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Houston, We Have a Problem Message. Recycled paper note pinned on cork board. Concept Image

Solve One Problem at a Time

I recently re-watched The Martian, a great movie I recommend to anyone. One lesson I learned from the movie that is also relevant to my work is to solve one problem at a time.

For those of you who have not seen the movie (no plot disclosures – I promise!) the general premise is that Matt Daman’s character is stranded on Mars and it portrays the attempts made to bring him home. The characters all focused on solving the immediate problem at each step in the recovery efforts.  They recognize that there are other problems ahead, but to get to those, they have to solve the immediate problem first.

I find this concept really interesting, and it’s something I can apply in my daily life.  I will always have problems that need to be solved.  Worrying about the problems in the future, the “what ifs”, can get distracting and even paralyzing if one is not careful. Targeting the immediate problem allows us to focus.  As one problem is solved, it leads to the next problem. That next problem may or may not be the problem in our “what if” scenarios.

Applying this concept to a project, the first problem that I typically encounter is understanding business problems. As I understand the problems and the metrics used to gage success, I now have additional information for the next set of problems.

The next problem: what are my next steps?  Which, of course, will lead me to additional problems:  what features are they considering?  Who are all of the stakeholders? And what subject matter experts do I need to talk to? What are the business processes? How can I fit all of this into the timeframe allocated? And the list goes on.

chalk board - next steps

As I solve each small problem, that gives me additional information to help me tackle the next one. Creating an overall plan helps me track my progress.  I update my plan when information I learned from solving one problem has shown that my plan is not accurate.

When I target the problem directly ahead of me, I become more focused.  It also helps me to not feel overwhelmed by all of the work that I have. Yes, I have a lot of work to get done, and thinking about the enormity of the workload can really overwhelm anyone. However, breaking it down into a series of problems to solve helps tremendously.

Even when I travel (and I travel a lot!) I’ve learned to worry about the things I can control.  Worrying about things such as delays, the weather, etc. does me no good.  I can’t control those.  I know that I will get to where I’m going eventually.  While I can’t change the fact that those events are happening, what I can do is control how I will react to those events.  And I can focus on the problems at hand and solve those.  I may need to adjust meeting times.  I will let my loved ones know I’ll be home later than expected.  Do I need to get a hotel room?  Those are all problems that I can focus on and solve.

My challenge to you is this:  how can you apply this concept to your daily life?  How can you implement solving one problem at a time?

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