Problem solving—the easy way

wordcloudThings are never too hard

For a few seconds, it all seemed too hard. I had five articles to write last week, none of which I’d started, and it was clear that I should fly down to Melbourne and spend some time with Dad. He’d just come out of hospital, and Mum had her cataract surgery scheduled, and both my sisters were busy. I KNEW I had to fly down, but it would have been really easy to say I was too busy.

Years ago, I learned how not to be overwhelmed, and almost immediately, I put my coping mechanisms into play.

I pulled up my calendar, had a good look, and began to make notes. I always find it helps to write things down. Each article could be broken down into smaller chunks—notes, first draft, second draft, checking—and these smaller chunks could be done on planes and buses, and in the evening after my parents were in bed. The meetings could be rescheduled to this week—and the one that couldn’t, well, I gave the client a call and explained the situation. With a little negotiation, we agreed to use Skype in the evening.

I visited with my parents, spent time with them and was able to help at a time when they needed me to help. I used several useful coping strategies to deal with the pressures of my job and my immediate family situation.

Coping strategies

Coping strategies fall into two main groups: active and avoidant.

Many coping strategies suggest that you take your mind off the stressors (avoid them). These ways of coping include watching a funny TV show, relaxing, going to the gym, etc.

The coping strategies that I use are all active. I research, take notes, make lists and then I act. Facing the issues is my preferred way of coping.

This type of coping mechanism is often referred to as active problem solving. I try to see the problem as a challenge, rather than something that causes me stress. This is not always possible, but I like to try.

It’s useful to divide the problem solving into sections.

Identifying the problem

I turn to a new page of my pad and write down what the problem is.

  • I have to do all my listed jobs within a time frame that my clients are happy with AND I have to travel to Melbourne and spend time with my parents, on a fairly limited budget and within a defined time frame.

Structuring the problem

I develop a clear picture of the problem. I write down all the parts of the problem and the parameters. I prioritise tasks into

  • Must be done
  • Can be rescheduled (if possible)
  • Can be cancelled

As I list a task, I schedule a time to do it.

  • Let Bob know about the situation, and make sure he’s on board with the decision to go to Melbourne.
  • Research flights/trains/buses
  • Let Mum know I’m coming
  • Add money to my opal card
  • Pack my case for Melbourne
  • Put my daily tablets into ziplock bags and put them into my handbag
  • Back up my computer
  • Contact Lydia re our meeting
  • Contact Sandra re our meeting
  • Contact John re our meeting
  • Split writing tasks and reschedule
  • Etc…

Looking for possible solutions

This stage is all about fact finding. I look at all the courses of action, and find out the information about each (time, cost, etc)

  • I compare trains, buses and flights with the different airlines, look at the time frames and costs, look at each job which is coming up and gauge whether my clients will mind about deadlines.
  • I phone clients to see if they will reschedule meetings or hold them on Skype instead of in person.

I do whatever it takes in order to get all the necessary information.

Making a decision

I analyse all the possible courses of action and decide which will work best. This involves time constraints, budget, and any other personal issues which could affect the decision. But in the end there has to be a best solution—even if it isn’t perfect.


I make a list of the steps I have to take, sort the steps into the order I should do them, and schedule them.

The final part of solving the problem is to go ahead and do each task.

  • I book the selected method of travel, let everyone know, and then—just do it!

How do you go about solving problems and coping with stress?

Until next time,

Write well, write with passion, and use all your writing for good.

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Posted in The Family Memory Project, writing

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