Getting Ready to Return to Work

:
Problem Solving

Back in Motion Rehab Inc. January | 2014

Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014

Getting Ready to Return to Work:
Problem Solving
We deal with problems almost every day. Problems can be large or small, and occur in
all aspects of our lives – in our personal lives and at work. Some problems are easily
solved, while others are not so easily fixed. If we don’t focus on resolving problems,
they may become bigger. Even problems that seem to go away sometimes come back to
haunt us later. Over time, unsolved problems create stress in our lives and take a toll
on our health and well being.
We solve problems all the time using various strategies and approaches. How did we
learn to do this? Did anyone every sit down and teach us how to problem solve? Most
people would say no – most people learn how to solve problems though experience and
using strategies that worked for them in the past.
But we’re not all good at solving problems. Most of us can handle the smaller day-to-
day problems, but the bigger and more complicated problems are much harder to deal
with. And many people find that when they feel stressed or overwhelmed, their
problem solving skills seem to suffer. In fact, when people feel overwhelmed, they
often avoid the bigger problems (which, unfortunately, does not make them go away).
Problem solving is a set of skills. This means that it is something you can learn and
develop – and get better at. Working on improving your problem solving skills can help
you function better in all aspects of your life, including at your job. Not only will it help
you solve your problems more effectively, but it may even reduce your stress level and
help you feel more confident.
There are many different ways to solve a problem. All of them involve a series of steps.
In this booklet we are going to focus on a 7-step problem solving model.

Back in Motion Rehab Inc.

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Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Seven steps to solve a problem may seem like overkill. Sometimes you may not be clear on what the specific problem is. However. Back in Motion Rehab Inc. STEP 1: Identify the Problem Sounds easy. the easier it will be to move through the steps efficiently and effectively. These can be related to any part of your life. or you may see a collection of specific problems as just one huge problem. In order to solve a problem. The more you practice this. it is worth giving this process a try – getting practice going through this step- by-step approach to coming up with solutions to problems can be really useful preparation for the bigger problems you may face in the future. right? Not always. especially for smaller problems. Start by making a list of problems you need to fix. Page | 3 . you need to figure out exactly what the problem is.

it is a lot harder to know where to start than it would be if you managed to be more specific – “My kids are disorganized and don’t listen to me when I ask them to get ready for school. if you identify your problem as “My kids are driving me crazy”. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Review your list and decide on ONE problem you want to focus on. describe your problem – be as specific as possible. If your description of your problem is too vague. it will be hard to know where your solution should start. For example. and as a result they are often late”. Page | 4 . In the space below. Back in Motion Rehab Inc.

Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself that may help you think about your problem in different ways. it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions:  What is the situation right now?  W hat is making me feel upset?  W hat would I like the situation to be? STEP 2. How is this problem affecting me? How is this problem affecting others? Is this a problem for anyone else? If so. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 To help you narrow down the problem. what are other people doing about this? Are there any obstacles in the way of solving this – what is standing in my way? Back in Motion Rehab Inc. you can start to think about it from different angles. Page | 5 . Explore the Problem Once you are clear on what exactly the problem is. This process can help you in coming up with ideas for effective solutions.

The SMART principle is a technique for goal setting that can help you set goals you can actually achieve. Here is how it works: Back in Motion Rehab Inc. How would you reduce the stress at work? Setting goals can be a lot more effective you use the SMART principle. Think about your problem. This is especially true for bigger. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Step 3: Set Goals Isn’t it time to start thinking about solutions? Not quite yet! Before you decide how you are going to solve the problem. it is important to think carefully about what it is – exactly – that you want to achieve. If one of your problems is “my job is very stressful”. you may be tempted to say your goal is to “reduce my stress at work”. and what it is that you want to achieve – it is time to start narrowing down your goals. Page | 6 . This is probably very true – but not very helpful in terms of really setting a goal because it is quite vague and general. more complicated problems.

It should be clear whether you are meeting the goal or not. try to make it Specific. Page | 7 . Realistic. To determine whether your goal is measureable. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 When you are setting a goal. and provides a much better starting point for coming up with solutions. Commitment to a deadline will help you focus your efforts and get started. right now. Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Give yourself a time frame. This can be harder than you think! Use the box below to start working on your goal. There is lots of space provided so that you can rework your goal to meet all of the SMART criteria. a goal that is hard to measure is “being more organized”. Time-limited. use the calendar on my computer to schedule my day and include time to respond to emails and work on my important projects”. Even if your problem is a situation or another person’s behaviour. “Reduce my stress at work” is general. It is a lot easier to achieve goals when they involve you doing something. It is important that your goal is realistic! Think about whether your goal is manageable for you. “Improve my time management skills so that I can be organized and schedule my work tasks every day” is specific. think about what you might be able to do to help solve the problem. Measureable. ask yourself questions such as: What exactly do I need to do? When? How much? How many times? How will I know when I have achieved this goal? Action-oriented. Finding way to measure the goal will help you know when have achieved it. For example. A measurable goal could be “Each morning.

time to start thinking about solutions! This is a time for brainstorming – the more possible solutions you find. and record it in the space below. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Think about how you will know when you have reached your goal. Page | 8 . It is also a helpful tool to use later on when you are planning your specific solutions. If you have trouble answering this question. Step 4: Look at Alternatives Finally. the more likely it is that you will find the most Back in Motion Rehab Inc. you may want to keep working on defining your SMART goal so that you feel clear on how you will know when you have achieved it. Using the SMART principle can be useful to determining what it is that you want to achieve.

