Sometimes we get so busy trying to solve a particular problem, that it’s very hard to maintain the focus. I’ve seen it happening many times – simply because someone fails to solve the problem right away, this person starts jumping from one thing to another, asking random questions and making completely irrational decisions. It’s very easy to get into similar position, but knowing few simple techniques it’s as easy to steer clear of such traps. Today I’d like to mention just a few of such principles.
Make note of every question
It is vital that every question of yours is noted. Put them in a simple list, or make a complex tree-like structure – it’s up to you, but always document everything. Only when every single question is put down on a paper or entered into one of your electronic documents, you can be sure that you’re starting off properly.
The most important reasons for making notes are:
- it’s easier to think when you take notes. It had been proven numerous times that even simple problems make seem uncomfortably complex just because you have no paper or pencil to work on them. Working on technical problems and doing some calculations, it’s much easier to see what I mean – sometimes just writing down a short list of numbers is all it takes to help you solve a problem.
- it’s easier to maintain your focus. When you have all the questions (and answers) outlined in an easy to follow form, you can always see where you are and stick to the subject.
- it’s easier to maintain a methodical problem solving. What I mean by this is that you have a much smaller chance of repeating your own questions or following the same direction more than once in your thinking process. Having your notes in front of you, it’s easier to see what you’ve already tried.
Never Leave A Question Unanswered
I have written a fairly long blog entry on this subject, so if you haven’t read it yet – please do so: Never Leave A Question Unanswered. Today I’m mentioning this to show one more thing why it is really important.
Asking questions is not very useful on its own. Answering them is what really matters. And since questions usually take form of a logical chain with a sole purpose of filling in the gaps of your knowledge about the problem, it’s important to realise that the more questions you answer before moving forward, the more complete picture you’re going to see and therefore there more easier it is going to be for you to stay focused.
If you don’t take some time to stop and answer some of the earlier questions of yours, you may easily get lost on your way towards the solution. So when asking questions, always maintain the number of unanswered questions as small as possible.
I use a very simple decision-making while asking questions: if I pose a question and it seems to be a fairly easy one to answer, like one of them I think is going to take only a couple of minutes to answer, I stop right there and start formulating the answer. Simply because 2 minutes is mostly an acceptable sacrifice to make in order to get one more answer answered right away. If it feels like it’s going to take longer, I move on.
After some time spent on a problem asking questions this way, always do a quick review. Many quickly answered questions from different thinking directions will be somehow related to other questions and may render some of more complex questions to be easier than you originally thought. So by reviewing all the questions all over again, even by simply glancing through the list of posed questions, you’re effectively making sure you re-assess every question with absolutely all the information you have at hand.
Know why you want a particular question answered
Again, it sounds so simple – but I just had to put it in here. So many people never do this. They pose one question after another, and they never stop to think whether a particular question is even relevant to their original problem at all. Asking yourself why you need a particular answer is always a good way to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. And as with many other routines, there is a number of simple principles:
- If you don’t know why you need an answer to some question, drop this question. Mark it off your list so that it doesn’t distract you anymore. If you don’t know why you would need an answer, this means that you don’t have a place for neither this question nor this answer in your logical chain of thinking. And it also confirms that answering this question is not going to help you progress simply because you wouldn’t know how and where to use this answer.
- Maintain your focus and respect priorities. By knowing exactly why you’re posing a particular question and trying to find an answer for it, you stay focused and aware of what impact a particular question might have. Sometimes a simple follow-up on a seemingly simple question triggers a whole chain of then-obvious steps to resolve the problem or reveals an area of your problem where you should concentrate on.
Taking just a few seconds to realize the purpose of answering each of the questions you pose is definitely worth the comfort and confidence it gives you in your problem solving.
I hope this short article will help you in your problem solving, and I’ll definitely write more on the subject in the future.
Let me know what you think – is there is anything you agree or disagree with? Are there some other approaches in asking questions you find particularly useful? What works for you and what doesn’t? Please let me know – I’m very keen to learn from you!