How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , Simon London speaks with Charles Conn, CEO of venture-capital firm Oxford Sciences Innovation, and McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin about the complexities of different problem-solving strategies.

Podcast transcript

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , with me, Simon London. What’s the number-one skill you need to succeed professionally? Salesmanship, perhaps? Or a facility with statistics? Or maybe the ability to communicate crisply and clearly? Many would argue that at the very top of the list comes problem solving: that is, the ability to think through and come up with an optimal course of action to address any complex challenge—in business, in public policy, or indeed in life.

Looked at this way, it’s no surprise that McKinsey takes problem solving very seriously, testing for it during the recruiting process and then honing it, in McKinsey consultants, through immersion in a structured seven-step method. To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Hugo Sarrazin: Our pleasure.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

Simon London: Problem solving is a really interesting piece of terminology. It could mean so many different things. I have a son who’s a teenage climber. They talk about solving problems. Climbing is problem solving. Charles, when you talk about problem solving, what are you talking about?

Charles Conn: For me, problem solving is the answer to the question “What should I do?” It’s interesting when there’s uncertainty and complexity, and when it’s meaningful because there are consequences. Your son’s climbing is a perfect example. There are consequences, and it’s complicated, and there’s uncertainty—can he make that grab? I think we can apply that same frame almost at any level. You can think about questions like “What town would I like to live in?” or “Should I put solar panels on my roof?”

You might think that’s a funny thing to apply problem solving to, but in my mind it’s not fundamentally different from business problem solving, which answers the question “What should my strategy be?” Or problem solving at the policy level: “How do we combat climate change?” “Should I support the local school bond?” I think these are all part and parcel of the same type of question, “What should I do?”

I’m a big fan of structured problem solving. By following steps, we can more clearly understand what problem it is we’re solving, what are the components of the problem that we’re solving, which components are the most important ones for us to pay attention to, which analytic techniques we should apply to those, and how we can synthesize what we’ve learned back into a compelling story. That’s all it is, at its heart.

I think sometimes when people think about seven steps, they assume that there’s a rigidity to this. That’s not it at all. It’s actually to give you the scope for creativity, which often doesn’t exist when your problem solving is muddled.

Simon London: You were just talking about the seven-step process. That’s what’s written down in the book, but it’s a very McKinsey process as well. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s go through the steps, one by one. You were just talking about problem definition as being a particularly important thing to get right first. That’s the first step. Hugo, tell us about that.

Hugo Sarrazin: It is surprising how often people jump past this step and make a bunch of assumptions. The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are the dependencies?” Let’s make those explicit and really push the thinking and defining. At McKinsey, we spend an enormous amount of time in writing that little statement, and the statement, if you’re a logic purist, is great. You debate. “Is it an ‘or’? Is it an ‘and’? What’s the action verb?” Because all these specific words help you get to the heart of what matters.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah. It’s not like “Can we grow in Japan?” That’s interesting, but it is “What, specifically, are we trying to uncover in the growth of a product in Japan? Or a segment in Japan? Or a channel in Japan?” When you spend an enormous amount of time, in the first meeting of the different stakeholders, debating this and having different people put forward what they think the problem definition is, you realize that people have completely different views of why they’re here. That, to me, is the most important step.

Charles Conn: I would agree with that. For me, the problem context is critical. When we understand “What are the forces acting upon your decision maker? How quickly is the answer needed? With what precision is the answer needed? Are there areas that are off limits or areas where we would particularly like to find our solution? Is the decision maker open to exploring other areas?” then you not only become more efficient, and move toward what we call the critical path in problem solving, but you also make it so much more likely that you’re not going to waste your time or your decision maker’s time.

How often do especially bright young people run off with half of the idea about what the problem is and start collecting data and start building models—only to discover that they’ve really gone off half-cocked.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: OK. So step one—and there is a real art and a structure to it—is define the problem. Step two, Charles?

Charles Conn: My favorite step is step two, which is to use logic trees to disaggregate the problem. Every problem we’re solving has some complexity and some uncertainty in it. The only way that we can really get our team working on the problem is to take the problem apart into logical pieces.

What we find, of course, is that the way to disaggregate the problem often gives you an insight into the answer to the problem quite quickly. I love to do two or three different cuts at it, each one giving a bit of a different insight into what might be going wrong. By doing sensible disaggregations, using logic trees, we can figure out which parts of the problem we should be looking at, and we can assign those different parts to team members.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

Charles Conn: Maybe the easiest one is the classic profit tree. Almost in every business that I would take a look at, I would start with a profit or return-on-assets tree. In its simplest form, you have the components of revenue, which are price and quantity, and the components of cost, which are cost and quantity. Each of those can be broken out. Cost can be broken into variable cost and fixed cost. The components of price can be broken into what your pricing scheme is. That simple tree often provides insight into what’s going on in a business or what the difference is between that business and the competitors.

If we add the leg, which is “What’s the asset base or investment element?”—so profit divided by assets—then we can ask the question “Is the business using its investments sensibly?” whether that’s in stores or in manufacturing or in transportation assets. I hope we can see just how simple this is, even though we’re describing it in words.

When I went to work with Gordon Moore at the Moore Foundation, the problem that he asked us to look at was “How can we save Pacific salmon?” Now, that sounds like an impossible question, but it was amenable to precisely the same type of disaggregation and allowed us to organize what became a 15-year effort to improve the likelihood of good outcomes for Pacific salmon.

Simon London: Now, is there a danger that your logic tree can be impossibly large? This, I think, brings us onto the third step in the process, which is that you have to prioritize.

Charles Conn: Absolutely. The third step, which we also emphasize, along with good problem definition, is rigorous prioritization—we ask the questions “How important is this lever or this branch of the tree in the overall outcome that we seek to achieve? How much can I move that lever?” Obviously, we try and focus our efforts on ones that have a big impact on the problem and the ones that we have the ability to change. With salmon, ocean conditions turned out to be a big lever, but not one that we could adjust. We focused our attention on fish habitats and fish-harvesting practices, which were big levers that we could affect.

People spend a lot of time arguing about branches that are either not important or that none of us can change. We see it in the public square. When we deal with questions at the policy level—“Should you support the death penalty?” “How do we affect climate change?” “How can we uncover the causes and address homelessness?”—it’s even more important that we’re focusing on levers that are big and movable.

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Simon London: Let’s move swiftly on to step four. You’ve defined your problem, you disaggregate it, you prioritize where you want to analyze—what you want to really look at hard. Then you got to the work plan. Now, what does that mean in practice?

Hugo Sarrazin: Depending on what you’ve prioritized, there are many things you could do. It could be breaking the work among the team members so that people have a clear piece of the work to do. It could be defining the specific analyses that need to get done and executed, and being clear on time lines. There’s always a level-one answer, there’s a level-two answer, there’s a level-three answer. Without being too flippant, I can solve any problem during a good dinner with wine. It won’t have a whole lot of backing.

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: No, but it may be useful as a starting point. If the stakes are not that high, that could be OK. If it’s really high stakes, you may need level three and have the whole model validated in three different ways. You need to find a work plan that reflects the level of precision, the time frame you have, and the stakeholders you need to bring along in the exercise.

Charles Conn: I love the way you’ve described that, because, again, some people think of problem solving as a linear thing, but of course what’s critical is that it’s iterative. As you say, you can solve the problem in one day or even one hour.

Charles Conn: We encourage our teams everywhere to do that. We call it the one-day answer or the one-hour answer. In work planning, we’re always iterating. Every time you see a 50-page work plan that stretches out to three months, you know it’s wrong. It will be outmoded very quickly by that learning process that you described. Iterative problem solving is a critical part of this. Sometimes, people think work planning sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s how we know what’s expected of us and when we need to deliver it and how we’re progressing toward the answer. It’s also the place where we can deal with biases. Bias is a feature of every human decision-making process. If we design our team interactions intelligently, we can avoid the worst sort of biases.

Simon London: Here we’re talking about cognitive biases primarily, right? It’s not that I’m biased against you because of your accent or something. These are the cognitive biases that behavioral sciences have shown we all carry around, things like anchoring, overoptimism—these kinds of things.

Both: Yeah.

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.

Simon London: Right. Right.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Charles Conn: And it’s why diversity in our teams is so important. It’s one of the best things about the world that we’re in now. We’re likely to have people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, each of whom sees problems from a slightly different perspective. It is therefore much more likely that the team will uncover a truly creative and clever approach to problem solving.

Simon London: Let’s move on to step five. You’ve done your work plan. Now you’ve actually got to do the analysis. The thing that strikes me here is that the range of tools that we have at our disposal now, of course, is just huge, particularly with advances in computation, advanced analytics. There’s so many things that you can apply here. Just talk about the analysis stage. How do you pick the right tools?

Charles Conn: For me, the most important thing is that we start with simple heuristics and explanatory statistics before we go off and use the big-gun tools. We need to understand the shape and scope of our problem before we start applying these massive and complex analytical approaches.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: I agree. I think there are so many wonderful heuristics. You need to start there before you go deep into the modeling exercise. There’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, though. In some cases, for some types of problems, it is even better to set yourself up to maximize your learning. Your problem-solving methodology is test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and iterate. That is a heuristic in itself, the A/B testing that is used in many parts of the world. So that’s a problem-solving methodology. It’s nothing different. It just uses technology and feedback loops in a fast way. The other one is exploratory data analysis. When you’re dealing with a large-scale problem, and there’s so much data, I can get to the heuristics that Charles was talking about through very clever visualization of data.

You test with your data. You need to set up an environment to do so, but don’t get caught up in neural-network modeling immediately. You’re testing, you’re checking—“Is the data right? Is it sound? Does it make sense?”—before you launch too far.

Simon London: You do hear these ideas—that if you have a big enough data set and enough algorithms, they’re going to find things that you just wouldn’t have spotted, find solutions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of. Does machine learning sort of revolutionize the problem-solving process? Or are these actually just other tools in the toolbox for structured problem solving?

Charles Conn: It can be revolutionary. There are some areas in which the pattern recognition of large data sets and good algorithms can help us see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. But I do think it’s terribly important we don’t think that this particular technique is a substitute for superb problem solving, starting with good problem definition. Many people use machine learning without understanding algorithms that themselves can have biases built into them. Just as 20 years ago, when we were doing statistical analysis, we knew that we needed good model definition, we still need a good understanding of our algorithms and really good problem definition before we launch off into big data sets and unknown algorithms.

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Charles Conn: I take six and seven together, and this is the place where young problem solvers often make a mistake. They’ve got their analysis, and they assume that’s the answer, and of course it isn’t the answer. The ability to synthesize the pieces that came out of the analysis and begin to weave those into a story that helps people answer the question “What should I do?” This is back to where we started. If we can’t synthesize, and we can’t tell a story, then our decision maker can’t find the answer to “What should I do?”

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Charles Conn: Yeah.

Simon London: I am slightly torn about the nomenclature of problem solving because it’s on paper, right? Until you motivate people to action, you actually haven’t solved anything.

Charles Conn: I love this question because I think decision-making theory, without a bias to action, is a waste of time. Everything in how I approach this is to help people take action that makes the world better.

Simon London: Hence, these are absolutely critical steps. If you don’t do this well, you’ve just got a bunch of analysis.

Charles Conn: We end up in exactly the same place where we started, which is people speaking across each other, past each other in the public square, rather than actually working together, shoulder to shoulder, to crack these important problems.

Simon London: In the real world, we have a lot of uncertainty—arguably, increasing uncertainty. How do good problem solvers deal with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: At every step of the process. In the problem definition, when you’re defining the context, you need to understand those sources of uncertainty and whether they’re important or not important. It becomes important in the definition of the tree.

You need to think carefully about the branches of the tree that are more certain and less certain as you define them. They don’t have equal weight just because they’ve got equal space on the page. Then, when you’re prioritizing, your prioritization approach may put more emphasis on things that have low probability but huge impact—or, vice versa, may put a lot of priority on things that are very likely and, hopefully, have a reasonable impact. You can introduce that along the way. When you come back to the synthesis, you just need to be nuanced about what you’re understanding, the likelihood.

Often, people lack humility in the way they make their recommendations: “This is the answer.” They’re very precise, and I think we would all be well-served to say, “This is a likely answer under the following sets of conditions” and then make the level of uncertainty clearer, if that is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always in the gray zone; it doesn’t mean you don’t have a point of view. It just means that you can be explicit about the certainty of your answer when you make that recommendation.

Simon London: So it sounds like there is an underlying principle: “Acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty. Don’t pretend that it isn’t there. Be very clear about what the uncertainties are up front, and then build that into every step of the process.”

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Yeah. We have just walked through a particular structured methodology for problem solving. But, of course, this is not the only structured methodology for problem solving. One that is also very well-known is design thinking, which comes at things very differently. So, Hugo, I know you have worked with a lot of designers. Just give us a very quick summary. Design thinking—what is it, and how does it relate?

Hugo Sarrazin: It starts with an incredible amount of empathy for the user and uses that to define the problem. It does pause and go out in the wild and spend an enormous amount of time seeing how people interact with objects, seeing the experience they’re getting, seeing the pain points or joy—and uses that to infer and define the problem.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Hugo Sarrazin: With an enormous amount of empathy. There’s a huge emphasis on empathy. Traditional, more classic problem solving is you define the problem based on an understanding of the situation. This one almost presupposes that we don’t know the problem until we go see it. The second thing is you need to come up with multiple scenarios or answers or ideas or concepts, and there’s a lot of divergent thinking initially. That’s slightly different, versus the prioritization, but not for long. Eventually, you need to kind of say, “OK, I’m going to converge again.” Then you go and you bring things back to the customer and get feedback and iterate. Then you rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. There’s a lot of tactile building, along the way, of prototypes and things like that. It’s very iterative.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

Charles Conn: I think they’re entirely complementary, and I think Hugo’s description is perfect. When we do problem definition well in classic problem solving, we are demonstrating the kind of empathy, at the very beginning of our problem, that design thinking asks us to approach. When we ideate—and that’s very similar to the disaggregation, prioritization, and work-planning steps—we do precisely the same thing, and often we use contrasting teams, so that we do have divergent thinking. The best teams allow divergent thinking to bump them off whatever their initial biases in problem solving are. For me, design thinking gives us a constant reminder of creativity, empathy, and the tactile nature of problem solving, but it’s absolutely complementary, not alternative.

Simon London: I think, in a world of cross-functional teams, an interesting question is do people with design-thinking backgrounds really work well together with classical problem solvers? How do you make that chemistry happen?

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah, it is not easy when people have spent an enormous amount of time seeped in design thinking or user-centric design, whichever word you want to use. If the person who’s applying classic problem-solving methodology is very rigid and mechanical in the way they’re doing it, there could be an enormous amount of tension. If there’s not clarity in the role and not clarity in the process, I think having the two together can be, sometimes, problematic.

The second thing that happens often is that the artifacts the two methodologies try to gravitate toward can be different. Classic problem solving often gravitates toward a model; design thinking migrates toward a prototype. Rather than writing a big deck with all my supporting evidence, they’ll bring an example, a thing, and that feels different. Then you spend your time differently to achieve those two end products, so that’s another source of friction.

Now, I still think it can be an incredibly powerful thing to have the two—if there are the right people with the right mind-set, if there is a team that is explicit about the roles, if we’re clear about the kind of outcomes we are attempting to bring forward. There’s an enormous amount of collaborativeness and respect.

Simon London: But they have to respect each other’s methodology and be prepared to flex, maybe, a little bit, in how this process is going to work.

Hugo Sarrazin: Absolutely.

