Problems You Only Need to Solve Once

If you have a recurring problem and you can reasonably expect it to recur, solve the problem once. Really solve it. Document your solution. Then run your solution each time the problem occurs.

This form of process documentation is common in business. I recommend you use it in your personal life as well.

Here are some examples of problems you can solve just once:

  • Do you get up right away when your alarm goes off in the morning without ever using the snooze button?
  • If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, worried, frustrated, depressed, or overwhelmed, do you know how to get back to feeling good relatively quickly?
  • If you start to lose clarity about your goals, do you have a reliable process for regaining clarity?
  • Do you exercise consistently? Or do you have to keep restarting?
  • If you’d like to create a new article or video, are you able to do that whenever you want without feeling blocked?
  • Are you able to have a productive workday when you want to?
  • If you catch yourself feeling distracted, do you know how to restore focus?
  • Do you keep your kitchen well-stocked with healthy food?
  • Do you know how to decide which task to do next?
  • How do you decide what to eat for breakfast or make for dinner?
  • Does it ever take you more than a minute to decide which clothes to wear?
  • Do you always have enough clean laundry?
  • How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your tech (phone, computer, etc)? Is it easy for you to choose your upgrade model?

You don’t have to document a process for every little thing. Maybe you’re okay deciding what to eat based on impulse or feelings. If your current process works for you and you don’t need a better solution, that’s great. But if you tend to get stuck on problems that repeatedly slow you down – and if you can expect those patterns to continue – then maybe it’s time for you to sit down and work out a more intelligent approach.

Sometimes I’ll document a process for an aspect of life just in case I ever need it. Here’s an example:

This is a Nozbe template I created for starting my workday. It’s not the only way that I can start my workday, but it’s a step-by-step routine that works well for me. If I ever feel unclear about how to begin my work for the day, I can run through this simple checklist to get started. It only takes a few minutes to run through these actions.

I have many other processes documented too. For instance, I have a detailed process for doing coaching calls in Conscious Growth Club, including getting the recordings published to the member portal afterwards. I’ve gone through this process more than 100 times, so I don’t ever need to use the checklist, but it’s nice to know that the process is fully documented. I never have to be confused or uncertain about the action steps. I also have a documented process for doing our quarterly planning sessions to help members set goals for each new calendar quarter.

A recurring event isn’t really a problem if whenever it occurs, you know exactly how to handle it.

Solving a problem once is very freeing. You can always go off-script and try something different if you like variety, but when you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel, it’s nice to have a scripted solution that you can trust.

Life is full of interesting problems to solve. There’s little point in solving the same problems repeatedly if you can solve them just once. When you aren’t stuck having to solve anew the same recurring problems, you can invest your mental energy elsewhere.

I encourage you to pick a recurring problem that you expect will happen again. Solve it once – in advance – by carefully thinking through the action steps. Document your solution. Save your solution. And use your solution when you need it.

You may want to print and post your solution in a convenient location, especially if it’s easy to forget because you don’t run it that often.

I have to adjust my home’s irrigation system four times per year to make sure the landscaping gets enough water for the season. During the summer we can legally run the irrigation six days a week. In the spring and fall, it’s three days a week. And during the winter, we can only run it one day per week. Reprogramming the system takes about 30 seconds if I remember the steps, but if I forget the steps, it may take me 5 minutes to figure them out again. So I wrote the action steps on a slip of paper and put that paper next to the irrigation controls. This makes it easy for me to run the process consistently without having to think about it.

The next time you catch yourself freshly solving a recurring problem, pause and ask yourself: How many more times will I re-solve this same problem over the course of my life? Is that really an intelligent approach? Why don’t I finally solve this once, so I don’t need to solve it again, at least for the next decade or so?