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Do these 3 brain exercises to 'stay mentally sharp and solve problems faster,' says Stanford creativity expert


Creativity is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better you'll be at coming up with innovative solutions and ideas at work.

One of the most effective ways do this is to train your brain to see and notice opportunities. Often you can find needs or problems hiding in plain sight all around you, and once you notice them, you can put your thinking skill to work and tackle things that really matter. 

As a director at Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (also called "the d.school"), there are three powerful exercises we teach our students — each one has its own unique way of training our brains to think smarter, stay mentally sharp and solve problems faster:

1. Shadowing

When you're trying to bring fresh thinking to an old problem, shadowing helps you observe a context and the behaviors within that context without the constraint of preconceived ideas. 

Start by picking someone whose experience you want to understand, then spend a day following them around and doing everything that they do. 

You might get the most inspiration shadowing a non-traditional expert. It could be the maintenance person in your office building who knows the hidden rhythms and needs of the community. Or someone who just started a job with your group and has an unbiased perspective on what your culture is like.

Reflect on your observations at the end of the day. Question them and find opportunities for positive change and action:

  • What was the most memorable experience of the day? Why?
  • What surprised you?
  • What delighted you?
  • How did your experience differ from your expectations?
  • What did you discover that is related to your goals?
  • What is something you can do to learn more about your insights?

At this very moment, you are processing an incredible amount of information. Your brain is constantly protecting you from information overload by filtering what you register. But learning how to control your filter can help you pay closer attention and see what others might miss.

Find a photograph, preferably a shot that captures scenes of everyday life; you want a lot of details, multiple subjects in the frame, and some ambiguity about what's happening.

Now answer the following questions:

  • What's going on in the picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What else do you see?

Repeat. And again. And again.

Consider keeping a journal and doing this exercise a few times a week. Practicing often will help you understand how much detail is part of your daily life. Background detail is what makes the world feel vivid and real — a quality that you want to imbue all of your creative work.

3. Studying the solution that already exists

Originality is wonderful, but it doesn't mean you have to shy away from building on others' ideas. When you try to come up with new concepts in isolation, you're unaware of what's already out there and your ideas are less likely to be new. 

Come up with an analogue for the problem you're trying to solve. How has someone else solved a problem similar to yours, but in a different context?

Let's say you're a parent trying to think of ways for your child engaged and focused during study hours. What kind of challenges come up? Dealing with repetition, boredom and distractions. What other activities have similar facets? Unless you're a passionate runner, one that immediately comes to mind is exercise.

Luckily, there's a huge industry that specializes in finding solutions to get people exercise. Some examples: the rise of aerobics in the 1980s or the more recent popularity of cycling classes.

Then conduct some research: Read articles, interview existing customers or call up some companies. Find enough information to take a crack at the following questions:

  • Why did the solution work?
  • How do you know it worked?
  • What are people able to do now that they couldn't before?

Apply some of those learnings to your problem. What jumps out of your research as the most interesting? Use your insights as the starting point to explore new ways to tackle your problem and come up with approaches that fit your context. 

*Guiding questions for seeing come from  Visual Thinking Strategies  by Abigail Housen & Philip Yenawine.

Sarah Stein Greenberg is the executive director of the design institute at Stanford University, known as the D.school . She is also the author of  "Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways." Follow her on Twitter @steingreenberg .

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Here are 5 snacks that will make you more mentally sharp

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Trauma-Informed Practices in Schools

Teacher well-being, cultivating diversity, equity, & inclusion, integrating technology in the classroom, social-emotional development, covid-19 resources, invest in resilience: summer toolkit, civics & resilience, all toolkits, degree programs, trauma-informed professional development, teacher licensure & certification, how to become - career information, classroom management, instructional design, lifestyle & self-care, online higher ed teaching, current events, 10 ways to do fast math: tricks and tips for doing math in your head.

10 Ways to Do Fast Math: Tricks and Tips for Doing Math in Your Head

You don’t have to be a math teacher to know that a lot of students—and likely a lot of parents (it’s been awhile!)—are intimidated by math problems, especially if they involve large numbers. Learning techniques on how to do math quickly can help students develop greater confidence in math , improve math skills and understanding, and excel in advanced courses.