Simon London: The other area where, it strikes me, there could be a little bit of a different sort of friction is this whole concept of the day-one answer, which is what we were just talking about in classical problem solving. Now, you know that this is probably not going to be your final answer, but that’s how you begin to structure the problem. Whereas I would imagine your design thinkers—no, they’re going off to do their ethnographic research and get out into the field, potentially for a long time, before they come back with at least an initial hypothesis.

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Hugo Sarrazin: That is a great callout, and that’s another difference. Designers typically will like to soak into the situation and avoid converging too quickly. There’s optionality and exploring different options. There’s a strong belief that keeps the solution space wide enough that you can come up with more radical ideas. If there’s a large design team or many designers on the team, and you come on Friday and say, “What’s our week-one answer?” they’re going to struggle. They’re not going to be comfortable, naturally, to give that answer. It doesn’t mean they don’t have an answer; it’s just not where they are in their thinking process.

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Simon London: And thanks, as always, to you, our listeners, for tuning into this episode of the McKinsey Podcast . If you want to learn more about problem solving, you can find the book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything , online or order it through your local bookstore. To learn more about McKinsey, you can of course find us at

Charles Conn is CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office. Hugo Sarrazin is a senior partner in the Silicon Valley office, where Simon London, a member of McKinsey Publishing, is also based.

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Making best use of your time and resources.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Prioritization is the essential skill that you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and those of your team. It's also a skill that you need to create calmness and space in your life so that you can focus your energy and attention on the things that really matter.

It's particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where it's most-needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your team up from less important tasks that can be attended to later... or quietly dropped.

With good prioritization (and careful management of reprioritized tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress , and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you'll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.

Simple Prioritization

At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you're facing, or on the pressure you're under to complete a job:

  • Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly-used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
  • Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
  • And it's a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his or her boss's pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.

Prioritization Tools

While these simple approaches to prioritization suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you'll need other prioritization and time management tools if you're going to be truly effective. We look at some of these prioritization tools below:

Paired Comparison Analysis

Paired Comparison Analysis is most useful where decision criteria are vague, subjective or inconsistent. It helps you prioritize options by asking you to compare each item on a list with all other items on the list individually.

By deciding in each case which of the two is most important, you can consolidate results to get a prioritized list.

Decision Matrix Analysis

Decision Matrix Analysis helps you prioritize a list of tasks where you need to take many different factors into consideration.

The Action Priority Matrix

This quick and simple diagramming technique asks you to plot the value of the task against the effort it will consume.

By doing this you can quickly spot the "quick wins" which will give you the greatest rewards in the shortest possible time, and avoid the "hard slogs" which soak up time for little eventual reward. This is an ingenious approach for making highly efficient prioritization decisions.

See our article on the Action Priority Matrix to find out more.

Eisenhower Urgent/Important Principle

Similar to the Action Priority Matrix, this technique asks you to think about whether tasks are urgent or important.

Frequently, seemingly urgent tasks actually aren't that important. And often, really important activities (like working towards your life goals) just aren't that urgent. This approach helps you cut through this.

See our article on Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle to find out more.

The Ansoff Matrix and the Boston Matrix

These give you quick "rules of thumb" for prioritizing the opportunities open to you.

The Ansoff Matrix helps you evaluate and prioritize opportunities by risk. The Boston Matrix does a similar job, helping you to prioritize opportunities based on the attractiveness of a market and your ability to take advantage of it.

Pareto Analysis

Where you're facing a flurry of problems that you need to solve, Pareto Analysis helps you identify the most important changes to make.

It firstly asks you to group together the different types of problem you face, and then asks you to count the number of cases of each type of problem. By prioritizing the most common type of problem, you can focus your efforts on resolving it. This clears time to focus on the next set of problems, and so on.

The Modified Borda Count

The Modified Borda Count is a useful technique for prioritizing issues and projects within a group, giving everyone fair input into the prioritization process. This is particularly useful where consensus is important, and where a robust group decision needs to be made.

Using this tool, each group participant "nominates" his or her priority issues, and then ranks them on a scale, of say 1 to 10. The score for each issue is then added up, with issues then prioritized based on scores. The obvious fairness of this approach makes it particularly useful where prioritization is based on subjective criteria, and where people's "buy in" to the prioritization decision is needed.

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Essential Tools: Organization Prioritization, Time Management, Decision Making and Problem Solving

Learning Objectives:

  • Build trust through productive organization, prioritization, and time management
  • Identify strategies to increase organization and prioritization
  • Manage commitments to build trust and respect with peers and supervisors
  • Choose appropriate strategies and make sound and well-grounded decisions

Watch these videos on time management : time management techniques    Eisenhower matrix    Eisenhower matrix

Watch the Jar of Life Video—setting priorities :    Rocks, pebbles, sand story

Watch these videos on decision making :    Big Bang Theory decision making; funny decision making – take action; funny

Making and Keeping Commitments

Our relationships with other people are vital to our effective participation in the world. We live in a world of engagement and the language we choose to use creates a power that ripples outwards. Somewhat similar to the reaction that occurs when we drop a pebble in a pond. We use language to not only describe our world but to create it. And effective communication, including keeping our commitments is central to that. Keeping commitments is a crucial factor for every family, friendship or partnership, and for every team, association, or organization. Every one of these groups is comprised of us, and others, engaging in a continuing cycle of conversations and commitments

Of all the types of conversations we have, the most potent and productive is when we make an offer to another, or when we request a commitment from another. And when that offer or request is accepted this can be characterized as ‘The Promise Cycle’ .  This simple act of making and managing promises then creates a mutual commitment from one person to another to take a specific future action.

And the responsibility that accompanies a promise is to do ‘what’ we said we would do, do it to the ‘standard’ to which we committed, and to do it at the ‘time’ we committed to. In other words, we must deliver what we promise, to the standard we promise and when we promise. The effectiveness of this process relies on the clarity of the conditions. In other words, how well formed and well expressed the commitment is, and how well it’s understood by both people.

The promise cycle can be described this way. It occurs when you offer to do something for another as an: Offer + Acceptance = Promise , or when another makes a request of you as a: Request + Acceptance = Promise . In life we bind ourselves to each other through promises and we begin to drift when we don’t deliver on those promises. Therefore the making and keeping of commitments is an important element of our communication. It determines predictability, certainty and continuity in all our various relationships.

Now imagine the profound impact that would occur in every aspect of life if all members of your family, your team, your associations, or your organization kept their commitments? Mutual trust would increase, and as a result efficiency, effectiveness and productivity would grow exponentially. Trust is central to our identity; such a simple process; such a profound impact. And In an organizational setting; understanding and using this process allows team and business leaders to develop a committed, collaborative, high- performance culture .


Now think of one instance in both your personal life and professional life where you have made a promise and delivered on that promise.

Then think of one instance in both your personal and professional life when you have made a promise and not delivered on that promise.

What were the implications and results?

Ada pted from: Robert Dunham, Institute for Generative Leadership, Boulder, CO   (C) 2015, Institute for Generative Leadership –

Excerpt from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, 1989

Personal management has evolved in a pattern similar to many other areas of human endeavor. Major developmental thrusts, or ‘waves’ as Alvin Toffler calls them, follow each other in succession, each adding a vital new dimension.

Likewise, in the area of time management, each generation builds on the one before it – each one moves us toward greater control of our lives. The first wave or generation could be characterized by notes and checklists, an effort to give some semblance of recognition and inclusiveness to the many demands placed on our time and energy.

The second generation could be characterized by calendars and appointment books. This wave reflects an attempt to look ahead, to schedule events and activities in the future.

The third generation reflects the current time management field. It adds to those preceding generations the important idea of prioritization, of clarifying values, and of comparing the relative worth of activities based on their relationship to those values. In addition, it focuses on setting goals – specific long-, intermediate- and short-term targets toward which time and energy would be directed in harmony with values. It also includes the concept of daily planning, of making a specific plan to accomplish those goals and activities determined to be of greatest worth.

While the third generation has made a significant contribution, people have begun to realize that “efficient” scheduling and control of time are often counterproductive. The efficiency focus creates expectations that clash with the opportunities to develop rich relations, to meet human needs, and to enjoy spontaneous moments on a daily basis.

As a result, many people have become turned off by the time management programs and planner that make them feel too scheduled, too restricted, and they “throw the baby out with the bath water,” reverting to first or second generation techniques to preserve relationships, spontaneity, and quality of life.

But there is an emerging fourth generation that is different in kind. It recognizes that “time management” is really a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. Satisfaction is a function of the expectation as well as realization. And expectation (and satisfaction) lies in our Circle of Influence.

Rather than focusing on things and time, fourth generation expectations focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results – in short, on maintaining P/PC Balance [P stands for production of desired results and PC stands for the capacity to produce the desired results].

General Organizing Skills

Along with communication and computer skills, organizational skills are some of the most important transferable job skills a worker can possess. People need organizational skills at work to be more productive. Workers who know where to find notes or certain resources can save time. Therefore, they tend to get more done. There are a number of organizational skills for work, including those noted below.

Physical Organization

Clutter is often the culprit when it comes to disorganization in a work space. Make a point to clear out unneeded papers, file documents in the appropriate places and put unused supplies back in the supply closet. You don’t have to be a neat freak to be successful with physical organization. You might find that it fits your working style to designate a weekly session for busting through the accumulated clutter. Get into the habit of putting papers, gadgets, business cards, files, magazines, newspapers and supplies in their proper places. Throw away or shred items that are past their usable life.

Mental Organization

Keeping your mind organized can be a challenge when you are juggling the varied demands of performing a job. Prioritize projects and make to-do lists to keep yourself on track. Understand your personal working style and play to your strengths. Not everyone is cut out to be an accomplished multi-tasker. You might work best by focusing on finishing off one project at a time rather than balancing multiple tasks.

Planning is a needed workplace skill, and it is particularly important as person advances into more supervisory or managerial roles. Most work is centered on certain projects that must be completed within a specific time period. Projects are usually divided into many different tasks, and workers must plan their tasks ahead of time to bring the project to fruition. A person can also plan ahead in case certain problems come up that could potentially delay the project.

Set goals and outline the steps you need to take to reach them. Focus forward on goals that you may have set with your supervisor. Schedule time to work through the tasks involved so that you are making constant progress.

A goal is something you want to do, have or be or something your employer expects to happen over time.

The way you set your goals affects their effectiveness. Goal setting is deciding what you want to do, why you want to do it, when you are going to do it and how you are going to do it. Setting goals helps you to accomplish things which are important in both your work and home life. Plan the Plan and not the results. As you begin to think about your goals, keep the following things in mind.

  • Be Positive: have a good attitude
  • Be Realistic: know yourself and your comfort level
  • Set Deadlines: be realistic so you don’t become frustrated
  • Prioritize: make lists, break things into smaller pieces
  • Write down your goals & keep them visible: this will help you stay on task
  • Make your goals small and achievable : for better success
  • List your values : What’s important to you?
  • Plan for the future and place yourself there: visualize, fantasize

  Time Management

Having good organizational skills is about making the best use of your time. Being organize reduces the amount of time you have to dig to uncover important work related information. Understand where your time goes. For example, if you check email every five minutes, you might want to create a twice-a-day email schedule to more effectively handle your inbox. Maintain a calendar so you don’t miss important deadlines.

Thinking about time management can generate many questions for exploration and reflection.

Do we manage time or manage capacity? Do we manage time or manage our values and what we care about? Do we manage time or manage our choices? Do we manage tasks or manage outcomes? Do we manage our time or our energy?

Use of time is clearly a choice. When those choices lack grounding in a larger purpose and clear discernment of what we care about and what’s really important, the choices of how we spend our time can sometimes fail to deliver purposeful outcomes.

Taking time to consider at a more than superficial level what we care about and centering our focus on those cares generates different outcomes. Those who are grounded in a clear purpose and who allow that purpose to drive conversations for action and commitments make different choices that enable personal as well as customer satisfaction. These commitments are grounded in outcomes that matter rather than task completion. Spending time on tasks without connection to a greater purpose can cause frustration, a sense of overwhelm energy depletion, disappointment, exhaustion, and loss of clear direction.

Meeting Deadlines

One of the most important organizational skills is the ability to meet deadlines and use time wisely. It usually takes a little experience before an individual can properly assign tasks, allocate resources and complete a project on time. Meeting deadlines requires time management skills, which is an important organizational skill itself

Employees need time management organizational skills to keep track of meetings, appointments, tasks and deadlines. Time management skills will help you stay on schedule with everything you do. Time management skills will also help you avoid the last minute rush to complete tasks, eliminating potential stress in the process

Tracking Tasks

Organizational skills are needed to keep track of projects. Finding a way to track tasks will help keep you ahead of the game. Projects require a lot of individual tasks. These tasks need to be completed on time to reach the project deadline. If you work with project deadlines, use a project log to keep track of your progress. You can keep the project log on file in your computer or on paper. There is no right way. The important point is to do it to simplify your life as well as that of others.

Good organizational skills can help lead to success through many paths. Time is money. Organization saves time by keeping valuable data easily accessible, goals in focus and everyone on the same page. Employees who have good organizational skills are efficient at covering the demands of their jobs. This directly relates to a company’s bottom line. Poor organization leads to frustration on the part of a business owner, employees and customers. Keep an orderly office, work space, computer and mind to cultivate an environment that is focused on meeting business goals in a timely manner.

Organizational Skills: Prioritization

Prioritization is a valuable organizational skill. Some tasks may require immediate attention, others can wait. This skill set is closely linked to time management. We only have a limited amount of time to utilize during our workday, so place those tasks that have to be completed first at the head of a list. In the military, on the battlefield, doctors apply the organizational skill of “triage”; injured soldiers are placed into one of three categories, since it is physically impossible for the doctor to get to everyone at once. Wounded soldiers who are going to die, no matter what is done to them, are placed in one category. Soldiers who have serious, but non-life-threatening injuries, go into another category. Finally, those soldiers who require immediate attention and can be saved go into the third category. This is prioritization.

Organizational skills such as prioritization, organizing the workspace, time management , form the core basis of good organizational habits. Practical organizational skills include wise planning, time optimization, detail orientation, and prioritization . Last, but not least, would be to relieve stress ! A stressed out worker makes more mistakes, and may say something to a co-worker or subordinate in the “heat of the moment”, that they will later regret! Do whatever it takes for you personally to be relaxed, yet professional, in making your business decisions and conducting efficient operations. Implementing these organizational skills will contribute to a healthy work environment.

There are five steps to prioritizing your work

  • Think about what needs to be done– First, think about what needs to be done. How do you juggle (prioritize) your daily activities? Make a list of daily activities, and think about how you work to accomplish them.
  • Decide and prioritize what to do– Now it is time to decide which goals are important to you, and how you can achieve them. Before you do, remember that relaxation is a key. How do you relax? Have you given yourself time to relax? What do you do to relax? Before you continue, think about relaxing and make a list of the things you do to relax. As you plan your day, allow time for yourself to relax and refresh.

By now, you have an idea of your goals. You should also have a list of how you organize your daily life and what your work style is. As a reminder, this list should tell you the following:

  • What your distractions are
  • When do you work best
  • What are your daily activities (commitments) are
  • When you work best

Keep your list in mind as you begin to set goals, break the goal into manageable pieces, order (prioritize) those pieces and achieve your goal. Learn to say no to distractions and extra demands on your time. Saying no can be difficult at first, but as you prioritize and work to achieve your goals you will see how important this can be.

  • Monitor and Evaluate : How am I doing? It is important to think about what you do while you do it.

It takes commitment to design a plan and stick to it. Remind yourself often of your objectives. Write short lists or put up photographs or articles to help remind you of our goal and your progress.

