Problem Stacking: A Sure Way To Get Nothing Done

Problem stacking
My daughter and son-in-law were recently involved in putting out a small brush fire, started by a wayward sky rocket. I won’t say who set it off, but for the record it wasn’t me. I would have used real rockets, just for starters.

The fire was extinguished in less than five minutes, but in that time it was interesting to see how what I call ‘Problem Stackers’ quickly added to the difficulty in putting out the flames.

A Problem Stacker is somebody who ‘piles up’ problems, or adds layers of difficulty to problem solving.

On this occasion, two Problem Stackers emerged. The first was somebody who not only panicked, but got in the way while she did so. This Problem Stacker was pushed out of the way so the Problem Solvers could get on with the job.

The second Problem Stacker was somebody who was more interested in apportioning blame instead of putting out the fire. This prize idiot kept asking who set off the rocket, all the while yelling out, “Don’t you know how dangerous that is?” While this is correct, this was not the time… really!

I won’t say exactly what my son-in-law said to this Problem Stacker, but it was along the lines of “Get some water or get [something else]“.

So in addition to putting out a fire, the Problem Solvers had to remove two Problem Stackers before they could do the job. Do you see the problem with Problem Stacking? It’s a sure way to get nothing done, or at least slow down a task or project.

There are two types of Problem Stackers:

  1. Everybody Else
  2. Us

When the Problem Stackers are other people, if you want to get anything done you first have to identify them, and then remove them. Politely tell them that if they aren’t going to help, to please go away. If it’s your boss, be extra polite. This is how you handle external Problem Stackers.

But when the Problem Stacker is ourselves, it is more difficult. Problem Stacking is neurotic behaviour, and it can be hard to self-identify such flaws and address them objectively.

We problem-stack for ourselves when we look at all the problems we face instead of dealing with one at a time. I can’t fix ten problems at once, and here’s bad news, neither can you, but we all can fix one problem at a time.

Why not work on one problem at a time, fix it so that it doesn’t come back, and then move onto the next one? It’s much simpler, much less demotivating, and a sure way to work through all of life’s challenges.

In her book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, author Susan Scott said:

“Tackle your toughest challenge today. Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over. The problem named is the problem solved. Identify and then confront the real obstacles in your path.”

This is what winners do: they tackle their toughest challenges first.

No doubt there are other problems waiting, but if we deal with the toughest ones first, everything after that is not as important and can wait.

When we stack our problems we focus on how much there is to do and how hard it’s all going to be, and then we do nothing.

But when we take one challenge at a time, think about what we need to do to overcome the challenge and then get on with the job, we feel invigorated because we are accomplishing something.

As I write this, I could easily think of how many more articles I have to complete. But if I finish this one, it’s one less to do. If I commence a new article, and finish that one, that takes me closer to the end of this project on my To Do List. Focus on the NOW.

There’s an old saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time“. I apologise to vegetarians, and I am not encouraging supermarkets to stock elephant steaks, but you get the point:

Every task is accomplished piece by piece, and every problem is solved one by one.

Don’t be a Problem Stacker. It’s a sure way to get nothing done, and it’s an even surer way to rob you of the enjoyment of what could otherwise be gratifying work.

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