Find a Problem, Solve It

By Carlos Portocarrero

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This is Day 7 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Finding a problem and solving it shouldn’t be hard, right?

I know the finding a problem part will be a little too easy for most of us, but your true test will come in finding a solution that helps make that problem smaller.

Types of Problems

What we’re looking for is anything that affects the bottom line. Things like:

  • Paying too much for something
  • Paying for something at all (can you get for free?)
  • Spending too much time on a task
  • Using something solely because you paid for it
  • Having an inefficient process

The list could go on and on, but what you’re trying to solve for is something that takes up too much time or requires more money than it has to. If you can save money or time, you’re going to be a hero.

Power of Checklists

I used Google’s 20% rule to make my job easier by tackling a problem that nobody really cared about except for me and some of my coworkers. It was annoying that our two software systems weren’t totally in sync and we had to manually make a bunch of changes, but what else were you going to do?

Spend some time trying to figure out and spin your wheels when the damn things are sitting there waiting to get done?

That was the risk I took: I spent time doing something that wasn’t my job—working on an alternate solution to an unspoken problem—to try to make my own job easier.

I wound up creating a checklist that turned a three hour task into a 10 minute task.

Excel is Your Friend

I’ve long touted the power of Excel as a way to become more efficient, so I would recommend you learn some of the cool things Excel can do.

Disobeying your boss is rarely recommended, but that’s what I did when I was tasked with a tedious, boring project: pasting a bunch of emails into Excel.

I found a workaround that included Outlook, Access, and Excel that took a 4 hour process and squeezed it down to about 6 minutes. I wrote up a manual on how everyone could do it and told my boss the good news.

Hero? Me.

Check out for help on mastering Excel. And make sure you keep up with the different software that’s available out there in case you ever need to lean on a program to hack your way through a problem.

Work Gloves

I’m reading a great book right now called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and one of the stories is about Jon Stegner. He discovered that his company was buying 424 different kinds of work gloves at varying prices (from $5-$17, even though they were essentially the same glove).

He was able to make the change and the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over time thanks to this tiny fix.

You can read more about Jon Stegner here.

Share, Obviously

If you are able to solve a problem, small as it might be, you have to tell people about it. Start with a coworker to make sure your solution is as great as you think it is. Double check it again.

When you’re ready, share it with your boss and recommend the best places it should be adopted. Again, if you can put numbers on it, that’s even better.

People respond better to “This will save us three hours every week and $15,000″ instead of “We’ll save time!”


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