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The Key to Problem Solving

problem solvingWhether it’s a toddler who won’t stay in bed, or a marketing campaign in need of a landing page due yesterday, challenges are all around us. There are many ways to tackle a problem, from getting your hands dirty and diving into potential solutions, to asking for help, to throwing your hands in the air and walking away.

No matter your approach to problems (and perhaps your approach is different depending on the situation), you must accept the decision you’ve made. Sometimes it’s tough to determine the right answer to solving a problem, for instance, the right solution might be doing nothing at all. In that circumstance, I’d probably fail, because I always choose to take on a challenge.

I’m about to explain my problem-solving approach, and I’ll include an example to help paint the picture (which is a funny way to put it, because I actually use paint in this story).

For the first three years of his life, my toddler followed his mother’s footsteps in sleeping until 7:30 or 8am. This was bliss…until a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago he started waking up at 6:30am, or 6am, or even (gasp) 5:30am. Now, he comes into my room and wakes me up at a way-too-early hour. This is my version of Chinese water torture. It has to end.

Here’s my approach to solving problems, using this sleep-deprived example.

1. Assess the situation

What is the problem you’re trying to solve? In this case, my son is waking up at least two hours early.

2. Determine the ideal resolution…and a plan B

In this step, think about the best possible solution, as well as a back up. After all, you may not get everything you want at first, or at all, so a partial solution might suffice. For the sleepless toddler, I’d love a consistent 8am wake up, but I’d settle for any time close to it. I also want this problem solved right away, but I’m open to waiting longer.

3. Come up with three ways to solve the problem

Consider the approach mentioned above, i.e. solving it on your own, getting help, or doing nothing. Of course, there might be different options based on your circumstance, but this is a good place to start.

In my case, I started with Dr. Google and then Dr. Amazon. I also asked some friends and family for advice. There were a few ideas that came from my research:

  1. Talk to your child and work together toward a solution
  2. Buy an item to solve the problem, such as clocks or alarms that tell your child when they can leave their room
  3. Do nothing and wait it out, and hope it’s a phase

4. Talk to someone about these options, and choose one

I’m always a fan of talking out a problem, and in most challenges, communication is key to solving any issue. It’s my go-to solution, but I always consult with someone outside of the situation about my challenge and potential options. In the toddler case, communication was attempted, but not really executed…after all, he’s three.

Some of my friends thought the idea of purchasing an item to solve the problem was crazy, and I agreed once I saw the price tag ($50 for a clock!).

I never take the road of doing nothing. I always try to solve a problem by tackling it myself. In a work situation, I needed a landing page to go live. Instead of throwing my hands up, I dove in and taught myself enough Marketo to launch 20 landing pages, including the one that actually needed to launch. The morale of the story? I’m not the type to sit and wait.

5. Solve it

It is typical at this stage to choose one solution and go for it. However, sometimes, you have to get creative. In the case of the sleep-deprived mother, I did not like any of my options on their own, but I did come up with a solution that blended my options.

When talking to one of my friends about the challenge, she said, “Why don’t you make your own clock?” The idea of the clock is good, because it teaches him time, and clearly tells him when he can leave his room. However, it doesn’t make sense to pay for something like that. I liked my friend’s idea, but now I had a new problem: how do I make a clock?

problem solving

After some time on Pinterest, I colored an old clock with green to show the time frame where my son can leave his room. When the sticker (on the hour hand) is in the green, he is free to go. As you can see, I took the challenge to heart and made my own darn clock.

Will it solve the problem for good? Who knows. The point is that I addressed the issue with a solution that I believe will work, and it didn’t cost me any money or sacrifice much time. Best of all, I wasn’t throwing my hands in the air. In fact, I was using my hands to paint the best picture.

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