February 23

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Why we need to solve the problem in front of us

“Keep your front sight focus.”

It’s a reminder from the US Navy SEALS to work the problem in front of you and not get distracted with something happening some place else. For soldiers, this could mean the difference between life and death.

For us, it’s the difference between growth and decay.

We need hard, complex problems to grow and increase our value. As we solve problems, we move forward. The key to releasing the expected value is finishing the work.

How many complex problems can you solve at once?

One done is better than two (or more) started

I see a lot of teams eager to start, slow to finish.

The start of solving a fresh problem is exciting. Until we dig in and it gets messy. The more we learn, the more complex it gets. We need more time to think about how to work the problem. We might need to bring other people or teams in to help.

You need more time and resources to solve the problem than you estimated when the “Tyranny of the Urgent” interrupts your progress. You get pressure to do more, with less. Solve faster, you’re told.

Fear gets in the way

This was supposed to be easy, but you struggle just enough for a fear spike to wash over you, creating doubt. Doubt leads to hesitation, and hesitation leads to procrastination.

Once fear creeps in, resistance grabs hold. The friction builds and erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out. Now caught in a fear loop, we worry about things out of our control.

Instead of solving the problem in front of us, we plan for problems we don’t have yet (and may not have), or get distracted by problems other people are solving.

Bring the focus back to the problem in front of you

A lot of fear is perception, and much of what you feared doesn’t happen. It’s just wasted time and energy — and when you command your time, you know you can’t get it back.

Your priority is to solve the problem in front of you.

Ideally, you’re solving the right problem at the right time. Stay focused and avoid the task-switching penalty that comes with the flawed concept of multi-tasking.

How to keep your front sight focus

Here are a few key considerations:

  1. Learn to see the problem “as it is.” That means removing judgement about good or bad. Set aside history and gather the perspectives needed to form a more complete, more accurate, and more detailed picture.
  2. Diagnose the situation. Pinpoint what’s going on by stripping away the noise and distraction to get down to what is really happening. Use the perspectives and experience of others to get a more complete picture and make sense of the situation.
  3. Clarify the outcome. Ignore outputs and focus on the better tomorrow — what success looks like. Define the ideal and acceptable outcomes to frame the situation and give yourself room to find the sweet spot that releases the most value for the least effort.

Then focus on solving the problem to deliver value.

Have a plan to handle distractions and fresh problems

Now, when other problems come up — or your problem shifts a bit, two things to keep in mind:

  1. Use a parking lot or backlog. Capture the details in your head to stop thinking about it and return focus to the problem in front of you. Literally dump the contents of your mind onto paper or into a digital system with enough to come back later. Get it out and get back to work.
  2. Let other people solve other problems. This might not be your problem to solve. Too often, I see teams (usually individuals on teams) dictate and direct others to solve the problems they want addressed. Solve your problem first and let other people worry about their problems.

Just keep your front sight focus and work the problem in front of you. Solve the problem to deliver value, then look for the next challenge to tackle. You got this.


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