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09 May

Stating the problem is half the solution

Datum: 2022-05-09 11:00
Free form drawn with pencil on white paper. Below the form sits the pencil in question and a ruler.

Once in a while the impli­ca­tions of our struc­tur­al inef­fi­cien­cies and traps are par­tic­u­lar­ly appar­ent. The work­day feels over­whelm­ing, we run from one meet­ing to the next, and our gut tells us we missed some­thing, which in turn makes us wor­ry and stress even more than usu­al. The thought that we need to change some­thing, change our struc­ture, how we work, or how we usu­al­ly do things, emerges.

And we ask our­selves: — But what needs to change?

… and get the answer: — Some­thing. Every­thing. My whole life.

- So, what is the problem?

- It’s just too much! I don’t have time for every­thing I need to do, even though I rush through everything!

- How would you want things to be?

- Sim­pler. Calmer. I would want time to think and reflect.

Fair enough, but we haven’t gained much insight after such an inter­nal dia­logue, and we are not real­ly get­ting any clos­er to that struc­tured work­day where there is space and time for calm­ness, reflec­tion and a moment to breathe here and there.

Charles F Kettering

A prob­lem well stat­ed is a prob­lem half solved” — wise words sup­pos­ed­ly said by the inven­tor Charles Ket­ter­ing (18761958). I com­plete­ly agree with him, espe­cial­ly when it comes to struc­tur­al improve­ments. If we describe our work-relat­ed prob­lems as ambigu­ous and vague as above, it will be dif­fi­cult to find some­thing con­crete to do in order to refine the rou­tines and there­by bring more sim­plic­i­ty and calm­ness into our workday.

Nar­row it down

When you feel that you need to do some­thing about your struc­ture, try iso­lat­ing the prob­lem and nar­row­ing it down as much as pos­si­ble. Do not try to include and describe all your struc­tur­al issues at once, but just choose to focus on one thing that frus­trates you, even if it it very small and there­by very spe­cif­ic, just to get start­ed some­where. Tak­ing small steps is key.


When you are feel­ing that it is just too much right now”, you do not have nei­ther the time nor the ener­gy to take a giant grip on your entire sit­u­a­tion and change all your habits at once. But if we choose to solve a small­er and clear­ly defined prob­lem, we will obtain results from our efforts quick­ly, which in turn eas­es our bur­den and makes us feel moti­vat­ed to deal with the next issue, and so on.

Do this

  1. If you want to, think about what things or sit­u­a­tions in your every­day life that frus­trates you, stress­es you out and which you some­how expe­ri­ence as being obsta­cles to your progress. Choose the phe­nom­e­non, sit­u­a­tion or thing which both­ers you most at the moment.
  2. Iso­late and nar­row the prob­lem down by for­mu­lat­ing it as clear­ly as you pos­si­bly can. Allow me to exem­pli­fy. Late­ly I have had the ten­den­cy to post­pone deal­ing with and pro­cess­ing taxi‑, lunch‑, bus‑, and hotel receipts which I receive and save dur­ing busi­ness trips. The moment I receive a receipt I lat­er need to for­ward to a client who is cov­er­ing the expense, I scan it with my phone and send the image to myself, after which I place the phys­i­cal receipt in my portable inbox (which is a stur­dy plas­tic pock­et I can reach into with­out remov­ing it from my bag) to be processed fur­ther once I get back to my office. But when I get back to my desk it usu­al­ly feels so cum­ber­some and messy to take care of all the receipts that I usu­al­ly pri­or­i­tize oth­er tasks rather than deal­ing with this straight away. This has result­ed in that the pro­cess­ing of receipts has lagged behind, and even­tu­al­ly got­ten even worse to deal with since the receipts have piled up.

    So, if I were to describe the sce­nario in more ambigu­ous terms, I could for instance say that it is such a pain with all these receipts and I would want the pro­cess­ing of them to be eas­i­er”. Fair enough, but not good enough. Being more spe­cif­ic and con­crete, the sit­u­a­tion could be described as fol­lows: When I am back at the office after a few days of trav­el­ing and I feel the need for a calm day work­ing by myself, it feels so over­whelm­ing to see the pile of wrin­kled receipts fill­ing the portable inbox to the brim, that I am reluc­tant towards get­ting start­ed with pro­cess­ing them and instead choose to work on oth­er things while throw­ing a glance at the pile once in a while and try, unsuc­cess­ful­ly, to ignore its presence.”

    Good. Now we have some­thing to work with. Since I obvi­ous­ly want a calm day at the office when I have just had a few days of trav­el­ing and lec­tur­ing, it might per­haps be bet­ter if I process the receipts in anoth­er sit­u­a­tion and soon­er. Just see­ing the receipts both­ers me, so if I find a way of putting at least part of them out of sight, that would be good. It also both­ers me that they are all crum­pled up, so if I make sure to fold them up neat­ly when putting them into the portable inbox in the first place rather than just stuff­ing them down, I will not be as both­ered at the sight of them. And if I process a few receipts at a time, per­haps at the end of the day when out trav­el­ing, instead of col­lect­ing them and then hav­ing to deal with them all at once, I would not feel as over­whelmed. And so on. Find­ing sev­er­al small solu­tions to the prob­lem we can try to apply becomes much eas­i­er when the prob­lem is clear­ly defined.
  3. Once you have spec­i­fied and described the prob­lem accu­rate­ly, start with imple­ment­ing the first solu­tion you come to think of and see if the sit­u­a­tion improves. If you are unable to imple­ment the change imme­di­ate­ly, cre­ate a to-do-task instead that describes what your next step will be and add it to your to-do-list.
  4. Con­tin­ue like this. Repeat as soon as you feel you need to improve your struc­ture somehow.

Free from frus­tra­tion faster

If you describe what­ev­er you are expe­ri­enc­ing as an obsta­cle to your progress as detailed and com­pre­hen­sive­ly as you can, it will become eas­i­er to find a solu­tion to the prob­lem. You will become free of your frus­tra­tion much faster, and will feel more flow in your work.

What is your method?

How do you quick­ly and eas­i­ly find a solu­tion to a glitch in your struc­ture? Do you ask some­one for advise? Do you read blogs? Do you brain­storm on an emp­ty sheet of paper? Write to me and tell me!

(A favorite way of mine to sim­pli­fy some tasks at work is to let the com­put­er write for me — instead of typ­ing every let­ter myself.)

By the way, if you want more tips on how to cre­ate good struc­ture at work — here are many ways to get just that.