Back in Motion Rehab Inc. use extra paper. If you need more space. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 effective solutions. There is space in the box below to start writing down possible solutions to your problem. You n discard the bad ideas later. Here are a few brainstorming tips: It’s easier to find a good solution when you have lots of different solutions to choose from. You can also seek ideas about possible solutions by talking to others. Page | 9 . It doesn’t matter whether the ideas are useful or practical at this stage – just write down any a as it comes to you. Some solutions that seem silly at first can work when combined with other ideas. This may help “get the juices flowing” and lead you to new and creative solutions.

You can use the following questions as a guide to choosing the best solution. review your possible solutions with a friend or family member. Which ones are most relevant to your situation? Which ones are most manageable? What are the pros and cons of the possible solutions? If you think it might be helpful. Will this help me reach my goal and solve the problem? How good or bad will I feel if I choose this solution? Sometimes solutions can solve the problem end up making you feel unhappy. and talk about the possible outcomes for your solutions. Think about which of these are most likely to give you the outcome you want. Back in Motion Rehab Inc. and about which ones might be the most practical or easy to implement. Going through the process of thinking about possible outcomes and the advantages and disadvantages of your possible solutions will help you identify the solution that will probably work best for you. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Step 5: Select a Possible Solution Review your list of possible solutions. Page | 10 .

realistic. There may be possible negative consequences to all of your possible solutions. it is time to make a plan of action! Think about the SMART principle – make sure your plan is specific. Record the solution you think will work the best for you in the box below. action-oriented. You will be much more likely to take action if you know exactly what you need to do. Your job is to pick a solution that is the best for you right now. step by step. and time-limited. with the most benefits and the least costs. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 How much time and effort does this solution involve? Is this practical for me right now? Does this solution have more benefits than costs? Think about how your possible solution will ect you and others. Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Remember that a perfect solution rarely exists. measurable. Step 6: Implement Your Solution After you’ve picked your solution. Write down all the steps it will take to carry out your solution. Page | 11 .

Page | 12 . Step 7: Evaluate Effectiveness Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Now it’s time to get started! Plan when – exactly – you are going to begin to implement you plan.

and make a new step-by-step plan. you can determine whether you were successful in solving your problem. Page | 13 . or perhaps go back and choose a different solution. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 So – did your solution work? Once you have implemented your plan. If the answer is yes. especially for more complicated problems. or if you decide on a different solution. You may need to revamp your plan. a new step-by-step plan. Finding the right solution can be challenging. You can use the space below to map out your revised plan. Don’t get discouraged if you have to go through these steps more than once. then pat yourself on the back! If things didn’t go as planned. Back in Motion Rehab Inc. then you may need to figure out what went wrong or got in the way.

I’m having trouble focusing – I’m trying to keep track of several things at once and don’t get anything done 5. Page | 14 even harder to focus and get anything done 7. I’m disorganized 3. I am behind in my emails 4. Her back pain seems to be getting worse from sitting in her office chair for so long. I can’t sleep because my back hurts and I’m worried I’ll get fired . an example of this seven step process. Megan has been back at work Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 for two weeks after a six month leave due to problems she was having with lower Let’s run through back pain and depression. She is exhausted after work and finds that she is irritable with her husband and kids. She feels overwhelmed by her job tasks and worries that she is falling behind. she is having trouble staying focused and finds multi- tasking leaves her feeling anxious and frantic. I’m grumpy with Dave and the kids – it’s not fair to them 8. My back is really sore by the afternoon which makes it Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Step 1: Identify the Problem Megan made a list of the problems she was facing: 1. I’m forgetting to do things 6. She is finding her return to work to be pretty tough. I’m overwhelmed and stressed at work 2.

Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 I’m disorganized. and a clear plan for each day. and decided to focus on #2 – “I’m disorganized”. My disorganization results in me having trouble focusing (because I am trying to do to many things at once. with time to spend on the important things I need to do Megan reviewed her problem list. She worked on narrowing down the problem a little bit more: Back in Motion Rehab Inc. or I switch tasks before completing what I’m doing) and forgetting things (I’m forgetting things because I don’t keep track of the things I need to Being disorganized leads to me feeling stressed and overwhelmed I want to have a tidy desk. Page | 15 .