If you keep veering from the goal, maybe the objective is not something you want badly enough. If so, change it. Be flexible. Setting and achieving goals is a lifelong process. Set new objectives that are consistent with who you are and what you want. Objectives may change over time.

Here are some suggestions for monitoring and evaluating the way you work. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I doing well?
  • What could I improve?
  • What are the opportunities facing you?
  • What is getting in your way?
  • Practice Prioritizing —Write a list of things you need to accomplish. Decide what is most important and most urgent.       Prioritize list in order of importance Then, breakdown each item into a list of tasks that need to happen to complete it. Check off the tasks as you complete them.
  • Reward Yourself — Celebrate when you have completed your task.

Set up a reward system for yourself. It may be calling a friend, reading a couple of chapters of your favorite book, taking a bubble bath, shooting a few hoops, or taking a walk. Whatever it is should be meaningful to you.

Time Management: The Eisenhower Method

The Eisenhower Method helps you decide which action you should or shouldn’t do. It aids you to divide actions into one of four categories. The quadrants are divided by importance and urgency.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

How to Use the Eisenhower Method

Using the Eisenhower quadrant is very easy. You pick an item from your to-do list and ask yourself these two questions.

  • “Is it urgent?”
  • “Is it important?”

You can now put the action into the correct quadrant.

Below is an explanation of each quadrant.

  • Not Urgent and Not Important Examples:
  • Time wasters (Ex: Facebook, checking e-mails all the time…)
  • Busy work (Ex: Work that doesn’t need to be done)
  • Procrastinating

You should not spend any time on activities in this quadrant. When is something not important? If it doesn’t progress you toward your goals, then why should you spend time doing it?

When is something not urgent? If it doesn’t matter when it is done, then it’s not urgent. It can be done today, or it can be done next week or even next year, it doesn’t matter.

The combination of not urgent and not important is the worst quadrant to spend your time in. Decrease your time in this quadrant and put it somewhere else. I prefer you put it in ‘not urgent and important’ .

  • Urgent and Not Important
  • Answering e-mails
  • Incoming phone calls
  • Interrupting colleagues

Since the tasks are still not important and you’re still not progressing towards your goals’ it’s better to not spend time here either. However, these tasks are urgent, therefore you can’t schedule them. They’re also hard to ignore, since urgent action often demands attention. Ex: A phone call or an interrupting colleague. Find a way to deal with these as quickly as possible.

  • Urgent and Important
  • Emergencies
  • Troubleshooting

You have to do these actions. They’re important. They progress you toward your goals, however, since they’re urgent, they’re often unplanned and unwanted.

You will always spend some time here, since emergencies will always happen. When they do, you have to deal with them. No excuses. After you deal with the situation, spend time to make sure it never happens again, minimize its occurrence or make preparations for when it happens again.

  • Not Urgent and Important
  • Building quality relationships with other people
  • Doing actual work to progress toward a major goal
  • Physical exercise

This is the quadrant in which you should spent most of your time. Most people however, don’t do this and spend most of their time in any of the other quadrants. Because these important tasks don’t scream to you like a ringing phone, they’re often neglected in favor of more urgent matters.

If you spend almost no time here, then your first important task is to save some time each day to work on the important things.

Urgent activities are often the ones we concentrate on and often forget about really important ones. If you spend all of your time concentrating on the urgent and important tasks you will just be firefighting. Managing time effectively, and achieving the things that you want to achieve, means spending your time on things that are important and not just urgent.

We can categorize tasks on two scales according to their importance and urgency. Making 4 categories and placing them in matrix known also as Time Matrix below.

time matrix

What is Decision Making?

People often find it hard to make decisions – inevitably we all have to make decisions all the time, some are more important than others.

Some people put off making decisions by endlessly searching for more information or getting other people to offer their recommendations.  Others resort to decision making by taking a vote, sticking a pin in a list or tossing a coin.

Regardless of the effort that is put into making a decision, it has to be accepted that some decisions will not be the best possible choice.  This page examines one technique that can be used for effective decision making and that should help you to make effective decisions now and in the future.

Although the following technique is designed for an organisational or group structure, it can be easily adapted to an individual level.

In its simplest sense: ‘ Decision Making is the act of choosing between two or more courses of action ‘.   However, it must always be remembered that there may not always be a ‘correct’ decision among the available choices.

There may have been a better choice that had not been considered, or the right information may not have been available at the time.  Because of this, it is important to keep a record of all important decisions and the reasons why these decisions were made, so that improvements can be made in the future.  This also provides justification for any decision taken when something goes wrong.

Hindsight might not be able to correct past mistakes, but it will aid improved decision making in the future.

Effective Decision Making

Although decisions can be made using either intuition or reasoning, a combination of both approaches is often used.  Whatever approach is used, it is usually helpful to structure decision making in order to:

  • Reduce more complicated decisions down to simpler steps.
  • See how any decisions are arrived at.
  • Plan decision making to meet deadlines.

Stages of Decision Making

In psychology, decision-making is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action. Decision-making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision maker. Decision-making is one of the central activities of management and is a huge part of any process of implementation.

Many different techniques of decision making have been developed, ranging from simple rules of thumb, to extremely complex procedures.  The method used depends on the nature of the decision to be made and how complex it is.

The method described here follows seven stages:

  • Listing all possible solutions/options.
  • Setting a time scale and deciding who is responsible for the decision.
  • Information gathering.
  • Weighing up the risks involved.
  • Deciding on values, or in other words what is important.
  • Weighing up the pros and cons of each course of action.
  • Making the decision.
  •  Listing Possible Solutions/Options

In order to come up with a list of all the possible solutions and/or options available it is usually appropriate to work on a group (or individual) problem-solving process. This process, could include brainstorming or some other ‘idea generating’ process (see our page: Problem Solving for more information). 

This stage is important to the overall decision making processes as a decision will be made from a selection of fixed choices.  Always remember to consider the possibility of not making a decision or doing nothing and be aware that both options are actually potential solutions in themselves.

  • Setting a Time Period and Deciding Who is Responsible for the Decision

In deciding how much time to make available for the decision making process, it helps to consider the following:

  • How much time is available to spend on this decision?
  • Is there a deadline for making a decision and what are the consequences of missing this deadline?
  • Is there an advantage in making a quick decision?
  • How important is it to make a decision?  How important is it that the decision is right?
  • Will spending more time improve the quality of the decision?

Responsibility for the Decision

Before making a decision, it needs to be clear who is going to take responsibility for the decision.  Remember that it is not always those making the decision who have to assume responsibility for it.  Is it an individual, a group or an organisation?  This is a key question because the degree to which responsibility for a decision is shared can greatly influence how much risk people are willing to take.

If the decision making is for work then it is helpful to consider the structure of the organization that you are in.  Is the individual responsible for the decisions he or she makes or does the organization hold ultimate responsibility?  Who has to carry out the course of action decided?  Who will it affect if something goes wrong?  Are you willing to take responsibility for a mistake?

Finally, you need to know who can actually make the decision.  When helping a friend, colleague or client to reach a decision, in most circumstances the final decision and responsibility will be taken by them.  Whenever possible, and if it is not obvious, it is better to make a formal decision as to who is responsible for a decision.  This idea of responsibility also highlights the need to keep a record of how any decision was made, what information it was based on and who was involved.  Enough information needs to be kept to justify that decision in the future so that, if something does go wrong, it is possible to show that your decision was reasonable in the circumstance and given the knowledge you held at the time.

3.  Information Gathering

Before starting on the process of making a decision, all relevant information needs to be gathered.

If there is inadequate or out-dated information then it is more likely that a wrong decision might be made.  Also, if there is a lot of irrelevant information then the decision will be difficult to make, it will be easier to become distracted by unnecessary factors.

There is a need for up-to-date, accurate information on which to make decisions.  Such information needs to be gathered so that a well-informed decision can be made.  The amount of time spent on information gathering has to be weighed against how much you are willing to risk making the wrong decision.  In a group situation, such as at work, it may be appropriate for different people to research different aspects of the information required.

  • Weighing up the Risks Involved

One key question is how much risk should be taken in making the decision? Generally, the amount of risk an individual is willing to take depends on:

  • The seriousness of the consequences of taking the wrong decision.
  • The benefits of making the right decision.
  • Not only how bad the worst outcome might be, but also how likely that outcome is to happen.

It is also useful to consider what the risk of the worst possible outcome occurring might be, and to decide if the risk is acceptable.  The choice can be between going ‘all out for success’ or taking a safe decision.

  • Deciding on Values

Everybody has their own unique set of values – what they believe to be important.

Many people decide to buy a car for themselves but different people buy different cars based on their own personal values.  One person might feel that price is the most important feature, whereas another person might be more concerned with its speed and performance.  Others might value safety, luggage space or the cars impact on the environment or a combination of these features.

Depending on which values are considered important, different opinions may seem more or less attractive.  If the responsibility for a decision is shared it is possible that one person might not have the same values as the others.  In such cases, it is important to obtain a consensus as to which values are to be given the most weight.  It is important that the values on which a decision is made are understood because they will have a strong influence on the final choice.

People do not make decisions based on just one of their values.  They will consider all their values which are relevant to the decision and prioritise them in order of importance. If you were to buy a car, what would be the five most important factors to you?

  • Weighing the Pros and Cons

It is possible to evaluate the pros and cons of each possible solution/option by considering the possible advantages and disadvantages. 

One aid to evaluating any solution/option is to use a ‘balance sheet’, weighing up the pros and cons (benefits and costs) associated with that solution. Having listed the pros and cons, it may be possible to immediately decide whether the option is viable.

However, it may be useful to rate each of the pros and cons on a simple 1 to 10 scale (with 10 high – most important to 1 low – least important):

In scoring each of the pros and cons it helps to take into account how important each item on the list is in meeting values.  This balance sheet approach allows both the information to be taken into account as well as the values, and presents them in a clear and straight forward manner.

  • Making the Decision

There are many techniques that can be used to help in reaching a decision.  The pros and cons method (as above) is just one way of evaluating each of the possible solutions/options available.

There are other techniques which allow for more direct comparisons between possible solutions.  These are more complicated and generally involve a certain amount of calculation.  These can be particularly helpful when it is necessary to weigh a number of conflicting values and options.

For example, how would you decide between a cheap to buy but expensive to run car and another more expensive car that is more economical to keep on the road?

Intuitive Judgments:   In addition to making reasoned decisions using the techniques shown above, in many cases people use an intuitive approach to decision making.  When making a decision many influences, which have not been considered, may play a part.  For example, prejudice or wishful thinking might affect judgment.  Reliance is often placed on past experience without consideration of past mistakes.  Making a decision using intuition alone should be an option and not done merely because it is the easy way out, or other methods are more difficult.

Intuition is a perfectly acceptable means of making a decision, although it is generally more appropriate when the decision is of a simple nature or needs to be made quickly.  More complicated decisions tend to require a more formal, structured approach.  It is important to be wary of impulsive reactions to a situation and remember to keep a record of the decision for future reference, no matter whether the decision was made intuitively or after taking a reasoned approach.

If possible, it is best to allow time to reflect on a decision once it has been reached.  It is preferable to sleep on it before announcing it to others.  Once a decision is made public, it is very difficult to change.

Decision making is the act of choosing between a number of alternatives.  In the wider process of problem solving, decision making involves choosing between possible solutions to a problem.  Decisions can be made through either an intuitive or reasoned process, or a combination of the two.  There are usually a number of stages to any structured decision making.

You should always remember that no decision making technique should be used as an alternative to good judgement and clear thinking.  All decision making involves individual judgement, and systematic techniques are merely there to assist those judgements. © 2011 – 2015 The use of material found at is free provided that copyright is acknowledged and a reference or link is included to the page/s where the information was found. Material from may not be sold, or published for profit in any form without express written permission from For information on how to reference correctly please see our page on referencing .

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Guidelines for Problem Solving and Decision Making

Much of what people do is solve problems and make decisions. Often, they are “under the gun”, stressed and very short of time. Consequently, when they encounter a new problem or decision they must make, they react with a decision that seemed to work before. It’s easy with this approach to get stuck in a circle of solving the same problem over and over again. Therefore, it’s often useful to get used to an organized approach to problem solving and decision making. Not all problems can be solved and decisions made by the following, rather rational approach. However, the following basic guidelines will get you started. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the list of guidelines. After you’ve practiced them a few times, they’ll become second nature to you — enough that you can deepen and enrich them to suit your own needs and nature.

(Note that it might be more your nature to view a “problem” as an “opportunity”. Therefore, you might substitute “problem” for “opportunity” in the following guidelines.)

  • Define the problem

This is often where people struggle. They react to what they think the problem is. Instead, seek to understand more about why you think there’s a problem.

Define the problem: (with input from yourself and others). Ask yourself and others, the following questions:

  • What can you see that causes you to think there’s a problem?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • With whom is it happening? (HINT: Don’t jump to “Who is causing the problem?” When we’re stressed, blaming is often one of our first reactions. To be an effective manager, you need to address issues more than people.)
  • Why is it happening?
  • Write down a five-sentence description of the problem in terms of “The following should be happening, but isn’t …” or “The following is happening and should be: …” As much as possible, be specific in your description, including what is happening, where, how, with whom and why. (It may be helpful at this point to use a variety of research methods.

Defining complex problems:

If the problem still seems overwhelming, break it down by repeating steps 1-7 until you have descriptions of several related problems.

Verifying your understanding of the problems— it helps a great deal to verify your problem analysis for conferring with a peer or someone else.

Prioritize the problems— if you discover that you are looking at several related problems, then prioritize which ones you should address first.

Note the difference between “important” and “urgent” problems. Often, what we consider to be important problems to consider are really just urgent problems. Important problems deserve more attention. For example, if you’re continually answering “urgent” phone calls, then you’ve probably got a more “important” problem waiting.

Understand your role in the problem— your role in the problem can greatly influence how you perceive the role of others. For example, if you’re very stressed out, it’ll probably look like others are, too, or, you may resort too quickly to blaming and reprimanding others. Or, you are feeling very guilty about your role in the problem; you may ignore the accountabilities of others.

  • Look at potential causes for the problem
  • It’s amazing how much you don’t know about what you don’t know. Therefore, in this phase, it’s critical to get input from other people who notice the problem and who are affected by it.
  • It’s often useful to collect input from other individuals one at a time (at least at first). Otherwise, people tend to be inhibited about offering their impressions of the real causes of problems.
  • Write down what your opinions and what you’ve heard from others.
  • It’s often useful to seek advice from a peer or your supervisor in order to verify your impression of the problem.
  • Write down a description of the cause of the problem and in terms of what is happening, where, when, how, with whom and why.
  • Identify alternatives for approaches to resolve the problem

At this point, it’s useful to keep others involved (unless you’re facing a personal and/or other performance problem). Brainstorm for solutions to the problem. Very simply put, brainstorming is collecting as many ideas as possible, and then screening them to find the best idea. It’s critical when collecting the ideas to not pass any judgment on the ideas — just write them down as you hear them.

  • Select an approach to resolve the problem

When selecting the best approach, consider:

  • Which approach is the most likely to solve the problem for the long term?
  • Which approach is the most realistic to accomplish for now? Do you have the resources? Are they affordable? Do you have enough time to implement the approach?
  • What is the extent of risk associated with each alternative?

(The nature of this step, in particular, in the problem solving process is why problem solving and decision making are highly integrated.)