If it’s your job to teach those, here’s a great refresher.

Fast math tricks infographic. Learning techniques on how to do math quickly can help students develop greater confidence in math, improve math skills and understanding, and excel in advanced courses. Add large numbers. Subtract 1,000. Multiplying 5 times any number. Division tricks. Multiplying by 9. Percentage. Square a 2-digit number ending in 5. Tough multiplication. Multiplying numbers ending in zero. 10 and 11 multiplication tricks.

Fast math tricks infographic

10 tricks for doing fast math

Here are 10 fast math strategies students (and adults!) can use to do math in their heads. Once these strategies are mastered, students should be able to accurately and confidently solve math problems that they once feared solving.

1. Adding large numbers

Adding large numbers just in your head can be difficult. This method shows how to simplify this process by making all the numbers a multiple of 10. Here is an example:

While these numbers are hard to contend with, rounding them up will make them more manageable. So, 644 becomes 650 and 238 becomes 240.

Now, add 650 and 240 together. The total is 890. To find the answer to the original equation, it must be determined how much we added to the numbers to round them up.

650 – 644 = 6 and 240 – 238 = 2

Now, add 6 and 2 together for a total of 8

To find the answer to the original equation, 8 must be subtracted from the 890.

890 – 8 = 882

So the answer to 644 +238 is 882.

2. Subtracting from 1,000

Here’s a basic rule to subtract a large number from 1,000: Subtract every number except the last from 9 and subtract the final number from 10

For example:

1,000 – 556

Step 1: Subtract 5 from 9 = 4

Step 2: Subtract 5 from 9 = 4

Step 3: Subtract 6 from 10 = 4

The answer is 444.

3. Multiplying 5 times any number

When multiplying the number 5 by an even number, there is a quick way to find the answer.

For example, 5 x 4 =

  • Step 1: Take the number being multiplied by 5 and cut it in half, this makes the number 4 become the number 2.
  • Step 2: Add a zero to the number to find the answer. In this case, the answer is 20.

When multiplying an odd number times 5, the formula is a bit different.

For instance, consider 5 x 3.

  • Step 1: Subtract one from the number being multiplied by 5, in this instance the number 3 becomes the number 2.
  • Step 2: Now halve the number 2, which makes it the number 1. Make 5 the last digit. The number produced is 15, which is the answer.

4. Division tricks

Here’s a quick way to know when a number can be evenly divided by these certain numbers:

  • 10 if the number ends in 0
  • 9 when the digits are added together and the total is evenly divisible by 9
  • 8 if the last three digits are evenly divisible by 8 or are 000
  • 6 if it is an even number and when the digits are added together the answer is evenly divisible by 3
  • 5 if it ends in a 0 or 5
  • 4 if it ends in 00 or a two digit number that is evenly divisible by 4
  • 3 when the digits are added together and the result is evenly divisible by the number 3
  • 2 if it ends in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8

5. Multiplying by 9

This is an easy method that is helpful for multiplying any number by 9. Here is how it works:

Let’s use the example of 9 x 3.

Step 1 : Subtract 1 from the number that is being multiplied by 9.

3 – 1 = 2

The number 2 is the first number in the answer to the equation.

Step 2 : Subtract that number from the number 9.

9 – 2 = 7

The number 7 is the second number in the answer to the equation.

So, 9 x 3 = 27

6. 10 and 11 times tricks

The trick to multiplying any number by 10 is to add a zero to the end of the number. For example, 62 x 10 = 620.

There is also an easy trick for multiplying any two-digit number by 11. Here it is:

Take the original two-digit number and put a space between the digits. In this example, that number is 25.

Now add those two numbers together and put the result in the center:

2_(2 + 5)_5

The answer to 11 x 25 is 275.

