John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D., earned a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1979 and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Arizona State University in 1984. He currently works as an associate professor of psychology at the University of New England, in Armidale, Australia. He has co-authored five books and several dozen articles in scientific journals. He writes a blog on Using Psychology in day-to-day life.
Link to original document: Problem Solving Strategies
Adopt a problem solving orientation.
People who look for problems to solve have a decided advantage over others. These individuals can often identify problems when the problems are small enough to be easily solved and when enough time is available to allow the use of good problem solving strategies. For instance, it is far easier to lose a few kilograms of weight than to lose 50 kilos. Individuals who wait for problems to become unbearable or unavoidable before dealing with them may experience unnecessary stress when circumstances force them to tackle a problem. Naturally, looking for problems to solve will tend to lead to more problems solved. A math student who does all the problems in a textbook rather than just the half assigned is an example of that principle. So is an executive who looks for problems that keep her workers from being productive.
Often there are multiple problems a person could try to solve at any one time. Emergency room physicians have developed the custom of triage, which is assessing the urgency of the health problem of each of the current patients. In problem solving, it is wise to consider during triage which problem has (1) the most important outcome, (2) the greatest chance for solution, and (3) the nearest deadline. So, if you lose your 3-year-old child in an outdoor crowd and your 8-year-old child has a headache, you focus on the lost child because the risk of harm is greater with that child. If you have two problems to solve, and one, such as developing a method of time travel, seems currently unsolvable, work on the other problem first. If you have two important problem-solving assignments, with one due tomorrow and one due in a week, focus first on completing the one due tomorrow. Sometimes the problem with the most important outcome is different from the problem with the best chance of solution or the nearest deadline. Then you have to apply your own judgment in weighing the triage considerations.
Solve one problem at a time.
When faced with multiple problems, individuals may panic or lose hope and then quit trying. When facing more than one problem, to the extent possible, focus on solving one at a time. So if you are overweight and smoke, choose one of these problems to work on at a time. If you dislike your job and your roommate, choose one to work on. If you want to improve your writing and speaking skills, choose one with which to start.