If you find yourself dealing with a problem or challenge use this 8 Step Problem Solving Method to clarify your thinking in a systematic approach.

1. Gather data
2. Diagnose data
3. Select and prioritize your objectives
4. Create and analyze alternatives
5. Select one of them (make a decision)
6. Plan the action steps to carry out that decision
7. Implement the plan
8. Study the results against the objectives

Gather Data
Data gathering is never ending, so then neither is the process of problem solving. The more complex the problem being solved, the more data needs to be gathered. This is one reason why constant study of self is important to solve problems involving the self. And why constant study of environment (knowledge) is important to solve problems within the environment. Effective action is based on accurate and abundant information.

Diagnose Data
Identify a problem and describe it in words. A defined problem is half solved. Now you’ll be asking the right question and working on the right solution.

Select and Prioritize Your Objectives
What are your top goals and how does solving this problem allow you to realize those goals? This is an interesting approach to goal setting since goals are based on rising above existing conditions.

Create and Analyze Your Alternatives
Once you’ve got a top goal, what are your secondary or third level goals in case the first one isn’t realized? This is realistic problem solving and not just wishful thinking. The point here is not to settle for second best but perhaps use secondary level goals as stepping stones to primary goals.

Select One of Them
Now that the problem is clearly defined, solutions have been considered and a primary goal is now also defined – select it, DECIDE to implement it.

Plan the Action Steps to Carry Out that Decision
Management sage Peter Drucker said, plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable. Its in the planning process you think about the resources; time, energy, people, etc. required to solve a problem. What’s useful about planning at this stage is that you’ve already got a clearly defined existing condition you’re not happy with and a clearly defined destination that you’re striving for. The middle part, while not always easy – is much more likely to be fleshed out when you have clearly defined problems and goals.

Implement the Plan
Execute on your plan. Take that first step!

Study the Results Against Objectives
Are the actions you planned moving you closer, or further away from your goals? Are you taking actions that are causing you to go off track? A defined problem, plan and goal give you a track to run on whereas without them you have nothing to measure progress against.