If the numbers in the center add up to a number with two digits, insert the second number and add 1 to the first one. Here is an example for the equation 11 x 88

(8 + 1)_6_8

There is the answer to 11 x 88: 968

7. Percentage

Finding a percentage of a number can be somewhat tricky, but thinking about it in the right terms makes it much easier to understand. For instance, to find out what 5% of 235 is, follow this method:

  • Step 1: Move the decimal point over by one place, 235 becomes 23.5.
  • Step 2: Divide 23.5 by the number 2, the answer is 11.75. That is also the answer to the original equation.

8. Quickly square a two-digit number that ends in 5

Let’s use the number 35 as an example.

  • Step 1: Multiply the first digit by itself plus 1.
  • Step 2: Put a 25 at the end.

35 squared = [3 x (3 + 1)] & 25

[3 x (3 + 1)] = 12

12 & 25 = 1225

35 squared = 1225

9. Tough multiplication

When multiplying large numbers, if one of the numbers is even, divide the first number in half, and then double the second number. This method will solve the problem quickly. For instance, consider

Step 1: Divide the 20 by 2, which equals 10. Double 120, which equals 240.

Then multiply your two answers together.

10 x 240 = 2400

The answer to 20 x 120 is 2,400.

10. Multiplying numbers that end in zero

Multiplying numbers that end in zero is actually quite simple. It involves multiplying the other numbers together and then adding the zeros at the end. For instance, consider:

Step 1: Multiply the 2 times the 4

Step 2: Put all four of the zeros after the 8

200 x 400= 80,000

Practicing these fast math tricks can help both students and teachers improve their math skills and become secure in their knowledge of mathematics—and unafraid to work with numbers in the future.

You may also like to read

  • Research-Based Math Teaching Strategies
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  • 5 Tips to Help Get Students Engaged in High School Math
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  • Seven Everyday Online Math Resources for Teachers
  • Three Tips for Developing Elementary Math Tests

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How to Solve Math Problems Faster: 15 Techniques to Show Students

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  • Teaching Strategies

“Test time. No calculators.”

You’ll intimidate many students by saying this, but teaching techniques to solve math problems with ease and speed can make it less daunting.

This can also  make math more rewarding . Instead of relying on calculators, students learn strategies that can improve their concentration and estimation skills while building number sense. And, while there are educators who  oppose math “tricks”  for valid reasons, proponents point to benefits such as increased confidence to handle difficult problems.

Here are 15 techniques to show students,  helping them solve math problems faster:

Addition and Subtraction

1. two-step addition.

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Many students struggle when learning to add integers of three digits or higher together, but changing the process’s steps can make it easier.

The first step is to  add what’s easy.  The second step is to  add the rest.

Let’s say students must find the sum of 393 and 89. They should quickly see that adding 7 onto 393 will equal 400 — an easier number to work with. To balance the equation, they can then subtract 7 from 89.

Broken down, the process is:

  • (393 + 7) + (89 – 7)

With this fast technique, big numbers won’t look as scary now.

2. Two-Step Subtraction

There’s a similar method for subtraction.

Remove what’s easy. Then remove what’s left.

Suppose students must find the difference of 567 and 153. Most will feel that 500 is a simpler number than 567. So, they just have to take away 67 from the minuend — 567 — and the subtrahend — 153 — before solving the equation.

Here’s the process:

  • (567 – 67) – (153 – 67)

Instead of two complex numbers, students will only have to tackle one.

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3. Subtracting from 1,000

You can  give students confidence  to handle four-digit integers with this fast technique.

To subtract a number from 1,000, subtract that number’s first two digits from 9. Then, subtract the final digit from 10.

Let’s say students must solve 1,000 – 438.  Here are the steps:

This also applies to 10,000, 100,000 and other integers that follow this pattern.

Multiplication and Division

4. doubling and halving.

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When students have to multiply two integers, they can speed up the process when one is an even number. They just need to  halve the even number and double the other number.

Students can stop the process when they can no longer halve the even integer, or when the equation becomes manageable.

Using 33 x 48 as an example,  here’s the process:

The only prerequisite is understanding the 2 times table.

5. Multiplying by Powers of 2

This tactic is a speedy variation of doubling and halving.