  • Plan the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan)
  • Carefully consider “What will the situation look like when the problem is solved?”
  • What steps should be taken to implement the best alternative to solving the problem? What systems or processes should be changed in your organization, for example, a new policy or procedure? Don’t resort to solutions where someone is “just going to try harder”.
  • How will you know if the steps are being followed or not? (these are your indicators of the success of your plan)
  • What resources will you need in terms of people, money and facilities?
  • How much time will you need to implement the solution? Write a schedule that includes the start and stop times, and when you expect to see certain indicators of success.
  • Who will primarily be responsible for ensuring implementation of the plan?
  • Write down the answers to the above questions and consider this as your action plan.
  • Communicate the plan to those involved in implementing it and, at least, to your immediate supervisor.

(An important aspect of this step in the problem-solving process is continual observation and feedback.)

  • Monitor implementation of the plan

Monitor the indicators of success:

  • Are you seeing what you would expect from the indicators?
  • Will the plan be done according to schedule?
  • If the plan is not being followed as expected, then consider: Was the plan realistic? Are there sufficient resources to accomplish the plan on schedule? Should more priority be placed on various aspects of the plan? Should the plan be changed?
  • Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

One of the best ways to verify if a problem has been solved is to return to normal. Watch to see that the solution implemented solved the problem. If not, revisit the process and make necessary corrections.

The Six Step Problem-solving Model

6-step model

Problem solving is the mental process you follow when you have a goal but can’t immediately understand how to achieve it. It’s a process that depends on you – how you perceive a problem, what you know about it, and the end-state you want to reach.

Solving a problem involves a number of cognitive activities:

  • determining what the problem really is
  • identifying the true causes of the problem and the opportunities for reaching a goal
  • generating creative solutions to the problem
  • evaluating and choosing the best solution, and
  • implementing the best solution, then monitoring your actions and the results to ensure the problem is solved successfully

Clearly, problem solving isn’t a one-step process. Your success will depend on whether you approach and implement each of the stages effectively. The best way to do this is to use a well-established, systematic problem-solving model.

The six steps of problem solving

Problems vary widely, and so do their solutions. Sometimes a problem and its solution are clear, but you don’t know how to get from point A to point B. At other times, you may find it hard to define what’s wrong or how to fix it. Regardless of what a problem is, you can use a six-step problem-solving model to address it. This model is highly flexible and can be adapted to suit various types of problems. It also comes with a flexible set of tools to use at each step. The model is designed to be followed one step at a time, but you may find that some stages don’t require as much attention as others. This will depend on your unique situation.

The steps in the problem-solving model are as follows:

Identify the problem – Defining the problem is a crucial step that involves digging deeper to identify what it is that needs to be solved. The more clearly a problem is defined, the easier you’ll find it to complete subsequent steps. A symptom is a phenomenon or circumstance that results from a deeper, underlying condition. It’s common to mistake symptoms for problems themselves – and so to waste a lot of time and effort on tackling consequences of problems instead of their causes. To define a problem, you can use gap analysis, which involves comparing your current state to the future state you want to be in, to identify the gaps between them.

Gather the data and analyze the problem – You decide what type of problem it is – whether there’s a clear barrier or circumstance you need to overcome, or whether you need to determine how to reach a goal. You then dig to the root causes of the problem, and detail the nature of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The five-why analysis is a tool that’ll help you get to the heart of the problem. Ask “Why?” a number of times to dig through each layer of symptoms and so to arrive at the problem’s root cause. You can get to the root of a more complicated problem using a cause-and-effect diagram. A cause is something that produces an effect, result, or consequence – or what contributed to the current state of affairs. Categories of causes include people, time, and the environment.

Identify as many potential solutions as you can – Brainstorm creatively – ask lots of questions about who, what, where, when, and how of the causes to point to various possibilities. Don’t limit yourself by considering practicalities at this stage; simply record your ideas.

Select and plan the solution – In evaluating your ideas, more options could present themselves. You could do this by rating each possible solution you came up with in step 3 according to criteria such as how effective it will be, how much time or effort it will take, its cost, and how likely it is to satisfy stakeholders.

During the planning step, you determine what steps must be taken, designating tasks where necessary. And you decide on deadlines for completing the actions and estimate the costs of implementing them. You also create a contingency plan in case of unforeseen circumstances so that if anything goes wrong with your plan, you have a “plan B” in place. Typically, this stage involves narrowing down the possible ways to implement the solution you’ve chosen, based on any constraints that apply. You also should draw up an action plan. The complexity of the plan will depend on the situation, but it should include the who, what, and when of your proposed solution.

Implement the solution – This is an ongoing process. You need to ensure the required resources remain available and monitor progress in solving the problem; otherwise, all the work you’ve done might be for nothing.

Evaluate the results —Check to see that your gained a favorable outcome and continue to monitor over time. If the result is not exactly what you hoped for, evaluate the places that may have contributed to the lesser outcome, revise your plan and try again.

Remember that this model is highly adaptable. Although you shouldn’t skip any of the six steps, you can tailor the amount of time you spend on each stage based on the demands of your unique situation.

The six-step problem-solving model, and the tools it provides, is an effective, systematic approach to problem solving. By following each step consciously, you can ensure that generating solutions is a fact-driven, objective, and reliable process. It encourages you to dig deeper to the root cause, allows you to get input from others, to be creative when finding solutions, and to monitor your solutions to make sure they’re working. So by following this model you’re more likely to come up with good, original, lasting solutions.

To solve problems effectively, you need to use a good problem-solving model. The six-step model is a tried-and-tested approach. Its steps include defining a problem, analyzing the problem, identifying possible solutions, choosing the best solution, planning your course of action, and finally implementing the solution while monitoring its effectiveness.  Copyright 2010 SkillSoft. All rights reserved. SkillSoft and the SkillSoft logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of SkillSoft in the United States and certain other countries. All other logos or trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Professionalism by Whatcom Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • 3.5 Prioritization: Self-Management of What You Do and When You Do It
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Why College?
  • 1.2 The First Year of College Will Be an Experience
  • 1.3 College Culture and Expectations
  • 1.4 How Can This Book And This Course Help?
  • Where do you go from here?
  • 2.1 The Power to Learn
  • 2.2 The Motivated Learner
  • 2.3 It's All in the Mindset
  • 2.4 Learning Preferences
  • 2.5 Personality Types and Learning
  • 2.6 Applying What You Know about Learning
  • 2.7 The Hidden Curriculum
  • Career Connection
  • 3.1 The Benefits of Time Management
  • 3.2 Time Management in College
  • 3.3 Procrastination: The Enemy Within
  • 3.4 How to Manage Time
  • 3.6 Goal Setting and Motivation
  • 3.7 Enhanced Strategies for Time and Task Management
  • 4.1 Defining Values and Setting Goals
  • 4.2 Planning Your Degree Path
  • 4.3 Making a Plan
  • 4.4 Managing Change and the Unexpected
  • 5.1 The Nature and Types of Reading
  • 5.2 Effective Reading Strategies
  • 5.3 Taking Notes
  • 6.2 Studying
  • 6.3 Test Taking
  • 7.1 What Thinking Means
  • 7.2 Creative Thinking
  • 7.3 Analytical Thinking
  • 7.4 Critical Thinking
  • 7.5 Problem-Solving
  • 7.6 Metacognition
  • 7.7 Information Literacy
  • 8.1 An Overview of Communication
  • 8.2 Purpose of Communication
  • 8.3 Communication and Technology
  • 8.4 The Context of Communication
  • 8.5 Barriers to Effective Communication
  • 9.1 What Is Diversity, and Why Is Everybody Talking About It?
  • 9.2 Categories of Diversity
  • 9.3 Navigating the Diversity Landscape
  • 9.4 Inclusivity and Civility: What Role Can I Play?
  • 10.1 Personal Financial Planning
  • 10.2 Savings, Expenses, and Budgeting
  • 10.3 Banking and Emergency Funds
  • 10.4 Credit Cards and Other Debt
  • 10.5 Education Debt: Paying for College
  • 10.6 Defending against Attack: Securing Your Identity and Accounts
  • 11.1 Taking Care of Your Physical Health
  • 11.3 Taking Care of Your Emotional Health
  • 11.4 Taking Care of Your Mental Health
  • 11.5 Maintaining Healthy Relationships
  • 11.6 Your Safety
  • 12.1 Why Worry about a Career While I'm in College?
  • 12.2 Your Map to Success: The Career Planning Cycle
  • 12.3 Where Can You Go from Here?
  • A | Conducting and Presenting Research
  • B | Recommended Readings
  • C | Activities and Artifacts From the Book

Questions to Consider:

  • Why is prioritization important?
  • What are the steps involved in prioritization?
  • How do I deal with situation where others’ priorities are not the same as my own?
  • What do I do when priorities conflict?
  • What are the best ways to make sure I complete tasks?

Prioritization: Self-Management of What You Do and When You Do It

Another key component in time management is that of prioritization. Prioritization can be thought of as ordering tasks and allotting time for them based on their identified needs or value.

This next section provides some insight into not only helping prioritize tasks and actions based on need and value, but also how to better understand the factors that contribute to prioritization.

How to Prioritize

The enemy of good prioritization is panic, or at least making decisions based on strictly emotional reactions. It can be all too easy to immediately respond to a problem as soon as it pops up without thinking of the consequences of your reaction and how it might impact other priorities. It is very natural for us to want to remove a stressful situation as soon as we can. We want the adverse emotions out of the way as quickly as possible. But when it comes to juggling multiple problems or tasks to complete, prioritizing them first may mean the difference between completing everything satisfactorily and completing nothing at all.

Make Certain You Understand the Requirements of Each Task

One of the best ways to make good decisions about the prioritization of tasks is to understand the requirements of each. If you have multiple assignments to complete and you assume one of those assignments will only take an hour, you may decide to put it off until the others are finished. Your assumption could be disastrous if you find, once you begin the assignment, that there are several extra components that you did not account for and the time to complete will be four times as long as you estimated. Or, one of the assignments may be dependent on the results of another—like participating in a study and then writing a report on the results. If you are not aware that one assignment depends upon the completion of the other before you begin, you could inadvertently do the assignments out of order and have to start over. Because of situations like this, it is critically important to understand exactly what needs to be done to complete a task before you determine its priority.

Make Decisions on Importance, Impact on Other Priorities, and Urgency

After you are aware of the requirements for each task, you can then decide your priorities based on the importance of the task and what things need to be finished in which order.

To summarize: the key components to prioritization are making certain you understand each task and making decisions based on importance, impact, and urgency.

To better see how things may need to be prioritized, some people make a list of the tasks they need to complete and then arrange them in a quadrant map based on importance and urgency. Traditionally this is called the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Before becoming the 34th president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied forces supreme commander during World War II and said he used this technique to better prioritize the things he needed to get done.

In this activity you will begin by making a list of things you need or want to do today and then draw your own version of the grid below. Write each item in one of the four squares; choose the square that best describes it based on its urgency and its importance. When you have completed writing each the tasks in its appropriate square, you will see a prioritization order of your tasks. Obviously, those listed in the Important and Urgent square will be the things you need to finish first. After that will come things that are “important but not urgent,” followed by “not important, but urgent,” and finally “not urgent and not important.”

Who Is Driving Your Tasks?

Another thing to keep in mind when approaching time management is that while you may have greater autonomy in managing your own time, many of your tasks are being driven by a number of different individuals. These individuals are not only unaware of the other things you need to do, but they often have goals that are in conflict with your other tasks. This means that different instructors, your manager at work, or even your friends may be trying to assert their needs into your priorities. An example of this might be a boss that would like for you to work a few hours of overtime, but you were planning on using that time to do research for a paper.

Just like assessing the requirements and needs for each priority, doing the same with how others may be influencing your available time can be an important part of time management. In some cases, keeping others informed about your priorities may help avert possible conflicts (e.g., letting your boss know you will need time on a certain evening to study, letting your friends know you plan to do a journal project on Saturday but can do something on Sunday, etc.).

It will be important to be aware of how others can drive your priorities and for you to listen to your own good judgment. In essence, time management in college is as much about managing all the elements of your life as it is about managing time for class and to complete assignments.

Making the Tough Decision When It Is Needed

Occasionally, regardless of how much you have planned or how well you have managed your time, events arise where it becomes almost impossible to accomplish everything you need to by the time required. While this is very unfortunate, it simply cannot be helped. As the saying goes, “things happen.”

Finding yourself in this kind of situation is when prioritization becomes most important. You may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of only being able to complete one task or another in the time given. When this occurs with college assignments, the dilemma can be extremely stressful, but it is important to not feel overwhelmed by the anxiety of the situation so that you can make a carefully calculated decision based on the value and impact of your choice.

“What do you do when faced with priority conflicts?”

As an illustration, imagine a situation where you think you can only complete one of two assignments that are both important and urgent, and you must make a choice of which one you will finish and which one you will not. This is when it becomes critical to understand all the factors involved. While it may seem that whichever assignment is worth the most points to your grade is how you make the choice, there are actually a number of other attributes that can influence your decision in order to make the most of a bad situation. For example, one of the assignments may only be worth a minimal number of points toward your total grade, but it may be foundational to the rest of the course. Not finishing it, or finishing it late, may put other future assignments in jeopardy as well. Or the instructor for one of the courses might have a “late assignment” policy that is more forgiving—something that would allow you to turn in the work a little late without too much of a penalty.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament, the first step is to try to find a way to get everything finished, regardless of the challenges. If that simply cannot happen, the next immediate step would be to communicate with your instructors to let them know about the situation. They may be able to help you decide on a course of action, or they may have options you had not thought of. Only then can you make the choices about prioritizing in a tough situation.

The key here is to make certain you are aware of and understand all the ramifications to help make the best decision when the situation dictates you make a hard choice among priorities.

Completing the Tasks

Another important part of time management is to develop approaches that will help you complete tasks in a manner that is efficient and works for you. Most of this comes down to a little planning and being as informed about the specifics of each task as you can be.

Knowing What You Need to Do

As discussed in previous parts of this chapter, many learning activities have multiple components, and sometimes they must occur in a specific order. Additionally, some elements may not only be dependent on the order they are completed, but can also be dependent on how they are completed. To illustrate this we will analyze a task that is usually considered to be a simple one: attending a class session. In this analysis we will look at not only what must be accomplished to get the most out of the experience, but also at how each element is dependent upon others and must be done in a specific order. The graphic below shows the interrelationship between the different activities, many of which might not initially seem significant enough to warrant mention, but it becomes obvious that other elements depend upon them when they are listed out this way.

As you can see from the graphic above, even a task as simple as “going to class” can be broken down into a number of different elements that have a good deal of dependency on other tasks. One example of this is preparing for the class lecture by reading materials ahead of time in order to make the lecture and any complex concepts easier to follow. If you did it the other way around, you might miss opportunities to ask questions or receive clarification on the information presented during the lecture.

Understanding what you need to do and when you need to do it can be applied to any task, no matter how simple or how complex. Knowing what you need to do and planning for it can go a long way toward success and preventing unpleasant surprises.

Knowing How You Will Get It Done

After you have a clear understanding of what needs to be done to complete a task (or the component parts of a task), the next step is to create a plan for completing everything.

This may not be as easy or as simple as declaring that you will finish part one, then move on to part two, and so on. Each component may need different resources or skills to complete, and it is in your best interest to identify those ahead of time and include them as part of your plan.

A good analogy for this sort of planning is to think about it in much the same way you would preparing for a lengthy trip. With a long journey you probably would not walk out the front door and then decide how you were going to get where you were going. There are too many other decisions to be made and tasks to be completed around each choice. If you decided you were going by plane, you would need to purchase tickets, and you would have to schedule your trip around flight times. If you decided to go by car, you would need gas money and possibly a map or GPS device. What about clothes? The clothes you will need are dependent on how long will you be gone and what the climate will be like. If it far enough away that you will need to speak another language, you may need to either acquire that skill or at least come with something or someone to help you translate.

