific.

                                    4. Eliminate the Unnecessary

                                    There are a lot of things in our lives that might be nice but are distractions to our productivity because they’re not necessary.

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                                    Find out what those things are and remove them from your place of work.

                                    If you find everything around you necessary, then maybe you can try this One Question to Help You Successfully Declutter Anything.

                                    5. Eliminate Quick Tasks

                                    Even if you don’t have enough energy for a big task, you might have enough to do a small one.

                                    Check off items on your to-do list that can be done quickly like making a phone call or sending off an email.

                                    6. Consume Knowledge

                                    When you’re bored, it’s an opportune time to learn. One of the most productive things to do is to learn anything on the internet. It could be watching YouTube tutorials, or learning facts and skills on these 24 Killer Websites that Make You Cleverer.

                                    7. Consume Data (or Maps)

                                    Information isn’t the same as knowledge. Are there names, terms, dates, statistics, places or something similar you need to ingrain in your head?

                                    Studying data or maps is one of the most productive things you can do when you feel bored.

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                                    8. Consume Fiction

                                    You have to be careful with this one; you can’t just watch an episode of your favorite TV show and call the time you spent productive. But you can pick some meaningful fictions and start reading. Here’re some recommendations for you: 30 Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lives

                                    9. Consume Non-fiction

                                    Reading a biography about someone in your profession or an account of historical events relevant to your career can be extremely productive things to do when bored. Time can be well-spent watching, reading or listening to something that inspires you:

                                    10. Consume Culture

                                    By consuming culture not only are you enriching yourself, you’re also trying a new experience. Taking part in activities you haven’t done before can be very productive things to do when bored.

                                    11. Work on Your Work

                                    Work is probably the hardest thing to do when bored, but it’s still possible to muscle through the lethargy and get things done.

                                    If you’re unmotivated, remind yourself that your time best spent is doing the work that pays your income. A cash incentive goes a long way towards productivity.

                                    12. Work on Your Craft

                                    If you don’t feel like doing something career-related, try something artistic!

                                    Creative activities like painting or creative writing could be the perfect productive things to do when bored.

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                                    13. Work on Your Physical Health

                                    If you don’t have a lot of energy to do something mental, hopefully you at least have the energy to partake in a physical activity.

                                    Some productive things to do when you’re bored are running, walking, biking and lifting weights. Any kind of exercise is likely to free you from boredom.

                                    14. Work on Your Emotional Health

                                    Is there a personal issue that’s making it hard for you to be interested in anything? If so, address it. You’ll find productivity a whole lot easier.

                                    Become emotionally healthy by learning about these 15 Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Health.

                                    15. Work on your Mental Health

                                    Boredom is often in reality something akin to anxiety or depression. Try doing mental exercises that help you focus on positive experiences and mindfulness to alleviate you of what you’re perceiving as boredom.

                                    Practicing mindfulness and meditation can calm and relax you, take a look at this beginner’s guide to meditation: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

                                    A few simple steps towards improving your mental health can go a long way, not only towards productivity but your happiness in general.

                                    Want to Stop Procrastinating?

                                    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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