It simplifies multiplication if a number in the equation is a power of 2, meaning it works for 2, 4, 8, 16 and so on.

Here’s what to do:  For each power of 2 that makes up that number, double the other number.

For example, 9 x 16 is the same thing as 9 x (2 x 2 x 2 x 2) or 9 x 24. Students can therefore double 9 four times to reach the answer:

Unlike doubling and halving, this technique demands an understanding of exponents along with a strong command of the 2 times table.

no image

6. Multiplying by 9

For most students, multiplying by 9 — or 99, 999 and any number that follows this pattern — is difficult compared with multiplying by a power of 10.

But there’s an easy tactic to solve this issue, and  it has two parts.

First, students round up the 9  to 10. Second, after solving the new equation, they subtract the number they just multiplied by 10 from the answer.

For example, 67 x 9 will lead to the same answer as 67 x 10 – 67. Following the order of operations will give a result of 603. Similarly, 67 x 99 is the same as 67 x 100 – 67.

Despite more steps, altering the equation this way is usually faster.

7. Multiplying by 11

no image

There’s an easier way for multiplying two-digit integers by 11.

Let’s say students must find the product of 11 x 34.

The idea is to put a space between the digits, making it 3_4. Then, add the two digits together and put the sum in the space.

The answer is 374.

What happens if the sum is two digits? Students would put the second digit in the space and add 1 to the digit to the left of the space.  For example:

It’s multiplication without having to multiply.

8. Multiplying Even Numbers by 5

This technique only requires basic division skills.

There are two steps,  and 5 x 6 serves as an example. First, divide the number being multiplied by 5 — which is 6 — in half. Second, add 0 to the right of number.

The result is 30, which is the correct answer.

It’s an ideal, easy technique for students mastering the 5 times table.

9. Multiplying Odd Numbers by 5

This is another time-saving tactic that works well when teaching students the 5 times table.

This one has three steps,  which 5 x 7 exemplifies.

First, subtract 1 from the number being multiplied by 5, making it an even number. Second, cut that number in half — from 6 to 3 in this instance. Third, add 5 to the right of the number.

The answer is 35.

Who needs a calculator?

10. Squaring a Two-Digit Number that Ends with 1

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Squaring a high two-digit number can be tedious, but there’s a shortcut if 1 is the second digit.

There are four steps to this shortcut,  which 812 exemplifies:

  • Subtract 1 from the integer: 81 – 1 = 80
  • Square the integer, which is now an easier number: 80 x 80 = 6,400
  • Add the integer with the resulting square twice: 6,400 + 80 + 80 = 6,560
  • Add 1: 6,560 + 1 = 6,561

This work-around eliminates the difficulty surrounding the second digit, allowing students to work with multiples of 10.

11. Squaring a Two-Digit Numbers that Ends with 5

Squaring numbers ending in 5 is easier, as there are  only two parts of the process.

First, students will always make 25 the product’s last digits.

Second, to determine the product’s first digits, students must multiply the number’s first digit — 9, for example — by the integer that’s one higher — 10, in this case.

So, students would solve 952 by designating 25 as the last two digits. They would then multiply 9 x 10 to receive 90. Putting these numbers together, the  result is 9,025.

Just like that, a hard problem becomes easy multiplication for many students.

12. Calculating Percentages

Cross-multiplication is an  important skill  to develop, but there’s an easier way to calculate percentages.

For example, if students want to know what 65% of 175 is, they can multiply the numbers together and move the decimal place two digits to the left.

The result is 113.75, which is indeed the correct answer.

This shortcut is a useful timesaver on tests and quizzes.

13. Balancing Averages

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To determine the average among a set of numbers, students can balance them instead of using a complex formula.

Suppose a student wants to volunteer for an average of 10 hours a week over a period of four weeks. In the first three weeks, the student worked for 10, 12 and 14 hours.

To determine the number of hours required in the fourth week, the student must  add how much he or she surpassed or missed the target average  in the other weeks:

  • 14 hours – 10 hours = 4 hours
  • 12 – 10 = 2
  • 10 – 10 = 0
  • 4 hours + 2 hours + 0 hours = 6 hours

To learn the number of hours for the final week, the student must  subtract the sum from the target average:

  • 10 hours – 6 hours = 4 hours

With practice, this method may not even require pencil and paper. That’s how easy it is. 