What follows is a planning list that can help you think about and prepare for the tasks you are about to begin.

What Resources Will You Need?

The first part of this list may appear to be so obvious that it should go without mention, but it is by far one of the most critical and one of the most overlooked. Have you ever planned a trip but forgotten your most comfortable pair of shoes or neglected to book a hotel room? If a missing resource is important, the entire project can come to a complete halt. Even if the missing resource is a minor component, it may still dramatically alter the end result.

Learning activities are much the same in this way, and it is also important to keep in mind that resources may not be limited to physical objects such as paper or ink. Information can be a critical resource as well. In fact, one of the most often overlooked aspects in planning by new college students is just how much research, reading, and information they will need to complete assignments.

For example, if you had an assignment in which you were supposed to compare and contrast a novel with a film adapted from that novel, it would be important to have access to both the movie and the book as resources. Your plans for completing the work could quickly fall apart if you learned that on the evening you planned to watch the film, it was no longer available.

What Skills Will You Need?

Poor planning or a bad assumption in this area can be disastrous, especially if some part of the task has a steep learning curve. No matter how well you planned the other parts of the project, if there is some skill needed that you do not have and you have no idea how long it will take to learn, it can be a bad situation.

Imagine a scenario where one of your class projects is to create a poster. It is your intent to use some kind of imaging software to produce professional-looking graphics and charts for the poster, but you have never used the software in that way before. It seems easy enough, but once you begin, you find the charts keep printing out in the wrong resolution. You search online for a solution, but the only thing you can find requires you to recreate them all over again in a different setting. Unfortunately, that part of the project will now take twice as long.

It can be extremely difficult to recover from a situation like that, and it could have been prevented by taking the time to learn how to do it correctly before you began or by at least including in your schedule some time to learn and practice.

Set Deadlines

Of course, the best way to approach time management is to set realistic deadlines that take into account which elements are dependent on which others and the order in which they should be completed. Giving yourself two days to write a 20- page work of fiction is not very realistic when even many professional authors average only 6 pages per day. Your intentions may be well founded, but your use of unrealistic deadlines will not be very successful.

Setting appropriate deadlines and sticking to them is very important—so much so that several sections in the rest of this chapter touch on effective deadline practices.

Be Flexible

It is ironic that the item on this list that comes just after a strong encouragement to make deadlines and stick to them is the suggestion to be flexible. The reason that being flexible has made this list is because even the best-laid plans and most accurate time management efforts can take an unexpected turn. The idea behind being flexible is to readjust your plans and deadlines when something does happen to throw things off. The worst thing you could do in such a situation is panic or just stop working because the next step in your careful planning has suddenly become a roadblock. The moment when you see that something in your plan may become an issue is when to begin readjusting your plan.

Adjusting a plan along the way is incredibly common. In fact, many professional project managers have learned that it seems something always happens or there is always some delay, and they have developed an approach to deal with the inevitable need for some flexibility. In essence, you could say that they are even planning for problems, mistakes, or delays from the very beginning, and they will often add a little extra time for each task to help ensure an issue does not derail the entire project or that the completion of the project does not miss the final due date.

“As you work through tasks, make certain you are always monitoring and adapting to ensure you complete them.”

Student Profile

“While in college, I recall an instance where I was awake for two nights in a row trying to cram for upcoming midterms. I quickly learned that trying to navigate through college while working full time posed a significant challenge. Because of inability to manage my responsibilities, my first year of college was quite miserable. I went through a lot of trial and error to find out that time management was the key. From my experiences, I have extrapolated three important components to this skill. First, knowing your values is imperative. Values will serve as a guide, which will help you to determine which actions bring you closer to your goals and those that don't. Second, know your constraints . Constraints (in form of time or other responsibilities) can help you set the parameter within which you can function efficiently. The last component is action . This component was the hardest for me to master, but it was the most fruitful. Because knowing values and limitations without engaging in appropriate actions does not serve any meaningful purpose. I strongly believe that learning time management can contribute greatly towards positive university experience.”

—Firdavs Khaydarov , Psychology Major, Minnesota State University, Mankato

The Importance of Where You Do Your Work

A large part of ensuring that you can complete tasks on time comes to setting up conditions that will allow you to do the work well. Much of this has to do with the environment where you will do your work. This not only includes physical space such as a work area, but other conditions like being free from distractions and your physical well-being and mental attitude.

The Right Space

Simple things, like where you are set up to do your work, can not only aid in your efficiency but also affect how well you can work or even if you can get the work completed at all. One example of this might be typing on a laptop. While it might seem more comfortable to lie back on a couch and type a long paper, sitting up at a desk or table actually increases your typing speed and reduces the number of mistakes. Even the kind of mouse you use can impact how you work, and using one you are comfortable with can make a big difference.

There are a host of other factors that can come into play as well. Do you have enough space? Is the space cluttered, or do you have the room to keep reference materials and other things you might need within arm’s reach? Are there other ways you could work that might be even more efficient? For example, buying an inexpensive second monitor—even secondhand—might be the key to decreasing the amount of time you spend when you can have more than one document displayed at a time.

The key is to find what works for you and to treat your work space as another important resource needed to get the task finished.

Distraction Free

Few things are more frustrating than trying to do work while distractions are going on around you. If other people are continually interrupting you or there are things that keep pulling your attention from the task at hand, everything takes longer and you are more prone to mistakes. 4

Many people say they work better with distractions—they prefer to leave the television or the radio on—but the truth is that an environment with too many interruptions is rarely helpful when focus is required. Before deciding that the television or talkative roommates do not bother you when you work, take an honest accounting of the work you produce with interruptions compared to work you do without.

If you find that your work is better without distractions, it is a good idea to create an environment that reduces interruptions. This may mean you have to go to a private room, use headphones, or go somewhere like a library to work. Regardless, the importance of a distraction-free environment cannot be emphasized enough.

Working at the Right Time

Most people are subject to their own rhythms, cycles, and preferences throughout their day. Some are alert and energetic in the mornings, while others are considered “night owls” and prefer to work after everyone else has gone to sleep. It can be important to be aware of your own cycles and to use them to your advantage. Rarely does anyone do their best work when they are exhausted, either physically or mentally. Just as it can be difficult to work when you are physically ill, it can also be a hindrance to try to learn or do mental work when you are tired or emotionally upset.

Your working environment definitely includes your own state of mind and physical well-being. Both have a significant influence on your learning and production ability. Because of this, it is not only important to be aware of your own condition and work preferences, but to actually try to create conditions that help you in these areas. One approach is to set aside a specific time to do certain kinds of work. You might find that you concentrate better after you have eaten a meal. If that is the case, make it a habit of doing homework every night after dinner. Or you might enjoy reading more after you are ready for bed, so you do your reading assignments just before you go to sleep at night. Some people find that they are more creative during a certain time of the day or that they are more comfortable writing with subtle lighting. It is worth taking the time to find the conditions that work best for you so that you can take advantage of them.

Analysis Question

Student survey on work environment.

Analysis: Take the time to think about where you will do your work and when. What can you do to help ensure your working environment will be helpful rather than harmful? What do you know doesn’t work for you? What will you do to prevent those adverse conditions from creeping into your work environment?

Below is a quick survey to help you determine your own preferences in regard to your work space, the time you work, and distractions. Rank each option: 1–4, 1 meaning “least like me” and 4 meaning “most like me.”

  • I like my workspace to be organized and clean.
  • There are certain places where I am more comfortable when I work.
  • I prefer to be alone when I work on certain things.
  • I find it difficult to read with other sounds or voices around me.
  • There are certain times of the day when I can be more focused.
  • My moods or emotions can interfere with my ability to concentrate
  • 4

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  • What is Strategy?
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  • Developing a Strategy
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  • Growth Strategy
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“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 18th Century German Author

A strategy is simply arranging actions in order of importance. Strategic leadership is simply a massive ongoing exercise in prioritization.

– Prioritizing what customers, geographies, and markets to go after – Prioritizing the needs of customers to address – Prioritizing the innovation and ways to serve customers better – Prioritizing what is important to focus on – Prioritizing a company’s resources, capital, and investments – Prioritizing actions, people’s time and resources to achieve the goals – People prioritizing what they do every single day

It sounds strange, but prioritization is the main role of a strategic leader. All of the strategic concepts and tools we go over are to help strategic leaders prioritize the actions necessary to achieve a goal. And, if there is one thing that all strategic leaders should focus on day in and day out, across everything they do, it is prioritizing.

When I was a strategy analyst at Mercer Management Consulting , fresh out of Stanford, my manager and I were debating a PowerPoint slide for the executive team of a multi-billion manufacturer. It was a pretty dull slide, with some bullet points on one side of the slide, and a chart on the other, it was 8 pm, and I just wanted to feed my rumbling stomach.

My manager, Jonathan, looked at a slide for a few minutes, looked at me, paused, and then said, “How are these bullet points and this chart prioritized?” Confused, I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Joe, everything you do should be prioritized, whether it is figuring out what you are going to do today, analyzing data, or communicating recommendations. “

What Jonathan said that evening had a profound impact on me. And, from that day on, I embraced prioritization as one of my core principles that I try to apply to everything. The essence of problem solving is simply prioritizing the largest problems and opportunities, and prioritizing the most effective and efficient solutions to those problems and opportunities.

Why is prioritization so important?

I often find myself telling CEOs and leaders, “Imagine how much you would grow, if every day, every person, prioritized everything they worked on?”

We only have so much time in a day, so much energy, so many resources, and so much money in the bank. Constant prioritization of problems, activities, investments, and hires, is critical to making sure the actions we take will create the most value .

How do you prioritize everything?

It takes the right mindset , goal orientation, use of the right tools, and vigilance to prioritize everything continually. Here are some of the best practices for making it happen.

Prioritize Prioritization

More than anything, prioritization is a mindset of figuring out and navigating through the magnitude and importance of problems, opportunities, and solutions. Strategic leaders infuse prioritization within an organization . The simplest way to prioritize prioritization is to continually use a simple question, “How do we prioritize…fill in the blank…?”

Understand Magnitude

Prioritization is arranging things in order of importance, which necessitates understanding the magnitude of things. A substantial amount of analysis within organizations is done to try to understand the magnitude of things. We’ll go over some of the most important analytical tools to help understand the magnitude, including Pareto analysis, trend, sensitivity, variance, correlation, benchmarking , and voice of customer analysis.

Create More Options and Understand Opportunity Cost

Strong strategies and prioritization necessitate creating better options . Often, the best thing to do is not even in the current options. Spend more time figuring out what are all the options and then prioritize. If you prioritize a bunch of options that aren’t going to drive much value, then you are optimizing a sub-optimal solution.

Align Efforts to the Mission and Goals

  One of the easiest ways to ensure activities are naturally prioritized is to filter them through the mission and goals of an organization. Once again, use simple questions , such as “How does this idea help us achieve our mission or goals?”

Focus on Return on Investment (ROI)

  Another way to think about prioritization is to understand and rank order the relative ROI of a set of options. Whether you are thinking through a big project or figuring out your daily priorities, there are always two parts to the ROI equation. The investment of doing something, which represents the costs and capital tied to the time, and resources for doing something. And, the return, or the positive impact to revenues, cost, and/or capital of doing something. In a later section on decision-making, we’ll go over cost-benefit analysis, prioritization matrices, and decision matrices to help you understand the relative ROI of options.

Focus on Low-Hanging Fruit

  Anytime I work with an organization, there is often a substantial amount of low-hanging fruit, or activities, which necessitate little time and investment to capture a large amount of value. Use the prioritization matrix as a nice tool to help you identify low-hanging fruit.


To get you going on your prioritization, download the free and editable Prioritization PowerPoint Worksheet.





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7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager

Discover what problem-solving is, and why it's important for managers. Understand the steps of the process and learn about seven problem-solving skills.

[Featured Image]:  A manager wearing a black suit is talking to a team member, handling an issue  utilizing the process of problem-solving

1Managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a particular department, and sometimes a whole company, using their problem-solving skills regularly. Managers with good problem-solving skills can help ensure companies run smoothly and prosper.

If you're a current manager or are striving to become one, read this guide to discover what problem-solving skills are and why it's important for managers to have them. Learn the steps of the problem-solving process, and explore seven skills that can help make problem-solving easier and more effective.

What is problem-solving?

Problem-solving is both an ability and a process. As an ability, problem-solving can aid in resolving issues faced in different environments like home, school, abroad, and social situations, among others. As a process, problem-solving involves a series of steps for finding solutions to questions or concerns that arise throughout life.

The importance of problem-solving for managers

Managers deal with problems regularly, whether supervising a staff of two or 100. When people solve problems quickly and effectively, workplaces can benefit in a number of ways. These include:

Greater creativity

Higher productivity

Increased job fulfillment

Satisfied clients or customers

Better cooperation and cohesion

Improved environments for employees and customers

7 skills that make problem-solving easier

Companies depend on managers who can solve problems adeptly. Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.

1. Analysis

As a manager , you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first. Then, you’ll use analytical skills to distinguish between ineffective and effective solutions.

2. Communication

Effective communication plays a significant role in problem-solving, particularly when others are involved. Some skills that can help enhance communication at work include active listening, speaking with an even tone and volume, and supporting verbal information with written communication.

3. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in any situation. People with emotional intelligence usually solve problems calmly and systematically, which often yields better results.

4. Resilience

Emotional intelligence and resilience are closely related traits. Resiliency is the ability to cope with and bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Those who possess resilience are often capable of accurately interpreting people and situations, which can be incredibly advantageous when difficulties arise.

5. Creativity 

When brainstorming solutions to problems, creativity can help you to think outside the box. Problem-solving strategies can be enhanced with the application of creative techniques. You can use creativity to:

Approach problems from different angles

Improve your problem-solving process

Spark creativity in your employees and peers

6. Adaptability

Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to change. When a particular solution to an issue doesn't work, an adaptable person can revisit the concern to think up another one without getting frustrated.

7. Teamwork

Finding a solution to a problem regularly involves working in a team. Good teamwork requires being comfortable working with others and collaborating with them, which can result in better problem-solving overall.

Steps of the problem-solving process

Effective problem-solving involves five essential steps. One way to remember them is through the IDEAL model created in 1984 by psychology professors John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein [ 1 ]. The steps to solving problems in this model include: identifying that there is a problem, defining the goals you hope to achieve, exploring potential solutions, choosing a solution and acting on it, and looking at (or evaluating) the outcome.

1. Identify that there is a problem and root out its cause.

To solve a problem, you must first admit that one exists to then find its root cause. Finding the cause of the problem may involve asking questions like:

Can the problem be solved?

How big of a problem is it?

Why do I think the problem is occurring?

What are some things I know about the situation?

What are some things I don't know about the situation?

Are there any people who contributed to the problem?

Are there materials or processes that contributed to the problem?

Are there any patterns I can identify?

2. Define the goals you hope to achieve.

Every problem is different. The goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving depend on the scope of the problem. Some examples of goals you might set include:

Gather as much factual information as possible.

Brainstorm many different strategies to come up with the best one.

Be flexible when considering other viewpoints.

Articulate clearly and encourage questions, so everyone involved is on the same page.

Be open to other strategies if the chosen strategy doesn't work.

Stay positive throughout the process.

3. Explore potential solutions.

Once you've defined the goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving , it's time to start the process. This involves steps that often include fact-finding, brainstorming, prioritizing solutions, and assessing the cost of top solutions in terms of time, labor, and money.

