The power of a simple problem statement

Do you ever tell people that you cannot do something because "you don't have time?"
Do you ever choose to not do what you really want, for the same reason?
People often ask me how I find the time to have a full time interesting and demanding job, be a mother of three lovely kids and write novels. Partly it is because I do not see lack of time as a given, but as problem that can be solved. After reading this post, I hope you will do the same!

am currently participating in an on-line course from Institute for Personal Leadership (IPL) about Driving Strategic Impact. To drive strategic impact, it is important to have a structured problem solving process. Some of the tools we learn are useful also in our everday life, like the simple yet powerful  problem statement. There are three guidelines to follow when formulating a problem statement. In this post I will apply these guidelines to the common "I don't have time" problem.

Photo: Tero Vesalainen, Pixabay

Guideline 1: 
Phrase the problem as a question (despite that it is commonly referred to as a statement).
How can I find more time?
That is a good start isn't it? Suddenly our minds start looking for a solution since we are not just stating a fact, we are asking ourselves a question.

Guideline 2: 
Phrase the question so it guides action.

Our first version of the question does not give much guidance. (Unless you believe in finding that 8th day in the week.) A question that gives guidance can be: 
How can I use the time I have the way I want?
Guideline 3: 
Use the right granularity.

If we look into using the time the way we want to, we should specify a level of detail that will be helpful. Are we looking at our entire lifespan? This year? The vacation or the work week?

Most people will have an increased satisfaction in life if they use the time the way they want every regular week. My suggestion is therefore to phrase the problem as follows:
How can I use each week the way I want to?
I can guarantee you will have a bigger chance of doing what you want with your time if you use this problem statement, rather than the standard "I don´t have time" statement.

Let's take another,  more business like, example.  The perceived problem can be that we do not sell enough. To create a good problem statement, we will first turn it into a question.
How can we sell more?
This formulation does not give us much guidance. We can increase sales in different ways. Do we want to focus on developing new products to increase our sales, or should we stick to the products we have, but increase our marketing and sales efforts? There are many different alternatives to choose from. Let's select one approach and state the problem statement in a way that provides guidance:
How can we increase sales based on our current product portfolio?
To support us even more, we can increase the level of detail:
How can we increase sales this year in our main markets, based on our current product portfolio?

Now we have two problem statements that fulfill the 3 guidelines taught in the course Driving Strategic Impact. I hope you see that these statements trigger thoughts about how solve the problems.

A correctly formulated problem statement is useful, but the real gain is when you formulate it together with others, ensuring you have a common understanding of what you want to achieve. 

Then this simple tool becomes very powerful.

Good luck!


  1. Thanks Annika, for sharing this systematic approach! /Hans