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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 to Visualize Your Thoughts (With Mind Map Examples) 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 September 28, 2020

                                    How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

                                    How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

                                    There’s no denying that goals are necessary. After all, they give life meaning and purpose. However, goals don’t simply achieve themselves—you need to write an action plan to help you reach your goals.

                                    With an action plan, you’ll have a clear idea of how to get where you want to go, what it will take to get there, and how you’ll find the motivation to keep driving forward. Without creating a plan, things have a way of not working out as you waver and get distracted.

                                    With that in mind, here’s how you can set goals and action plans that will help you achieve any personal goal you’ve set.

                                    1. Determine Your “Why”

                                    Here’s a quick experiment for you to try right now: Reflect on the goals you’ve set before. Now, think about the goals you reached and those you didn’t. Hopefully, you’ll notice a common theme here.

                                    The goals you were successful in achieving had a purpose. Those goals you failed to accomplish did not. In other words, you knew why you put these goals in place, which motivated you to follow through.

                                    Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Finding Purpose for You and Your Team, explains:

                                    “Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward.”

                                    That, in turn, enables better decision-making and clearer choices.

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                                    I’ll share with you a recent example of this in my life. Earlier this year, I decided to make my health a bigger priority, specifically losing weight. I set this goal because it gave me more energy at work, improved my sleep, and helped me be a better father—I really didn’t care for all that wheezing every time I played with my kids.

                                    Those factors all gave me a long-term purpose, not a superficial short-term goal like wanting to look good for an event.

                                    Before you start creating an action plan, think about why you’re setting a new goal. Doing so will guide you forward on this journey and give you a North Star to point to when things get hard (and they inevitably will).

                                    2. Write Down Your Goal

                                    If you really want to know how to create an action plan for goals, it’s time to get your goals out of your head and onto a piece of paper. While you can also do this electronically through an app, research has found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goal if it’s written down[1].

                                    This is especially true for business owners. If they don’t schedule their time, it’ll be scheduled for them.[2]

                                    When you physically write down a goal, you’re accessing the left side of the brain, which is the literal, logical side. As a result, this communicates to your brain that this is something you seriously want to do.

                                    3. Set a SMART Goal

                                    A SMART goal pulls on a popular system in business management[3]. That’s because it ensures the goal you’ve set is both realistic and achievable. It can also be used as a reference to guide you through your action plan.

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                                    Use SMART goals to create a goal action plan.

                                       

                                      By establishing a SMART goal, you can begin to brainstorm the steps, tasks, and tools you’ll need to make your actions effective.

                                      • Specific: You need to have specific ideas about what you want to accomplish. To get started, answer the “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
                                      • Measurable: To make sure you’re meeting the goal, establish tangible metrics to measure your progress. Identify how you’ll collect the data.
                                      • Attainable: Think about the tools or skills needed to reach your goal. If you don’t possess them, figure out how you can attain them.
                                      • Relevant: Why does the goal matter to you? Does it align with other goals? These types of questions can help you determine the goal’s true objective — and whether it’s worth pursuing.
                                      • Time-bound: Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly target, deadlines can motivate us to take action sooner than later.

                                      Learn more about setting a SMRT goal here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

                                      4. Take One Step at a Time

                                      Have you ever taken a road trip? You most likely had to use a map to navigate from Point A to Point B. The same idea can be applied to an action plan.

                                      Like a map, your action plan needs to include step-by-step instructions on how you’ll reach your goal. In other words, these are mini goals that help you get where you need to go.

                                      For example, if you wanted to lose weight, you’d consider smaller factors like calories consumed and burned, minutes exercised, number of steps walked, and quality of sleep. Each plays a role in weight loss.

                                      This may seem like a lot of work upfront, but it makes your action plan seem less overwhelming and more manageable. Most importantly, it helps you determine the specific actions you need to take at each stage.

                                      5. Order Your Tasks by Priority

                                      With your action steps figured out, you’ll next want to review your list and place your tasks in the order that makes the most sense. This way, you’re kicking things off with the most important step to make the biggest impact, which will ultimately save time.

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                                      For example, if you have a sedentary job and want to lose weight, the first step should be becoming even a little more active. From there, you can add more time to your workout plan.

                                      The next step could be changing your diet, like having a salad before dinner to avoid overeating, or replacing soda with sparkling water.

                                      Learn these tips to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

                                      6. Schedule Your Tasks

                                      Setting a deadline for your goal is a must; it prevents you from delaying the start of your action plan. The key, however, is to be realistic. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that you’ll lose 20 pounds within two weeks. It’s even less likely that you’ll keep it off.

                                      What’s more, you should also assign tasks a start and end date for each action step you’ve created, as well as a timeline for when you’ll complete specific tasks. Adding them to your schedule ensures that you stay focused on these tasks when they need to happen, not letting anything else distract you.

                                      For example, if you schedule gym time, you won’t plan anything else during that time frame.

                                      Beware the temptation to double-book yourself—some activities truly can be combined, like a run while talking to a friend, but some can’t. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can both write and catch up on Netflix simultaneously.

                                      While you can use a paper calendar or planner, an online calendar may be a better option. You can use it to set deadlines or reminders for when each step needs to be taken, and it can be shared with other people who need to be in the know (like your running buddy or your mentor).

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                                      7. Stay on Track With Healthy Habits

                                      Without healthy habits, it’s going to be even more challenging to reach your goal. You could hit the gym five days a week, but if you’re grabbing burgers for lunch every day, you’re undoing all your hard work.

                                      Let’s say your goal is more career-oriented, like becoming a better public speaker. If you practice your speeches at Toastmasters meetings but avoid situations where you’ll need to be unrehearsed—like networking gatherings or community meetings—you’re not helping yourself.

                                      You have to think about what will help transform you into the person you want to be, not just what’s easiest or most comfortable.

                                      8. Check off Items as You Go

                                      You may think you’ve spent a lot of time creating lists. Not only do they help make your goals a reality, but lists also keep your action plan organized, create urgency, and help track your progress. Because lists provide structure, they reduce anxiety.

                                      There’s something else special about lists of tasks completed. When you cross off a task in your action plan, your brain releases dopamine[4]. This reward makes you feel good, and you’ll want to repeat this feeling.

                                      If you crossed out on your calendar the days you went to the gym, you’d want to keep experiencing the satisfaction of each bold “X.” That means more motivation to go the gym consistently.

                                      9. Review and Reset as Necessary

                                      Achieving any personal goal is a process. Although it would be great if you could reach a goal overnight, it takes time. Along the way, you may experience setbacks. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, schedule frequent reviews—daily, weekly, or monthly—to see how you’re progressing.

                                      If you aren’t where you’d hoped to be, you may need to alter your action plan. Rework it so you’re able to reach the goal you’ve set.

                                      The Bottom Line

                                      When you want to learn how to set goals and action plans—whether you want to lose weight, learn a new skill, or make more money—you need to create a realistic plan to get you there. It will guide you in establishing realistic steps and time frames to achieve your goal. Best of all, it will keep you on track when you stumble, and we all do.

                                      More on Goal Action Plans

                                      Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

                                      Reference

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