You would be hard-pressed to find a position, regardless of the industry or level in the hierarchy, that doesn’t require problem-solving. The ability to identify where issues lie and effectively find solutions for them is a valuable skill that is applicable in nearly every aspect of work, and essential to finding success in the position. However, it is those who are able to not only problem-solve, but also do so at a high level of efficiency that are able to see true forward momentum in their career.
According to Hanif Lalani, a financial executive who has made a career taking on positions in struggling businesses, the trick to achieving high efficiency in your problem solving is to manage your time wisely and maximize your productivity. Working in the telecommunications sector for over three decades, Lalani became known for his ability to quickly single out where problems lay and build out effective solutions that created steady but manageable progress.
Although he began his career as a low-level graduate trainee fresh out of university, Lalani went on to hold a number of high executive positions across the world.
Lalani has said his success at the company boiled down to his ability to problem-solve with a high rate of accuracy and efficiency. According to him, everybody is innately equipped to solve problems – we do it every day whenever we encounter a new scenario and there isn’t always one correct answer. For example, say you head out the door to go to work but realize upon getting to your car that you have a flat tire. One person might have the knowledge and skills to simply make a quick tire change. Another will call an Uber and plan on dealing with it when they arrive back home. A third person might simply decide to drive on it anyways.
While none of these solutions are necessarily wrong, Lalani said that knowing which will best work for you is the difference between simply solving a problem and solving it with high efficiency. Below, we explore the strategies Lalani has found best help to improve efficiencies and productivity in problem-solving.
It is a common mistake in today’s world hyper-focused on productivity to assume that if we are working long hours we are accomplishing more than others, but studies have shown that this is simply not the case. One conducted in 2014 showed that lengthy days and weeks did not equate to a high level of output – in fact, those in the study who went over 50 hours a week saw productivity fall significantly with each additional hour that passed. By 55 hours, productivity becomes so low that any work done past that point is conceptually pointless.
Additionally, research has found links between working too much and health problems such as diabetes, strokes, heart disease, and poor mental health. The fact of the matter is, the human body wasn’t designed to exert itself at that level past a certain point. In order to perform at our peak, we need time to rest and refocus.
Lalani said that coming to this realization as an executive was difficult – there is an expectation that as the leader you will always be the first one there, stay later than anyone else, and work the hardest in the interim. However, he ultimately found that he was able to best come up with innovative and creative solutions to problems when he learned to recognize when it was time to stop for the day.
Although one of the simplest ways one can become a better problem solver, learning to say “no” to things can be surprisingly difficult. However, Lalani said that being more strategic with what you agree to take on is paramount to become a better problem solver in the long run. Knowing where to best focus your time and energy means you stop filling your plate before you are overwhelmed with to-dos.
Plan around your own personal energy levels
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” and while this is great advice in theory, we now know that not all people function best in the morning. Everybody’s energy levels vary throughout the day, and while some might find that their mind is at its most creative and fresh soon after their first cup of coffee, others hit that point much later in the day.
Lalani said that evaluating yourself and coming to recognize the patterns your energy level follows throughout the day can greatly improve how well you are able to effectively solve problems. Using himself as an example, Lalani said that he unfortunately has never been a morning person, so he will usually use the first hours of the work day to catch up on email responses and complete other tasks that don’t require high-level thought. However, by mid-afternoon after he has had a healthful lunch he said he gains a strong level of focus and uses this time to work on long-form projects that need his full concentration.
As a leader, Hanif Lalani has tried to implement this understanding into his leadership style, inviting team members to openly communicate how he can best help them work at their best energy levels. With work-from-home culture becoming increasingly prevalent this has become even more normalized in the last few years, but if your current scenario is more rigid Lalani says there are still ways to be more efficient in utilizing your energy levels. For example, his best ideas often come to him right before bed, and so he has taken to keeping a notepad at his bedside table so he can quickly jot them down and reference them during working hours.
Automate processes so you can be productive, not busy
Do you ever feel like you’ve spent all day ticking things off your to-do list but leave feeling like you still haven’t accomplished anything substantial? According to Lalani, this is often the result of confusing business with productivity. Those who are able to problem solve with high efficiency have learned to spot the difference between the two and have automated processes in order to free up mental space for high-level decision-making.
When your work consists of task after task in which you are simply doing day-to-day maintenance and operations, you are losing out on the benefits of the two previous tips Lalani provided. The valuable time that you have committed to working with your full productivity is not being spent wisely, and your peak time for performance in terms of energy is lost to busy work. It may require more work in the interim, but Lalani said creating automated processes such as project management systems, workflows, and approval processes not only decreases the margin of error but also opens up more time to focus on big picture ideas and allows you to focus on identifying and solving problems.
Productivity and high efficiency problem-solving go hand in hand. In order to best tackle the challenges that you face in your position, you must learn to clear out the “fluff” and direct your energy toward big picture ideas.