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Word Problems

14. identifying buzzwords.

Students who struggle to translate  word problems  into equations will benefit from learning how to spot buzzwords — phrases that indicate specific actions.

This isn’t a trick. It’s a tactic.

Teach students to look for these buzzwords,  and what skill they align with in most contexts:

Be sure to include buzzwords that typically appear in their textbooks (or other classroom  math books ), as well as ones you use on tests and assignments.

As a result, they should have an  easier time processing word problems .

15. Creating Sub-Questions

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For complex word problems, show students how to dissect the question by answering three specific sub-questions.

Each student should ask him or herself:

  • What am I looking for?  — Students should read the question over and over, looking for buzzwords and identifying important details.
  • What information do I need?  — Students should determine which facts, figures and variables they need to solve the question. For example, if they determine the question is rooted in subtraction, they need the minuend and subtrahend.
  • What information do I have?  — Students should be able to create the core equation using the information in the word problem, after determining which details are important.

These sub-questions help students avoid overload.

Instead of writing and analyzing each detail of the question, they’ll be able to identify key information. If you identify students who are struggling with these, you can use  peer learning  as needed.  

For more fresh approaches to teaching math in your classroom, consider treating your students to a range of  fun math activities .

Final Thoughts About these Ways to Solve Math Problems Faster

Showing these 15 techniques to students can give them the  confidence to tackle tough questions .

They’re also  mental math  exercises, helping them build skills related to focus, logic and critical thinking.

A rewarding class equals an  engaging class . That’s an easy equation to remember.

> Create or log into your teacher account on Prodigy  — a free, adaptive math game that adjusts content to accommodate player trouble spots and learning speeds. Aligned to US and Canadian curricula, it’s loved by more than 500,000 teachers and 15 million students.


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When it comes to solving complicated problems, the default for many organizational leaders is to take their time to work through the issues at hand. Unfortunately, that often leads to patchwork solutions or problems not truly getting resolved. Instead, Anne Morriss offers a different framework: to increase trust and transparency and the speed of execution to truly tackle big problems. Morriss is an entrepreneur, leadership coach, and founder of the Leadership Consortium. With Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, she wrote the new book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems .

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3 tricks for solving problems faster and better

how to solve problems faster

Recent research by Evan Polman of NYU and Kyle J. Emich of Cornell may shed some light on why. In three sets of experiments , they found that when people solved problems on behalf of others, they produced faster and more creative solutions than they did when they solved the same problems for themselves.

In the first experiment, Polman and Emich asked participants either to draw an alien for a story they were going to write themselves or for someone else’s story. The aliens people sketched for others were more creative than the ones they drew for themselves.

In the second study, participants were asked to come up with gift ideas for themselves, for someone close to them, or for someone far away. The result: The more distant the recipient, the more creative the gift.

And in the third study, participants had to solve the following problem:

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?

Subjects were more likely to come up with the answer on behalf of another person than for themselves; the farther away the other person was imagined to be, the more likely the participants were to come up with the correct answer.

Polman and Emich say the principle at work is something called “ construal-level theory ,” which in simple terms means that we think in more abstract terms about distant problems (or problems belonging to distant people) — and thinking at a more abstract level produces more creative solutions.

So given that we’re often more creative solving someone else’s problems, what can we do to more effectively solve our own? Here are three ideas:

1. Trade problems with someone. When you get stuck, stop hammering away at the problem and find a colleague to swap with.

2. Solve problems on behalf of someone else. Create some psychological distance from your project by pretending that you’re doing it on behalf of someone else. Use your imagination here: the “other person” could be the woman across the hall, a relative, or a stranger halfway across the world. The farther away, the better.

3. Put some distance between yourself and your project. Writers know something magical happens when you put your manuscript away in a drawer. When you come back to it a week or a month or six months later, you have a fresher, more creative perspective on the work. When you can, build some slack into your deadlines and try putting your work out of sight for as long as you can manage.