4. Choose a solution and act on it.

Evaluate the pros and cons of each potential solution, and choose the one most likely to solve the problem within your given budget, abilities, and resources. Once you choose a solution, it's important to make a commitment and see it through. Draw up a plan of action for implementation, and share it with all involved parties clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing. Make sure everyone understands their role for a successful conclusion.

5. Look at (or evaluate) the outcome.

Evaluation offers insights into your current situation and future problem-solving. When evaluating the outcome, ask yourself questions like:

Did the solution work?

Will this solution work for other problems?

Were there any changes you would have made?

Would another solution have worked better?

As a current or future manager looking to build your problem-solving skills, it is often helpful to take a professional course. Consider Improving Communication Skills offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. You'll learn how to boost your ability to persuade, ask questions, negotiate, apologize, and more. 

You might also consider taking Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating Immensely Human Interactions , offered by the University of Michigan on Coursera. You'll explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills common to people with emotional intelligence, and you'll learn how emotional intelligence is connected to team success and leadership.

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Article sources

Tennessee Tech. “ The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd ed.) ,” Accessed December 6, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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Prioritize problems, not ideas.

Avatar of Janna Bastow

2 minute read

Someone asked on the Mind the Product Slack group the other day for suggestions on frameworks for prioritization.

The thing is, there are a million different frameworks for prioritizing ideas. Whether you’re into RICE , Impact vs Effort , Hierarchy of Purpose , or whatever else, but the reality is, all of these can be ineffective and misleading if they are leant upon in the wrong way.

Everyone gets really caught up in the minutiae of these frameworks, and so where everyone else tends to recommend their favorite framework, I suggested that they took a step back. I’ll share my advice here as it might be useful guidance for others.

What I pointed out was that idea prioritization frameworks are rarely helpful in themselves. Instead, teams should use objectives and roadmapping to prioritize at the problem level, and the right ideas/experiments to work on will fall into place.

I shared this guide on product management approaches from my colleague, Liz Love, as it shows how teams can work from a broader perspective and be more effective in their prioritization. 

In essence, idea prioritization by itself is a bottom-up approach. The best product teams employ a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches to figure out exactly what to build next. It basically means spotting what the main problems/objectives are first, and making sure those are clear and aligned with the vision, and then doing bottom-up prioritization within those problem spaces to figure out which solutions/experiments/ideas should be tried first.

ProdPad helps teams avoid falling into the bad habit of only prioritizing at the idea level, as it creates the space and paves the path to prioritize at the problem level. It asks questions like what the product vision is, what the company objectives are, and what initiatives will help tackle those objectives. ProdPad gives you lots of ways of seeing how your ideas might then fit within those wider priorities, but the tool itself isn’t bound to restrictive idea scoring methods that tend to lead teams astray. 

How about you? How does your team do prioritization currently, and what methods do you find work or don’t work? Share in the comments below! 👇

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easy problem solving

Easy Problem Solving

easy problem solving

Prioritizing Causes & Solutions

Post brainstorming, Fish bone technique, data gathering exercise , you are left with a long list of causes, solutions and you now need to find the ones that really matter and you should invest effort of digging further (causes) or start implementing (solutions). When you brainstorm for solutions, you may get a lot, use the CI Matrix to find the ones you should really implement.

Check out the boxes below, click on the link to find a suitable technique

Affinity Diagram

Learn how to use brainstorming session to land on major areas to work  on , know

Affinity diagram

Find your biggest risks , understand measure their impact and prioritize via  

Post your data gathering , find the factors that matter most , use 80:20 principle

Use this voting technique to distill . See Nominal Group technique and more in 


How to find the right causes or solutions to implement , see

Control -- Impact Matrix

Ideas/ thoughts can be generated by brainstorming - this serves as the next step - to organize and summarize natural groupings among them to understand the problem and come up with innovative solutions. So it is a complete technique to brainstorm and distill ideas

Read on about "how to" , see example here

FMEA - Failure Mode Effect Analysis

FMEA is a risk management tool, used to find your biggest risk areas for the chosen area. It helps us find, prioritize, risk areas to work upon as a project. Cause of failures found via FMEA route , help you find prioritized areas of work

Learn about how to do FMEA here  

Pareto helps you prioritize and visually present it. Find the factors that are affecting your problem area most, follow it up with 5 why and improve your process. 

Learn more about Pareto, download an excel template here

NGT - Nominal Group Technique

A voting technique to prioritize, distill ideas from a brainstorming session . 

Read on about to how to brainstorm and use NGT

C-I , Control - Impact Matrix

Have you encountered situation where you have found a solution or a cause but realized some where in the process of implementation that you have no control over the cause or idea. 

OR it could be that you realize that the impact of solution on the problem is big enough to fight for control 

Control - Impact matrix or another variant - Effort - Benefit Matrix is such prioritization tool that helps you figure out , if solution or cause is worth fighting over to get approval or implement 

How to do CI and an example here


Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better Decision-Making

Discover the powerful 7-Step Problem-Solving Process to make better decisions and achieve better outcomes. Master the art of problem-solving in this comprehensive guide. Download the Free PowerPoint and PDF Template.



Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better Decision-Making


Mastering the art of problem-solving is crucial for making better decisions. Whether you're a student, a business owner, or an employee, problem-solving skills can help you tackle complex issues and find practical solutions. The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process is a proven method that can help you approach problems systematically and efficiently.

The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process involves steps that guide you through the problem-solving process. The first step is to define the problem, followed by disaggregating the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Next, you prioritize the features and create a work plan to address each. Then, you analyze each piece, synthesize the information, and communicate your findings to others.

By following this process, you can avoid jumping to conclusions, overlooking important details, or making hasty decisions. Instead, you can approach problems with a clear and structured mindset, which can help you make better decisions and achieve better outcomes.

In this article, we'll explore each step of the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process in detail so you can start mastering this valuable skill. At the end of the blog post, you can download the process's free PowerPoint and PDF templates .

problem solving prioritizing

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in the problem-solving process is to define the problem. This step is crucial because if the problem is not clearly defined, finding a solution won't be easy. The problem must be defined in a specific, measurable, and achievable way.

One way to define the problem is to ask the right questions. Questions like "What is the problem?" and "What are the causes of the problem?" can help to define the problem. It is also essential to gather data and information about the problem to assist in the definition process.

Another critical aspect of defining the problem is to identify the stakeholders. Who is affected by the problem? Who has a stake in finding a solution? Identifying the stakeholders can help ensure that the problem is defined in a way that considers the needs and concerns of all those affected by the problem.

Once the problem is defined, it is essential to communicate the definition to all stakeholders. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there is a shared understanding of the problem.

Step 2: Disaggregate

After defining the problem, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is to disaggregate the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Disaggregation helps break down the problem into smaller pieces that can be analyzed individually. This step is crucial in understanding the root cause of the problem and identifying the most effective solutions.

Disaggregation can be achieved by breaking down the problem into sub-problems, identifying the factors contributing to the problem, and analyzing the relationships between these factors. This step helps identify the most critical factors that must be addressed to solve the problem.

One effective way to disaggregate a problem is using a tree or fishbone diagram. These diagrams help identify the different factors contributing to the problem and how they are related. Another way is to use a table to list the other factors contributing to the problem and their corresponding impact on the problem.

Disaggregation helps in breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. It helps understand the relationships between different factors contributing to the problem and identify the most critical factors that must be addressed. By disaggregating the problem, decision-makers can focus on the most vital areas, leading to more effective solutions.

Step 3: Prioritize

After defining the problem and disaggregating it into smaller parts, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is prioritizing the issues that need addressing. Prioritizing helps to focus on the most pressing issues and allocate resources more effectively.

There are several ways to prioritize issues, including:

  • Urgency: Prioritize issues based on how urgent they are. Problems that require immediate attention should be dealt with first.
  • Impact: Prioritize issues based on their impact on the organization or stakeholders. Problems that have a high effect should be given priority.
  • Resources: Prioritize issues based on the resources required to address them. Problems that require fewer resources should be dealt with first.

It is important to involve stakeholders in the prioritization process to consider their concerns and needs. This can be done through surveys, focus groups, or other forms of engagement.

Once the issues have been prioritized, developing a plan of action to address them is essential. This involves identifying the resources required, setting timelines, and assigning responsibilities.

Prioritizing issues is a critical step in the problem-solving process. Organizations can allocate resources more effectively and make better decisions by focusing on the most pressing issues.

Step 4: Workplan

After defining the problem, disaggregating, and prioritizing the issues, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is to develop a work plan. This step involves creating a roadmap that outlines the steps needed to solve the problem.

The work plan should include a list of tasks, deadlines, and responsibilities for each team member involved in the problem-solving process. Assigning tasks based on each team member's strengths and expertise ensures the work is completed efficiently and effectively.

Creating a work plan can help keep the team on track and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. It can also help to identify potential roadblocks or challenges that may arise during the problem-solving process and develop contingency plans to address them.

Several tools and techniques can be used to develop a work plan, including Gantt charts, flowcharts, and mind maps. These tools can help to visualize the steps needed to solve the problem and identify dependencies between tasks.

Developing a work plan is a critical step in the problem-solving process. It provides a clear roadmap for solving the problem and ensures everyone involved is aligned and working towards the same goal.

Step 5: Analysis

Once the problem has been defined and disaggregated, the next step is to analyze the information gathered. This step involves examining the data, identifying patterns, and determining the root cause of the problem.

Several methods can be used during the analysis phase, including:

  • Root cause analysis
  • Pareto analysis
  • SWOT analysis

Root cause analysis is a popular method used to identify the underlying cause of a problem. This method involves asking a series of "why" questions to get to the root cause of the issue.

Pareto analysis is another method that can be used during the analysis phase. This method involves identifying the 20% of causes responsible for 80% of the problems. By focusing on these critical causes, organizations can make significant improvements.

Finally, SWOT analysis is a valuable tool for analyzing the internal and external factors that may impact the problem. This method involves identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the issue.

Overall, the analysis phase is critical for identifying the root cause of the problem and developing practical solutions. Organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the issue and make informed decisions by using a combination of methods.

Step 6: Synthesize

Once the analysis phase is complete, it is time to synthesize the information gathered to arrive at a solution. During this step, the focus is on identifying the most viable solution that addresses the problem. This involves examining the analysis results and combining them to lead to a clear and concise conclusion.

One way to synthesize the information is to use a decision matrix. This involves creating a table that lists the potential solutions and the essential criteria in making a decision. Each answer is then rated against each standard, and the scores are tallied to arrive at a final decision.

Another approach to synthesizing the information is to use a mind map. This involves creating a visual representation of the problem and the potential solutions. The mind map can identify the relationships between the different pieces of information andhelp prioritize the solutions.

During the synthesis phase, remaining open-minded and considering all potential solutions is vital. It is also essential to involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process to ensure that everyone's perspectives are considered.

Step 7: Communicate

After synthesizing the information, the next step is communicating the findings to the relevant stakeholders. This is a crucial step because it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the decision-making process is transparent.

One effective way to communicate the findings is through a well-organized report. The report should include the problem statement, the analysis, the synthesis, and the recommended solution. It should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.

In addition to the report, it is also essential to have a presentation that explains the findings. The presentation should be tailored to the audience and highlight the report's key points. Visual aids such as tables, graphs, and charts can make the presentation more engaging.

During the presentation, it is essential to be open to feedback and questions from the audience. This helps ensure everyone is on board with the recommended solution and addresses any concerns or objections.

Effective communication is vital to ensuring the decision-making process is successful. Stakeholders can make informed decisions and work towards a common goal by communicating the findings clearly and concisely.

The 7-step problem-solving process is a powerful tool that can help individuals and organizations make better decisions. By following these steps, individuals can identify the root cause of a problem, prioritize potential solutions, and develop a clear plan of action. This process can be applied to various scenarios, from personal challenges to complex business problems.

Individuals can break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts through disaggregation. Individuals can focus their efforts on the most impactful actions by prioritizing potential solutions. The work step allows individuals to develop a clear action plan, while the analysis step provides a framework for evaluating possible solutions.

The synthesis step is where individuals combine all the information they have gathered to develop a comprehensive solution. Finally, the communication step allows individuals to share their answers with others and gather feedback.

By mastering the 7-step problem-solving process, individuals can become more effective decision-makers and problem-solvers. This process can help individuals and organizations save time and resources while improving outcomes. With practice, individuals can develop the skills to apply this process to a wide range of scenarios and make better decisions in all areas of life.

7-Step Problem-Solving Process 

Free powerpoint and pdf template, executive summary: the 7-step problem-solving process.

problem solving prioritizing

The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process is a powerful and systematic method to help individuals and organizations make better decisions by tackling complex issues and finding practical solutions. This process comprises defining the problem, disaggregating it into smaller parts, prioritizing the issues, creating a work plan, analyzing the data, synthesizing the information, and communicating the findings.

By following these steps, individuals can identify the root cause of a problem, break it down into manageable components, and prioritize the most impactful actions. The work plan, analysis, and synthesis steps provide a framework for developing comprehensive solutions, while the communication step ensures transparency and stakeholder engagement.

Mastering this process can improve decision-making and problem-solving capabilities, saving time and resources and better outcomes in both personal and professional contexts.

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BYD SWOT Analysis: Free PPT Template and In-Depth Insights 2024

BYD SWOT Analysis: Free PPT Template and In-Depth Insights 2024

Download the free BYD SWOT Analysis PowerPoint Template 2024. Get in-depth insights into BYD's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Ideal for strategic planning and market analysis.

Porter's 5 Forces Analysis for Mercedes Benz: Free PPT Template 2024

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Explore our in-depth 2024 analysis of Mercedes-Benz using Porter's 5 Forces. Gain strategic insights with our free PowerPoint template on luxury auto trends, competitive dynamics, and market strategies

Porter's 5 Forces Analysis for Netflix: Free Templates and In-Depth Insights 2024

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Netflix SWOT Analysis: Free Templates and In-Depth Insights 2024

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problem solving prioritizing


10 Prioritization Skills and How To Improve Them

Discover 10 Prioritization skills along with some of the best tips to help you improve these abilities.

problem solving prioritizing

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s more important than ever to be able to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively. Those who can master the art of prioritization often find themselves more successful both professionally and personally.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what prioritization is, why it’s important and how you can improve your own skills. We’ll also provide some tips and tricks for prioritizing tasks both big and small.

Time Management

Goal setting, organizational skills, multi-tasking, stress management, communication, problem solving, flexibility.

Time management is the ability to use your time efficiently and effectively. It involves setting goals, making a schedule and sticking to it. Good time management skills can help you get more done in less time.

Time management is important for a few reasons. First, it can help you prioritize your tasks. If you have a lot of things to do, it can be hard to figure out what’s most important. Time management can help you figure out what needs to get done and when it needs to get done.

Second, time management can help you avoid procrastination. Procrastination is the habit of putting off tasks or delaying decisions. It can be caused by a lack of motivation or a lack of time. Time management can help you avoid procrastination by setting deadlines and sticking to your schedule.

Delegation is an important skill for anyone in a leadership position. When you delegate a task, you’re giving someone else the authority to complete it. This can be a difficult skill to learn, especially for people who are used to doing everything themselves.

Delegation can be an effective way to get things done, especially when you have a lot on your plate. It also allows you to give other people the opportunity to grow and develop their skills. When you delegate a task, it’s important to provide clear instructions and expectations.

Delegation is an important skill because it allows you to get things done faster and more efficiently. When you delegate a task, it’s important to provide clear instructions and expectations. This will allow the person you’re delegating the task to complete it in the way you want it done.

Scheduling is an important skill for anyone who wants to be successful in life. It is especially important for those who want to be successful in their careers. When you are able to schedule your time wisely, you can get more done in less time. This can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.

