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Two Easy Tips for Solving Tough Problems

February '14

If your life at work and home is similar to most midlife women, you continually face complex problems that are not quickly resolved. To lighten your load, this month’s Midlife Discovery presents two simple tips for approaching these head-scratching challenges. Why not give the two strategies a try? They’re actually supported by some research studies.

Tip #1: Find the best time for solving complex problems.

For most of us, tricky problems require our full and focused attention, so dealing with sticky issues when you feel most alert is a sensible strategy. What time of day might that be for you?

If you’re raring to go at 5:45 am every day, you can classify yourself as a member of the “lark” clan. However, if evening finds you completing your finest work, you belong to the “owl” family.

Out of 10 folks you know, 2 will be “owls” and 1 will be a “lark.” If “lark” or “owl” doesn’t describe you, then like 8 out of 10 people, you’re a “happy hummingbird” – with a likely predisposition toward the “lark” or the “owl” end of the day. (From The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, by Michael Smolensky, Ph.D. and Lynne Lamberg)

Once you know the bird that best describes you, why not select that bird’s peak hours for addressing your more knotty questions? If you’re a “lark”, early morning is your best time; or if “owl” characterizes you, pick evening, or if you’re a “happy hummingbird”, you can opt for later morning or afternoon – whichever time finds you more energetic.

This simple scheduling technique may allow you to unravel those complicated problems more easily and then grab some restorative down time.

Tip #2: Distract yourself briefly.

While you obviously need to focus when attacking any puzzling issue, some counterintuitive research reported by David Rock in his blog recommends a little diversion from this strong concentration to improve your problem-solving capacity.

He reports one study conducted by neuroscientist, David Caswell that demonstrated the best approach for folks making a complicated decision was to present a problem to them, then give them a light task to distract their conscious attention, allowing their non-conscious mind to go to work and finally to return them to the problem at hand. Rock suggests that this positive effect results from the new perspective gained from stepping away from the problem. Happily the amount of time needed for this diversionary tactic was only two minutes.

So why not try this distraction technique when you sit down to face that next vexing conundrum? First clarify the problem in your mind, sorting out the different elements; then find another activity to engage your conscious mind for a few minutes. When you return to the problem, see if perhaps you arrive with a fresh mental view that helps solve it more easily.

If you decide to try these tips, I’d love to hear the results. Or, perhaps you can share a third tip for dealing with those perplexing concerns of work and family life.

Looking forward to spring!











  1. Jean McLevedge said on February 27, 2014:

    Thank you!
    A time management course I took long ago advised consolidating prime time [the subject of this essay], discretionary time, and “A” priorities. I like the suggestion of adding a brief detachment exercise.

  2. Bonnie said on February 27, 2014:

    Good to hear form you, Jean!

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