My son is very disorganized. What do they do about it? Elsie has learned how to use her work email/calendar more effectively to help her organize her day. manageable. It also helped her starting thinking about ways that others deal with being disorganized (and that she knew some of these strategies already – she was teaching them to her son!) Step 3: Set Goals Megan used the SMART (specific. she realized that several of the problems on her original list were related to the problems she was having with disorganization. Page | 16 I’m grumpy with my family. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 When Megan started thinking more carefully about her problem. realistic. but also helped her see that she is not the only one struggling with disorganization. Who else experiences this problem? Elsie (coworker) has problems being disorganized. I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Rehab Inc. I try to help my son be more organized – for example. action-oriented. It’s affecting my mood and sleep. I could ask her about that. It also helped her to start thinking about how she would like things to change. How is it affecting others? BackMy coworkers in Motion have to do some of my work. Step 2: Explore the Problem Megan used these questions to help her look at her problem from different angles: This process helped Megan start thinking about the negative effects this problem was having on her and those around her. getting him to use his . and time- limited) principle to develop a goal: How is this problem affecting me? It is making me less productive at work.

Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Page | 17 . Step 4: Look at Alternatives Megan made a list of things she might be able to do to help her be more organized at work. specific action-oriented goals. I would like to have a practical plan to work out (like the ready by Friday so that I can start making changes plan!) but she could on Monday. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 This helped Megan SMART Goal come up with an overall goal for what I want to improve my time management skills so she wanted to achieve. use the SMART principle again later to help her work out more detailed. that I can feel more in control of my work tasks and There were still details environment.

and thought about how realistic and manageable they were. and even grumpier when she got home. Page | 18 . Back in Motion Rehab Inc. and had the least amount of risk. For example. She decided a few of her solutions were not such great ideas for her at this point of time. It also might not be manageable. as well as the possible outcomes. staying late might result in her feeling more stressed and overwhelmed. She decided that there were a few possible solutions that were worth focusing on because she believed they were most likely to be of benefit. given that her back pain was worse at the end of the day. and keep it by my keyboard so I can see it Clean up my desk! Take breaks so I can relax a bit and organize my thoughts (this might also help with my back pain!) Turn off my email notifications so I can stay focused on what I’m doing (instead of switching to my email) Schedule time to catch up on emails Keep a notepad on my desk so I can make notes and lists Ask coworkers to help with some of my work tasks for the next week or two until I feel more on top of things Stay late for a few nights so that I can get caught up Step 5: Select a Possible Solution Megan reviewed her list of possible solutions. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Use my computer calendar/email system to plan and schedule my work tasks – this will also give me reminders so I’m less likely to forget things Make a list at the end of each day of the things I want to work on the next day – prioritize the list.

these seemed like a lot to do at once. Page | 19 . Megan decided it would be most manageable for her to work on implementing one possible solution at a time. and keep it by my keyboard so I Clean up my desk! Take breaks so I can relax a bit and organize my thoughts (this might also help with my back pain!) Turn off my email notifications so I can stay focused on what I’m doing (instead of switching to my email) Schedule time to catch up on emails However. If that went well. She decided to choose one solution and work on implementing it over a period of one week. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Use my computer calendar/email system to plan and schedule my work tasks – this will also give me reminders so I’m less likely to forget things Make a list at the end of each day of the things I want to work on the next day – prioritize the list. She decided to start with: Back in Motion Rehab Inc. she would try to start on one of the other solutions the following week.

Page | 20 . Megan decided to get even more specific and focus on being time-limited. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Spend five minutes each morning reviewing and organizing my calendar Allow extra time for each task Leave a 30 minute block empty in the morning and afternoon for unexpected tasks (I can fill these with things on my to-do list if nothing comes up) Stick to the schedule! Try not to get distracted by other Start using the calendar on Monday Step 6: Stick to it for one week and then evaluate how it’s going Implement your Solution Looking back at the SMART principle. Here was her plan: Use my computer calendar/email system to plan and schedule my work tasks – this will also give me reminders so I’m less likely to forget things Back in Motion Rehab Inc.

Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Step 7. Megan was pleased with how using her computer email/calendar system was helping her be more organized. she identified a few problems. Evaluate Effectiveness of Solution. However. Megan made a few tweaks to her original plan: I didn’t schedule enough time to finish tasks I didn’t leave any time in my schedule for unexpected (but important) tasks – this led me to fall behind in my “plan” which made me feel stressed Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Page | 21 . At the end of the week.

It doesn’t always go right the first time – that’s okay! Remind yourself to be flexible. Page | 22 . You can use Megan’s example to help you work through this process using your own problems. She decided to start implementing some of the other possible solutions on her list. Getting Ready to Return to Work: Problem-Solving | 2014 Spend five minutes each morning reviewing and organizing my Stick to the schedule! Try not to get distracted by other tasks Start using the calendar on Monday Stick to it for one week and then evaluate how it’s going After a few weeks of working on her first solution. Learn from what didn’t work and move forward! Back in Motion Rehab Inc. Remember that effective problem-solving is a process that takes time and practice. but she felt that she still having some problems with disorganization. Megan was satisfied she was on the right track. and to keep trying.