I know what you’re probably thinking…
…What the heck does saving time and becoming more efficient have to do with problem-solving?
Before I tell you why, I want to make a poetic analogy.
Sometimes life is like a maze: you’re navigating through your days without really getting anywhere, not sure if you’re getting closer to your goals or not.
There are constantly new problems coming up that need to be solved… Right?
Or is it really so?
Are these problems really “new”?
The answer is: No.
Most of your problems are old news, you just haven’t got ’round to fixing them. And I mean REALLY fixing them, on a fundamental level.
Let me ask you this: How often do you do the same things over and over?
Probably a lot.
You do this because almost all of your behavior is habitual.
But, what if you could pinpoint specifically when and where your current habitual behavior doesn’t serve your purposes?
Well friend, then you’d become a much more efficient person…
I’m going to tell you three simple techniques for problem-solving. The first one involves pinpointing your habitual behavior and it is the most important one. When I say “problem-solving“, I mean everything you encounter that requires making a decision.
So, how do you solve a problem?
It depends on what sort of problem it is.
There are three sorts of problems:
- General problems
- Normal problems
- Unique problems
You should start categorizing the problems you encounter according to these three types, and treat them accordingly. Because if you do, it’ll boost your problem-solving skills. Which will result in what?
–Increased efficiency and more free time.
General Problems: 80 % Focus
General problems happen recurringly. They are by far the most common — and important — type of problem.
The general problems are the most important ones to spend your time solving. If you only take one thing away from this article, it should be this.
You solve general problems by coming up with a rule of thumb describing what you will do when the specific problem occurs. A great way of doing this is by compiling a list of daily lessons, preferably in your commonplace.
What are daily lessons?
Here are a few examples:
- Interesting observations
- Important takeaways you learned during the day
- How you behaved in a certain situation
The reason we have general problems is usually because we’re not conscious of them. Or we may even be conscious of them, but lack the motivation to do anything.
Compiling daily lessons you overcome both of those sticking points — because it strongly concretizes the problem and elucidates how much of an impact the problems has on your life.
If you write down a few of these lessons each day it will quickly scale. Soon you’ll have a lot of info about yourself and your behavior. It won’t take long until you start noticing a recurring pattern of behavior.
Bingo. You’ve just identified a general problem that needs to be solved!
Here are some examples.
Maybe you find that you’re having trouble waking up in the morning…
Maybe you find that you’re not doing the important and urgent things first thing in the morning…
Maybe you find that you’re becoming tense and tired at a certain point each day…
…And so on.
Generally speaking (no pun intended) if you find yourself writing similar daily lessons over a longer period of time — say 30 days at least — it’s clearly a sign that you are experiencing a general problem.
When you have compiled enough daily lessons you should spend some time — perhaps a few hours — going through them.
Once you have noticed certain patterns, and identified the general problems, you deal with it by creating a rule of thumb describing specifically what you’ll do when it happens the next time. The simpler your rule of thumb the better.
Be sure to:
- Write down your rule of thumb IMMEDIATELY.
- Keep it nearby and remind yourself of it frequently
- Implement it as soon as possible, and as often as you can within a short time span.
By doing this, you’ll quickly turn your rule of thumb solution into a habit.
This will automatize the solution to your problem — and that way you won’t need to deal with as many “new” problems every day.
Normal Problems: 15 % Focus
Normal problems happen once in a while, just often enough for it to be predictable.
A good problem-solving method for normal problems is to use WCCA — Worst Case Consequence Analysis — which works like this:
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? (event)
- How likely is it to happen? (Estimated probability)
- Can I take this risk? (Perceived risk)
Event x Estimated Probability = Perceived risk
Your brain does this automatically actually. But, it helps to think of every once in a while, just to practice.
There is a problem with this method for problem-solving (no pun intended). Depending on the situation you might grossly miscalculate the estimated probability.
Because you’re very mood-based.
For example, if you’re in a negative mood, you’ll tend to overestimate risks and scare yourself into decision paralysis. And if you’re in a great mood you’ll tend to underestimate risks and feel that everything is possible, sometimes unrealistically so.
However, in my experience it’s a lot better to be delusionally positive and possibly mess up, than being negative and not doing anything.
Anyway, most people tend to overestimate the perceived risk because they’re afraid.
Then there are also other interfering biases. For example, loss aversion is estimated to be about 2.5x stronger than your will to win. That’s a serious issue, because your inherent fear clouds your judgment and destroys motivation.
On the whole, normal problems are a bit tough to deal with in a systematic way.
Unique Problems: 5 % Focus
Unique problems are rare and very hard to predict. They are like black swans.
How do you deal with them?
The answer is: You don’t.
This is what most people don’t understand, and it hurts them on two levels:
- They worry about things that are unlikely to ever happen. Worry causes unnecessary stress. Stress in turn hurts the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory function.
- They waste time and mental space that could be more productively used for other things.
Another problem is that worried and stressful people are “contagious”.
When you’re around someone who acts in a certain way you’ll often unconsciously mirror that person’s behavior. That’s when you need to be unreactive, because your mirror neurons aren’t helping you at all in that situation.
The best way of “not” dealing with unique problems is by being prepared to face them. You prepare in advance so that you can absorb them head-on. In finance, this is called hedging.
Think of it this way, you could lose your computer in a ton of different ways. It could get stolen. It could get hacked. It could stop working by itself. Someone might spill water on it… And so on.
There’s simply no point in trying to predict all possible ways you might lose or break your computer. So what you do instead, is that you back-up your files every once in a while on an external hard drive. By this doing you’re ready for all of those problems when they happen.
Summary: The 3 Types of Problem-Solving
General problems — 80 % focus
General problems are by far the most important ones to focus on solving because you can systematically eliminate them by creating habits and check-lists of best practices/rules of thumb.
Systems create automation and boost efficiency, which gives you more time to focus on other things.
Spend at least 80 % of your time solving the general problems that happen often.
You can do this by writing daily lessons and looking at them once in a while — perhaps once every month. That’s enough time to notice the overall patterns of what you’re struggling with (the general problem). You then sit down, reflect on the observations, and figure out some rule of thumb solutions.
Normal problems — 15 % focus
Normal problems happen once in a while and are possible to predict. But, they are still not worth putting much time into. If you have to do it you can use WCCA — Worst Case Consequence Analysis. Just remember it’s not always that accurate.
Unique problems — 5 % focus
Hedge yourself against unique problems by preparing to absorb them. Live with a bit of risk — and accept it. Don’t obsess over the unique problems, it’s simply not worth the time.
Suckers and neurotics obsess over unique problems.
Don’t be that guy.
Over to you…
Have you got a good system for dealing with problems?
Do you differentiate between problems or categorize them?
Photo Credit: Flickr