Scheduling can help you prioritize your tasks by putting them in order of importance. It can also help you avoid procrastination by giving you a concrete plan to follow. When you have a schedule, you can stick to it more easily and avoid last-minute panics.

Goal setting is an important skill for anyone who wants to be successful in life. When you set goals, you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This can help you stay motivated and on track to reach your goals.

Setting goals also helps you prioritize your time and resources. When you have a goal, you can focus on the tasks that will help you reach that goal. This can help you avoid wasting time on tasks that are not important. Additionally, goal setting can help you identify the resources you need to reach your goal. This can help you find the best way to get what you need.

Organizational skills are important because they help you keep track of your time, tasks and resources. Good organizational skills can help you prioritize your work and get things done on time. When you’re able to organize your work, you can see what needs to be done and how to do it. This can help you avoid procrastination and get your work done more efficiently.

Organizational skills are important for both personal and professional life. In your personal life, good organizational skills can help you stay on top of your chores and responsibilities. In your professional life, good organizational skills can help you manage your time, tasks and resources.

Multi-tasking is an important skill to have in today’s fast-paced world. With so many demands on our time, it’s important to be able to juggle multiple tasks at once. However, multi-tasking is not the same as prioritizing. When you multi-task, you’re trying to do too many things at once and not giving each task the attention it deserves. When you prioritize, you’re choosing which tasks are most important and which can wait.

To effectively prioritize, you need to be able to identify the most important tasks and then put them in order of importance. You can use a task list, a to-do list or a timeline to help you organize your priorities. Once you’ve identified your priorities, you can start working on the most important tasks first.

Stress management is an important skill to have because it can help you cope with difficult situations and feel more in control. When you’re able to manage your stress, you’re also more likely to make better decisions and prioritize your time and resources.

There are a variety of stress management techniques you can use, including relaxation techniques, exercise, journaling, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Find what works for you and make it a habit to practice stress management every day.

Communication is an important skill for prioritization because it allows you to clearly communicate your priorities to your team. When you have clear priorities, your team can focus their energy on the most important tasks. Communication is also important for receiving feedback and adjusting your priorities as needed.

Explain why Listening is an important Communication skill. Listening is an important skill for communication because it allows you to understand what the other person is saying. When you listen, you can build rapport with the person you’re communicating with and understand their needs. Listening is also important for receiving feedback and adjusting your communication as needed.

Problem solving is a critical prioritization skill because it allows you to identify and solve problems quickly. When problems are left unsolved, they can quickly become bigger issues that take up valuable time and resources.

To solve a problem, start by identifying the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, evaluating the solutions, choosing the best solution and implementing it. Once you’ve solved the problem, make sure to follow-up to make sure it hasn’t re-emerged.

Flexibility is important in prioritization because it allows you to be flexible in your approach to a task. For example, if you have a project that requires you to complete a report by the end of the week, you may have to be flexible in your approach to get the report done on time. You may need to work extra hours, delegate some of the work to someone else or adjust your schedule to fit in the time to complete the report.

How to Improve Your Prioritization Skills

1. Understand your goals The first step to effective prioritization is understanding your goals. What do you want to achieve? What are your deadlines? What are the consequences of not meeting your goals? Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can start to develop a plan to achieve them.

2. Develop a plan Once you know your goals, you need to develop a plan to achieve them. This plan should include a timeline, milestones and specific tasks that need to be completed. Be sure to include deadlines and consequences for not meeting them in your plan.

3. Delegate and build a team You can’t do everything yourself, so it’s important to delegate tasks to others. When delegating, be sure to choose people who are qualified and have the time to complete the task. Additionally, be clear about your expectations and deadlines.

4. Set priorities Once you have a plan, you need to set priorities. What tasks need to be completed first? What tasks can be completed later? What tasks can be delegated? Be sure to consider the importance of each task, the deadlines and the consequences of not completing the task when setting priorities.

5. Stay flexible Things change, and you need to be able to adjust your plan accordingly. Be flexible and be willing to change your priorities as needed.

6. Take action Once you have a plan and you’ve set your priorities, it’s time to take action. Start working on the tasks that are most important and need to be completed first. As you complete tasks, be sure to check them off your list or mark them as complete in your project management tool.

7. Review and adjust As you complete tasks and reach milestones, take time to review your plan. Are you on track? Do you need to make any adjustments? Are there any tasks that can be delegated or completed later? Be sure to adjust your plan as needed.

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What Is Problem Solving? Steps, Techniques, and Best Practices Explained

Table of Contents

Problem solving is the art of identifying problems and implementing the best possible solutions. Revisiting your problem-solving skills may be the missing piece to leveraging the performance of your business, achieving Lean success, or unlocking your professional potential. 

Ask any colleague if they’re an effective problem-solver and their likely answer will be, “Of course! I solve problems every day.” 

Problem solving is part of most job descriptions, sure. But not everyone can do it consistently. 

The Problem-Solving Process

Problem solving is the process of defining a problem, identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.

There’s no one-size-fits-all problem-solving process. Often, it’s a unique methodology that aligns your short- and long-term objectives with the resources at your disposal. Nonetheless, many paradigms center problem solving as a pathway for achieving one’s goals faster and smarter. 

One example is the Six Sigma framework , which emphasizes eliminating errors and refining the customer experience, thereby improving business outcomes. Developed originally by Motorola, the Six Sigma process identifies problems from the perspective of customer satisfaction and improving product delivery. 

Lean management, a similar method, is about streamlining company processes over time so they become “leaner” while producing better outcomes. 

Trendy business management lingo aside, both of these frameworks teach us that investing in your problem solving process for personal and professional arenas will bring better productivity.

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How to Solve Problems: 5 Steps

1. precisely identify problems.

As obvious as it seems, identifying the problem is the first step in the problem-solving process. Pinpointing a problem at the beginning of the process will guide your research, collaboration, and solutions in the right direction. 

At this stage, your task is to identify the scope and substance of the problem. Ask yourself a series of questions: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How many subsets of issues are underneath this problem? 
  • What subject areas, departments of work, or functions of business can best define this problem? 

Although some problems are naturally large in scope, precision is key. Write out the problems as statements in planning sheets . Should information or feedback during a later step alter the scope of your problem, revise the statements. 

Framing the problem at this stage will help you stay focused if distractions come up in later stages. Furthermore, how you frame a problem will aid your search for a solution. A strategy of building Lean success, for instance, will emphasize identifying and improving upon inefficient systems. 

2. Collect Information and Plan 

The second step is to collect information and plan the brainstorming process. This is another foundational step to road mapping your problem-solving process. Data, after all, is useful in identifying the scope and substance of your problems. 

Collecting information on the exact details of the problem, however, is done to narrow the brainstorming portion to help you evaluate the outcomes later. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary information — use the problem statements that you identified in step one as a north star in your research process. 

This stage should also include some planning. Ask yourself:

  • What parties will ultimately decide a solution? 
  • Whose voices and ideas should be heard in the brainstorming process? 
  • What resources are at your disposal for implementing a solution? 

Establish a plan and timeline for steps 3-5. 

3. Brainstorm Solutions

Brainstorming solutions is the bread and butter of the problem-solving process. At this stage, focus on generating creative ideas. As long as the solution directly addresses the problem statements and achieves your goals, don’t immediately rule it out. 

Moreover, solutions are rarely a one-step answer and are more like a roadmap with a set of actions. As you brainstorm ideas, map out these solutions visually and include any relevant factors such as costs involved, action steps, and involved parties. 

With Lean success in mind, stay focused on solutions that minimize waste and improve the flow of business ecosystems. 

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Boost Your Salary By Learning New QM Skills

4. Decide and Implement

The most critical stage is selecting a solution. Easier said than done. Consider the criteria that has arisen in previous steps as you decide on a solution that meets your needs. 

Once you select a course of action, implement it. 

Practicing due diligence in earlier stages of the process will ensure that your chosen course of action has been evaluated from all angles. Often, efficient implementation requires us to act correctly and successfully the first time, rather than being hurried and sloppy. Further compilations will create more problems, bringing you back to step 1. 

5. Evaluate

Exercise humility and evaluate your solution honestly. Did you achieve the results you hoped for? What would you do differently next time? 

As some experts note, formulating feedback channels into your evaluation helps solidify future success. A framework like Lean success, for example, will use certain key performance indicators (KPIs) like quality, delivery success, reducing errors, and more. Establish metrics aligned with company goals to assess your solutions.

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Prioritize Your Opportunities with This Checklist

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How to filter out the things that aren’t worth it.

How do you evaluate the myriad of business opportunities you face every day? Should you speak at that event? Author a book? Attend a strategy summit? As you face an opportunity, or as you seek the opportunities you’d like to pursue, try ranking them according to five critical factors. 1.) Will this opportunity utilize your unique talents and abilities? 2.) Will it have an impact on people? 3.) Is this an opportunity for you to grow? 4.) Is it creating value for the business? 5.) Does it create opportunities for referrals to new customers? Rank your answers to these questions on a scale of -1 to +5 (Starting with a -1 highlights that some aspects of a project are actually a net negative – such as speaking to the wrong audience or the wrong industry). Then, tally your score. An opportunity that scores a 15 or lower may not be worth considering, while a score of 20 or higher would be a clear win.

How do you evaluate a business opportunity? The world is replete with SWOT mechanisms for evaluating a prospective new product offering, as well as with opportunity assessment templates for evaluating a project against overall business goals, customer impact, strategic potential, and competitive urgency. These instruments play a vital role in acquisitions, new products and features, and even the new divisions of business you’d like to deploy.

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  • DA Doug Andrew is the founder of Live Abundant, a company that educates on topics of health, wealth, and life fulfillment. He is the author of multiple books that include The Last Chance Millionaire, Millionaire by Thirty, (co-authored with sons Emron and Aaron) and Entitlement Abolition .

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Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills – Steps, Processes & Technique

When you are faced with a problem, how do you go about solving it? Do you let it overwhelm you, or do you flex your problem-solving muscles and figure out the best possible solution?

People who allow themselves to be overwhelmed or ignore complex problems often become frantic and confused. They usually take a haphazard approach to thinking, and then they are dismayed when they find themselves floundering and making no progress.

Luckily, there is a much better way.

I’d like to introduce you to a problem-solving process that can help you face and tackle any type of challenge. With these 10 problem-solving strategies, you will strengthen your ability to always find a solution while enabling yourself to see real progress.

Once you begin to execute these problem-solving  techniques, you will feel confident to face a problem right away.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills involve identifying a problem, coming up with possible solutions, choosing an appropriate solution, and then implementing it.

Often, there is more than one correct solution to a problem. But frequently, you are looking for the best solution that applies to your particular circumstance.

For instance, possible solutions to losing weight include eating less, adding healthier foods to your diet, walking 30 minutes a day, swimming three times a week, training for a 5K race, drinking more water, and many other effective solutions.

Your job is to find the solution that will work best for you and give you the most success.

Good problem-solving skills are essential in all areas of your life because we encounter problems to solve in one form or another nearly every day, from small things like getting stuck in traffic to major events like being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

A problem can be defined in one of two ways:

“Any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty; a question proposed for solution or discussion.”

The Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning explains that a problem:

“…is generally considered to be a task, a situation, or person which is difficult to deal with or control due to complexity and transparency. In everyday language, a problem is a question proposed for a solution, a matter stated for examination or proof.”

In short, a problem is something that’s hard to deal with and needs to be solved.

Examples of common problems in the workplace might include:

  • Lack of motivation or boredom
  • Discrimination
  • Conflict with a boss or coworkers
  • Performance issues
  • Burnout or stress
  • Bad working conditions

Or maybe you’re dealing with problems in your personal life. For example:

  • A strained marriage or divorce
  • Financial worries
  • Health issues
  • Grief over the death of loved ones
  • Issues your children are experiencing
  • A decision to move, change jobs, or get an education

No matter what you’re facing, it’s important to actively cultivate your creative thinking and learn problem-solving techniques. 

When you’re able to solve problems effectively, you will enjoy greater satisfaction in life. Your relational skills will improve, and your problem-solving abilities will make you highly valuable in the workplace.

The Importance of Solving Problems

We solve problems daily in all aspects of life. People who are good problem solvers are more likely to be successful in getting around obstacles and achieving their desired end result.

What’s more, solving complex problems doesn’t only help change your external circumstances. You’ll also feel happier and more confident in yourself, knowing you can solve future problems.  

Problem-solving allows you to:

  • Fix things that are broken
  • Address risk
  • Improve performance
  • Seize opportunity
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Prevent more serious consequences

Having a problem-solving strategy will make you more attractive to hiring managers. In many cases, you might be asked in a job interview about your problem-solving skills. 

It’s smart to think of an example ahead of time–a problem that came up at your last job and how you solved it–so you’ll be prepared. You can also mention the soft skills listed above: 

“My communication skills, flexibility, and ability to think outside the box help me deal with problems in a timely manner.”

The more you practice effective problem-solving techniques, the better you will get at solving problems and the more reliable and trustworthy you will become in your field as well as in your personal life.

Understanding the Problem-Solving Process

When you’re setting out to solve a problem, what should you do first?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to problem-solving, there is a general framework that you can use to help solve problems.

The problem-solving process is often broken down into seven steps:

  • Identify the issue and its root cause
  • Understand every angle of the problem
  • List possible solutions
  • Evaluate the options
  • Choose an option
  • Evaluate the results

I’ll explain this process and each of these steps, plus a few bonus steps. I’ll also share some further problem-solving strategies so you are well-equipped with solution-finding techniques that you can apply to various situations.

The important thing to understand now, though, is that you can use a structured process to improve problem-solving skills. You don’t have to shoot in the dark–simply follow the steps listed in this process.

Problem-Solving Skills

What kind of skills should you cultivate to become a better problem-solver?

You can also work on things like your communication skills, analytical skills, and other key skills in life that will make you a better problem solver. These soft skills go hand in hand with being able to come up with solutions quickly.

Focus on the following:


This is a method of free-thinking used to generate ideas that involve thinking of a long list of possible solutions without making an initial judgment about how effective they might be. You can brainstorm with a group of people or on your own.

Data gathering

Collecting information related to the issue is a vital problem-solving tool as the more information you have about the root cause and contributing factors to a problem, the easier it will be to find solutions that work. Fact-finding can come from interviewing people involved, researching related problems, reading documents, analyzing data, and more.

Creative thinking

When you’re a creative thinker, you’re able to look at a complex problem or an everyday problem and think of unique, original solutions. Your ability to come up with creative solutions will make you more marketable as well as more successful in meeting complex problems head-on.


Having communication skills is essential to work with others to solve problems. You need to not only be able to express your thoughts clearly and concisely without causing offense or contention, but you also need to be able to listen to others as they express their views until everyone is on the same page.

Like communication skills, teamwork involves being able to work collectively with others to apply problem-solving strategies. Often, two heads are better than one, and the wisdom you gain from collective intelligence will make identifying underlying causes and finding solutions much easier.

Analyzing involves being able to break up a complex problem into smaller parts so you can examine and evaluate it to understand the problem better. 

You may find the root cause of the problem as well as contributing factors. Ill-defined problems are difficult to solve, so it is important to be able to apply problem analysis to any issue you are dealing with.

Time management

Time-management skills help you avoid procrastination and spending time on unnecessary tasks. 

You can develop good time management skills by setting goals, making daily to-do lists, prioritizing your tasks, and reducing or eliminating distractions.


Troubleshooting is applying a step-by-step process to find the cause of a problem and then working your way to different solutions. 