Have you tried this approach? Has anyone set up a website to allow people to swap problems? (Seems like a promising business.) And how the heck did the prisoner escape? If you’ve got answers, respond in the Comments section.

41 Responses to “3 tricks for solving problems faster and better”

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Presumably he split the rope length-ways, by unravelling the strands, to produce two lengths each half as thick as the original rope. 🙂

The research is fascinating. It aligns a bit with the old saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

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This simplest solution is most often the best. Unfortunately, we are often too entwined in our own issues to see the big picture.

What an awesome post!

I love the idea of trading problems with someone else.

“I’ll solve your scheduling problem if you can tackle world peace. Thanks!”

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I’m imagining that an emotional involvement in a situation prevents us from being totally objective and free-minded about a solution, as well.

Love the Pink Blog. Great content.

' src=

Yes, I agree that it was most likely split length wise. In my opinion, this is a much easier creative riddle than the Candle Problem.

Very interesting post. I think a more feasible application for some software would be for internal use at an organization.

I also have noticed that when people become so bogged down by their own stress, often not all related to the specific problem at hand, that they defend the problem and seem to lack a true desire to solve it quickly. Sincerely admitting that you do in fact want to solve it is the most important step, though it is often overlooked.

' src=

Great take on an interesting finding. Would you say your hints are the equivalent of asking “what would N.N (insert prefered role model) do to solve a problem like this?”

' src=

Dan, great post. I think this is one of those “I kinda knew that” but now “I know that” actually works scenarios. I think this confirms.

a. Why consultants can play an integral role in problem solving. b. How executive roundtables can provide such broad insight to a problem quickly and efficiently. c. Why coaches and mentors can help frame a problem in a way where an emotional detachment is able to take place.

Last point – the rope scenario problem seems appropriate. Too often ropes are used to hand ourselves rather than being used creatively for escape or rescue.

' src=

Similarly, I’ve always found explaining the problem to someone else helps. Not because they come up with a solution (though they may), but because the very act of laying something out so that someone else understands it renders it amenable to a more objective analysis. I’ve often solved the ‘impossible’ problem half way through explaining it to a third party.

' src=

I coach a lot of coaches … and find a very helpful question can be, “What would you tell a client if they were in your situation?”

Can see the challenge when the research indicates that the best solutions tend to come from abstract thinking – and when we go to problem solve in our own business and life, we often switch on our linear thinking mode.

Fascinating and practical read. Thanks.

' src=

Nate, I agree it’s easy to get caught up in the problem and not see the big picture. It’s as if your in a maze, and you can only see what is immediately around you. However, someone else with a better view from above the maze can see the whole thing. It is much easier for them to solve the maze or the problem.

Aga, I like your thoughts too. It’s hard to make a decision when emotions are involved.

Interesting post!

' src=

As a designer, I often follow Rule 3. I have what I call my “24 hour rule.” Often I’ll have what I think is a fantastic idea but if it still seems fantastic after a day then I pursue it. (I’m always shocked at how often I’ve changed my mind after those 24 hours. “How could I have thought that one up?!”)

I don’t have problems buying gifts for those close to me. A few years back I even wrote a post on how to become a good gift-giver: http://ow.ly/4sHXI . I think it’s easier to buy a gift for someone close to you as there’s greater access to their likes and dislikes. Oh, and I know *exactly* what gift I want! -g

' src=

Another way to look at this solution is with an idiom. By dividing the rope he created two halves. We all know that “two halves make a ‘hole'” so once he divided the rope he was able to walk right out of his cell scott free.

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The idea of solving problems on behalf of someone else, even if it’s re-framing the problem you have as belonging to someone else, is a fascinating idea, and really struck a chord with me.

As an improv-comedian \ actor, I’m never at a loss for what to do – there are plenty of “offers” from my fellow players on stage (their posture, what they said, how they said it, etc). We often use the phrase “mistakes are gifts” because they give you something to build on.

