Breaking the habit: How to STOP problem solving

That’s right. Stop, not start. A lot of us have grown up with the belief that you need to be problem solving machines in order to succeed at life, especially to achieve professional goals. You tend to think this can take you to a stage where all your problems have a solution and you can finally have that solitude or take a holiday once all the items on your list are striked out.

Oddly enough, the list of problems in your mental todo list never seem to reduce. Instead the opposite happens, where you get really good at identifying more problems & start thinking of solutions to those as well in this endless pursuit to solve. Your list just keeps on getting bigger.

My mental list while driving to work starts with something like this.

ProblemRoot CauseSolution (reinforcing good behaviour)Solution (punishing bad behaviour)
Hour long traffic jamsPeople don’t follow traffic rules and drive on the wrong side of the road leading to choke pointsPeople who don’t have challans in the last year have a reduced insurance premiumOrdinary citizens (solves for scalability) can post photos of vehicles on an app with automated location & timestamp. Setup a incidence verification team which co-ordinates with on-ground traffic police personnel and can hand out challans to such vehicles.
PotholesMaterials & processes used by road contractors are not suitableSet up a standards committee and come up with benchmark specifications for every road category. Set up an oversight team to randomly take material samples & monitor road material conditions. Set up an internal rating system for each road contractor based on the oversight team’s report as well as citizen complaints for that stretch of road. The contractors with higher ratings are prioritized first for future tenders.Set up a citizen app to submit potholes with images and gps location. Each stretch of road now has publicly visible complaints with images along with the name of the road contractor who built it. This public naming & shaming would lead to a loss of professional reputation for the contractors.
Slow moving trafficCars are parked on each side leading to 2 lanes effectively being reduced from the roadConstruct enough parking spaces in the vicinity of each sector of the city. If the city / town doesn’t have adequate area, construct vertical parking buildings as a free public utility.Penalize cars for parking on the roads.
Mental list while driving in peak hour traffic

Your competitor just launched a shiny new feature which is not on your roadmap yet. The referral banner is static and you have to ask the developer to change the url whenever you want to change it. User onboarding can be optimized further. You need to add 2 more payment gateways to act as a fail safe in case the primary goes down during peak hours. User conversion can be improved further.

And on & on it goes until I start looking at solutions everywhere. Be it user experience for mobile apps or ice cream melting on my shoes (water repelling spray on the shoes in case you are wondering). The landlord asked me not to drill into the walls, so I designed a truss to make a hanger large enough to dry my clothes on without wall mounting it. You start to look at the world through a how-can-I-fix-this-NOW mentality. In reality, even if your solutions are viable, it takes time and patience to fix things. You cannot bring in change overnight. Most times, the urgency is only in your head.

Here’s what you can do instead:

Choose not to solve the problem

You cannot really solve all the world’s problems can you. Unless you are a nose twiddling genie. It’s okay to leave the problem be. Accept the imperfections if you can. Go play with your kids instead of ruminating about fixing another problem.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken

You think it’s a problem and you are hell bent on finding a solution. Is it a big enough problem which more people face or just you? If the current product is functional, people love using it and keep coming back, then it isn’t really something that needs to be fixed.

Dedicate time

Write down the problems on your whatsapp. Then dedicate a fixed time slot in the day to spend time on thinking about the solutions. If your time’s up, go drink a cup of hot chocolate but don’t dwell on the solution you almost had. You can think of that tomorrow instead.

Prioritize your mental list

Are all your problems worth spending time on? Time is a finite resource. Does it really add value to spend it all on fixes and solutions? Prioritize the most important ones and dwell on that Ignore the rest if you can and accept that.


Executing some solutions are beyond your control. Accept that and move on. Thinking about it will just be wasting your precious time. There are things far important that, like taking a well deserved rest or exercise you have been meaning to do but couldn’t because you couldn’t find time.

To conclude, problem solving is a valuable skill, but choosing NOT to solve all problems cleared up a lot of my time and headspace for me to do more meaningful things. Despite it seeming like it would make you less productive, it gives you the clarity of thought to focus on solving the ones that really matter. Problems solving is a great skill to have, but it’s important to know when to stop and find peace.

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