Common, well-defined problems, such as those that occur in the computer science field or automotive industry, may have a preset list of troubleshooting steps to follow. 

Other problems will require you to develop a troubleshooting process as you go. Troubleshooting skills make you a valuable asset to any team.

When you take initiative, you do not wait for others to tell you what to do. You see a need and seek to fill that need. Often, by taking initiative, you can address an issue before a problem occurs. 

One example in the workplace would be to sign up for training that will keep you up to date on the newest developments in your industry.


Being flexible is an important tool you will use to solve problems. It’s an essential skill in all aspects of your life. When you are too rigid, you often are not able to see creative solutions and different strategies that can help make your life easier. 

There is often more than one good way to solve the same problem, and being open-minded will help you move from your existing beliefs to other effective ways of solving problems.

I know this is a long list, but you don’t have to do everything at once.

Even more, chances are you’ve already picked up some of these skills in your daily life without even realizing it. Keeping these skills in mind as you practice solving problems will help you become better at not only solution-finding but at everything you do.

10 Steps to Solving a Problem

In this 10-step problem-solving process, I’ll walk you through how to identify and implement the right solution to the problem at hand. In learning these steps, you will develop your critical thinking and elevate your problem-solving skills.

1. Take a Positive Approach

When a problem arises, it’s easy to enter panic mode or envision worst-case scenarios. Before you let your mind go there, take a step back and address every problem as simply another situation.

It is a challenge that you can handle, with the right approach. Part of that approach is thinking positively and creatively about the situation.

When figuring out ways to use creative thinking for problem-solving, I like to explore  how geniuses solve challenges . They think outside the box, keep an open mind, and take a systematic approach.

It all starts with thinking positively about the problem.

One problem-solving strategy I like to use is to think of it as a situation, not a problem.

Problems are a fact of life; you can’t control when or how they occur, but you can control your attitude. The more positive your language and mental process are, the more confident and optimistic you will be when approaching any complication.

How can you develop a more positive outlook on life? This mindset shift can take some time. 

You can’t snap your fingers and instantly become a more positive person overnight. However, there are actionable steps you can take to be more positive.

Start by focusing on the good things in your life. Yes, you have problems, but you have good things too. If you’re struggling to come up with anything that makes you smile, consider keeping a gratitude journal where you make an entry every day.

I also recommend positive affirmations and self-talk. Repeat phrases to yourself such as “There are good things in my life,” “I can come up with creative solutions,” or “I have good problem-solving skills.”

And of course, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are equally as positive and upbeat as you’re trying to be. The same applies to all aspects of your life. Read positive books, articles, and social media posts. Listen to uplifting music, and watch videos and movies that leave you feeling positive and optimistic.

Remember that every problem comes with a solution already custom-made for it. You just need to find it, and you can by maintaining a calm, positive attitude and steadily progressing through the different stages of the problem-solving process.

2. Define The Problem

Problem identification is a vital step in problem-solving processes so that you know exactly what you are dealing with. What might seem to be the root cause of your situation may be something entirely different.

Also, defining the problem will help you gather data, analyze the issues surrounding it, and find a potential solution.

What exactly is the challenge you are facing? What about this particular situation is causing you stress and anxiety? You must clearly define the problem to resolve it.

Not only should you clarify what the problem is, but you should also see what caused the problem. If you can’t conclude the cause of the problem, you may need to meet with other parties involved to determine the root before moving forward.

Sometimes a clear root cause cannot be determined, or there may be several factors that are causing the problem. In these cases, you can still move forward in finding solutions by defining what is currently hard to deal with and what needs to be changed or solved.

If you are working with a group, it’s important to write and rewrite the problem until everyone agrees that the problem is clearly and correctly defined. Each person will bring a unique perspective that will help clarify what the situation is.

Identify important details that define that problem, and weed out information that is extraneous or useless so that it doesn’t distract you from your ability to solve it or waste your time.

It can help to ask the following questions:

  • Who is involved in the problem?
  • What exactly is happening that is preventing forward progress?
  • When did the problem occur and how often?
  • Why is the problem happening?
  • How is it affecting workflow or people?

Write out the problem so that it is easy for you and everyone else to see exactly what it is. It may help to draw a picture, diagram, or graph to fully visualize the problem.

When the issue is clearly defined, the solution may be obvious. But you may never find the solution at all if the problem isn’t defined.

3. Use Creative Thinking

As I mentioned in the first step, geniuses solve issues with out-of-the-box thinking. So you need to see the problem from every angle before you begin moving down solution paths.

You should think: Are there other problems that are affecting this obstacle? If so, you need to address it first.

It can be easy to have tunnel vision when you’re problem-solving, but there are usually multiple things at play with any dilemma. Zoom out from the situation at hand and see all contributing factors to the issue and listen to everyone’s point of view.

Meeting with others who may be involved in the process can offer you more brainpower to shed light on the problem. That’s why teamwork is so important. You can work together to look at what the issue is affecting, what is affecting it, and how to solve it.

It might feel as if you can work faster on your own. But when you collaborate with others, you’ll be able to come up with higher-quality solutions.

In fact, statistics show that 86% of employees and executives say lack of collaboration or ineffective communication causes workplace failures.

Don’t be afraid to sit down with people involved in the problem to work things out. People outside the problem can also offer a valuable third-party opinion. Their advice and ideas may actually be more helpful because they don’t have a personal stake in the issue.

When discussing the problem with others, replace “No, but” with “Yes, and.” For example, if someone says, “I think part of the problem stems from a lack of communication within the team.” Respond with, “Yes, and it can also come from people arriving late to meetings.”

This approach validates what the other person is saying so that all input is accepted as valuable and ideas are not negated. It also gives you an equal opportunity to add your ideas and input.

Think creatively by looking outside of your industry or situation for solutions. While it is helpful to analyze how others within your field or circumstances have solved a similar problem, you might find helpful insight in looking at how companies or individuals in other walks of life that have seemingly non-matching characteristics have approached related problems.

Ask “what if” questions. This can often help you think outside the box when solving problems creatively. As you look at potential solutions, ask,

“Why not?”

“What assumptions can we get rid of?”

“What can we add beyond the expected solutions?” and similar questions to take a broader view of the problem and possible solutions.

State the opposite of the problem to get a different perspective on it. For example, instead of asking, “How can we encourage our existing customers to buy more products?” ask, “How can we discourage our existing customers from buying more products.” This process can lead to surprisingly effective solutions.

4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Part of addressing the situation from different directions is to come up with not just one but several solutions. There are likely to be multiple solutions to any single problem.

The first conclusion that comes to mind may not be the best one, but the more you focus, the more solutions you will find. That’s why brainstorming all possible resolutions is an essential step to  problem-solving .

If you’re brainstorming together with a group of others, make sure to define a clear goal for the brainstorming session before you begin. Allow people time before the meeting to reflect on the problem. This will allow them to come prepared with ideas.

Throughout the session, record any suggestions that come up. You can write them on a physical whiteboard so that everyone can see them, or simply jot them down in a digital folder. Share these notes with attendees post-meeting and assign any follow-up tasks.

Reserve judgment until after your brainstorming session is complete. Some ideas may seem ridiculous or impractical, but say them and record them anyway. The goal is to move beyond existing ideas and look at the problem and possible solutions from every angle. Sometimes, an idea that seems far-flung can begin a conversation and flow of ideas that lead to the best solution.

Defining your end goal will help inspire unique ways you can get there. It can also help to pose the problem as a question and come up with conclusions to that question. Use the examples offered earlier of who, what, when, where, and how questions to get you started.

5. Find The Best Solution 

Now, not all possible solutions you outlined will be a good fit. You should be able to narrow down each method and see which is the most effective for your issue.

After brainstorming all potential solutions, ask yourself, “What solution will likely produce the best outcome?”

Do this by comparing each of the results with the one you believe to be the most ideal. Which one is the best under the current circumstances? What will successfully solve the problem? Which one will lead to a better outcome in the future? What will prevent further problems? Is there more than one solution that we should apply for the best results?

It might take some time to work through each of your potential solutions. Some will quickly weed themselves out. In other cases, though, don’t be afraid to spend some time thinking about how a given solution would work.

Identify the pros and cons or benefits and costs of each solution to help you determine which one or more is best.

After looking in-depth at the various approaches, decide on the best solution for the situation.

6. Expect the Best and Prepare for the Worst

Before you jump at the chance to solve your problem with the best-fit solution, consider the repercussions of the solution. 

Now is the time to jump to worst-case scenarios. What will happen if the solution fails? Knowing the answer to this will allow you to prepare if it doesn’t resolve your dilemma.

Even if at first you don’t succeed, you will learn something in the end. Don’t take it as a failure but as a learning opportunity.

Accept that it didn’t work and try something new. Determine what didn’t work and why to come up with additional possible strategies. Thankfully, you already have a list of alternative solutions that can help you find the right one.

Preparing for the worst is not about thinking negatively. Remember, the power of positive thinking will allow you to uncover more solutions. If you can train your mind to think this way, the more solution-oriented you will become.

Instead, thinking through worst-case scenarios is simply being realistic. This allows you to create a Plan B. 

If one solution doesn’t work, which solution will you try next? Come up with a backup plan. You might move on to the next solution on your shortlist, or you might tweak things and continue working with your #1 idea.

Preparing for the worst allows you to end up with the best possible solution.

7. Set a Deadline

The next of my 10 problem-solving strategies is to create a timeframe for your solution. Determine:

  • When to implement the solution
  • How long it will take to complete
  • When you expect to see results

What actions are necessary to meet this deadline, and who will be accomplishing it? List out the tasks needed and assign each one to an appropriate person.

It’s important to not only set a deadline, but also place standards on how you will measure its success. How will you know that you’re making progress, or in other words, what will be your key performance indicators (KPIs)? How will you compare the success of this solution against the success of another?

Determine what key performance indicators will allow you to measure the success of your outcomes and set a series of short-term deadlines to report. Clearly communicate these benchmarks with everyone involved.

Make sure people understand how you’re choosing to measure success so they can be successful by your standards.

8. Take Responsibility

Now that you’ve found the solution to the problem that you want to implement, consider how it will impact the situation if it works or if it doesn’t.

If your outcome doesn’t work, that’s okay, but it is your job to accept responsibility. Be ready to admit any mistakes and continue working to make things right.

Some of the most creative ideas never transpire because no one is assigned the authority to carry out the decision.

Taking responsibility for your decision doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the one to implement it. There may be various people involved in the problem and different jobs required to accomplish the solution.

By taking responsibility for the decision you make, you’ll ensure that everyone involved knows what job they need to do, when they need to do it, and how the successful or unsuccessful completion of that job is defined.

9. Solve the Problem

Now, it’s finally time to take action.

Execute your solution so you can reach your defined goals and learn what works best. Continue communicating with everyone on board as you all work together to solve the problem.

However, not every problem will be solved easily.

You may encounter additional obstacles as you attempt to solve the initial problem. You can overcome any drawback by tapping into your creative mind and taking action consistently and persistently until you reach your goal.

As you work hard, you can develop your capacity to achieve more in the future. Every time you successfully solve a problem, you are developing your analytical skills, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. You’re also increasing your confidence.

Next time you need to solve a problem, you can look back on the successful jobs you’ve done before.

10. Track Your Results

The final step of my  problem-solving process is to track the results. Using the deadlines, KPIs, and scheduled reports you set in step seven will let you know immediately if you’re on track or falling behind.

When you reach your deadline, ask yourself if you met the goals you set out to achieve.

What worked and what didn’t work? Did you solve the problem? Did you solve it with the approach and timeframe you expected?

Answering these questions will allow you to understand if you need to take further action and help you improve your problem-solving methods for the future.

The best way to learn to problem solve is to simply do it. Jump in with both feet and start coming up with potential solutions to issues that need fixing. Over time, you’ll learn about problem-solving without even realizing it.

However, in addition to learning “on the job,” you can also take courses to help boost your skills. 

Studying subjects like project management or data analysis is a good way to help you succeed in identifying problems, thinking of better solutions, and leading others with good communication as you work together to put your solutions in place.

Bonus: Further Problem-Solving Strategies

More good news: The process outlined above isn’t the only way to solve complex problems. In fact, there are many strategies you can implement for solving a problem.

Here are summaries of a few more problem-solving methods that you can learn more about:

The IDEAL process of solving a problem can help you look at situations objectively and remove the emotional aspects that can arise when a problem occurs. It works especially well for problems that may not seem to have a clear cause or may need more than one solution. The steps involve:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Defining what the problem is and the desired outcome
  • Exploring possible solutions
  • Acting on a solution
  • Looking back to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is actually a set of various problem-solving processes that aim to identify the main cause of a problem so that you can find appropriate solutions. The purpose of root cause analysis is to get to the root of a problem and prevent further difficulties instead of treating the symptoms of a problem.

At the same time, this approach to solving complex problems recognizes that there is value in treating symptoms for short-term relief while the larger problem-finding process is going on.

It also assumes that there can be more than one root cause and focuses on how and why a problem occurs instead of who causes it.

This method provides a structured approach to solving a complex problem, especially those that do not have a clear solution. Simplex problem-solving involves eight steps:

  • Problem finding: Identifying what the problem is
  • Fact-finding: Collecting information and data about the problem
  • Problem definition: Clearly define the complex problem so you know what you are solving
  • Idea finding: Generating possible solutions to the problem
  • Evaluation and Selection: Choosing the solution that seems to like it will best address the complex problem
  • Planning: Deciding how you will implement the solution
  • Sell the idea: Get stakeholders on board with implementing the solution
  • Action: Carrying out the solution

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry looks at a problem from a different angle, or not at all. It focuses on what is going right instead of what is going wrong. It is often best applied when a change is needed within an organization or individual. This approach leans heavily on cognitive science and positive thinking.

It involves five steps:

  • Define the desired outcome
  • Discover what our strengths are
  • Dream of what would work well in the future
  • Design a plan to make it happen
  • Deploy the action

Six Thinking Hats

This approach to solving a complex problem focuses on approaching solutions in a balanced way. Using the six thinking hats approach, you will ask yourself a series of questions based on six principles or divide your team into six different groups:

  • The white hat will focus on facts and logic (objective)
  • The red hat will focus on emotion and instinct (intuitive)
  • The black hat will focus on predicting negative outcomes (cautious)
  • The yellow hat will look for positive outcomes (optimistic)
  • The green hat will focus on reducing criticism and increasing ideas (creative)
  • The blue hat will focus on management and organization (control)

The 5 whys is an example of a root cause analysis tool. The purpose of using this problem-solving technique is to find the exact reason a problem is occurring by asking a series of “why” questions. After asking why five times, the cause of the problem and its accompanying solution should be clear.

Start Implementing Solutions to Problems Today

You don’t need to feel overwhelmed and confused when a problem arises anymore. Stress and unhappiness are simply byproducts of how you respond to those situations. Instead, you can look at each problem or difficulty by asking, “What is the opportunity in this?”

When you enhance your problem-solving skills, you will experience determination and a sense of calmness when the next difficult situation arises.

While you may not know how to resolve most issues right away, you will know the problem-solving steps to take to uncover the best response: Define the problem, determine the cause, discover the best problem-solving technique, take action, and analyze the outcome.

Follow this process over and over again and you will creatively solve your problems. After all, an effective way to solve problems is a skill that you can develop with practice.

To help you enhance your success, download my free  SMART Goals Template . This resource is a good fit for someone who wants to achieve their goals and optimize their success. I walk you through how to set goals and plan ahead the right way. As you advance your problem-solving skills, you will experience more success in your daily life—for big-picture items and small ones alike.

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About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter , Facebook , Pinterest , Linkedin and Youtube .

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