Conversely, writing at times seems much more difficult. When writing on a deadline for someone else, I almost never get writers block, and I don’t get distracted easily. But if I’m writing something on my own, it’s a whole different story.

I’m going to experiment with defining the completion of personal writing projects as solving a problem for someone else, and see what results I get. But even thinking about it, I have a different feeling about completing them. -Ken-

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This is very interesting. I have a colleague I call my “thinking partner”. When I am stuck, I call him, when he is stuck he calls me. We find it so much easier to solve each other’s problems. I guess we’re not alone in this. Perhaps more organizations should talk about and encourage employees to find their “thinking partner”. Sometimes just the way we talk about problems makes them seem more manageable. For example, I’ll say, “I’ve been carrying this situation around in my mind and it’s getting heavy…will you hold it for a while?” We laugh, but knowing someone else is “carrying” it for me, clears my mind and allows me to be more creative about it.

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A great message on sharing the burden and sharing the rewards.

As for the puzzle, the two halves of the rope made a “hole.” The prisoner put a hole in the floor (or door) and crawled out to freedom.

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I think Rod raises some good points in that these data seem to support the work of consultants. I would extend the usefulness to most (if not all?) collaboration. The adage goes that two heads are better than one. While that may be true, I prefer those two heads to be from different fields to allow different ways of thinking to enter the conversation.

With Love and Gratitude,

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This is 100% the case and I see this consistently. my blog stillmansays.com documents my adventures sitting out in Union Square in New York City with two folding chairs and a table with a sign that reads “Creative Approaches To What You Have Been Thinking About” and a smaller sign that reads “Pay What You Like or Take What You Need”.

Yes I am creative and capable but that distance allows the space to go in some remarkable directions.

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So, how do you solve a problem like Maria? Trade her with Mother Superior for a problem named Marta?

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Great post, Daniel.

I am both a writer and a teacher. I regularly collaborate with other teachers on class projects and assignments. One such example is my collaboration with another teacher on English assignments. She gives them, I correct them and she follows up. The collaboration works well.

As for the rope problem, why has no one suggested a Mobius Strip cut repeatly into thirds? The tower can be as tall as the jailer wants and the prisoner can still escape (ignoring that new pesky prisoner weight to rope tensile strength problem 😉 ).

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yes i also thought that the tensile strength might not be sufficient enough. But that is already been said in the question itself. It says you divide rope in half and escape that means the prisoner did escaped. But by what? divinding the rope in half.How? not lateraly but verticallyy!!

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As a golf instructor and business person… seems I’m always entrenched with problems… actually solving them is kind of what I do for a living. Solving a slice, solving a hook, solving why a person’s golf game goes south after the 14th hole.

As a businessman… I also have to solve the problem of marketing, sales, budgeting, etc… I think the golf professional part in me has assisted me in solving some of the business aspects of my profession. Simply because no two golf swings are alike… so creativity is essential. YET… at the same time… looking for common keys to one’s success… in golf or business.

Thanks for another great article!

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The photo of the guy in the jar is quite appropriate. One of the ways I have heard this process described is that when you are in the problem you are inside the jar and it’s difficult to comprehend what’s going on and what to do about it, but anyone on the outside of the problem can easily read the label on the jar and suggest ways to handle the situation that wouldn’t easily occur to you.

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I do something similar pretty often–when I have a problem, I pretend I’m someone else (someone who’s courage/intelligence/creativity/boldness I admire) and think of how that person would handle it. I usually come up with a better solution than if “I” handled it.

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I wonder if many of us tend to be more self-conscious and unconsciously self-editing when the outcome directly reflects on us. The abstract distance of working on someone problem may act as the equivalent of a psychological disguise, liberating us from this self-consciousness and self-editing.

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Being too close to the problem can hinder problem solving, absolutely. It is so easy to raise objections to possible solutions when you are intimately acquainted with the problem. “That won’t work because of [name complexity here].”

This is true when working with a client to solve a problem. They can be very quick to point out why a proposed creative solution will fail, and can hinder real progress. Remove that party, and solutions can be proposed, tested, and implemented in very short time spans.

Thank you for the post. The study findings are very interesting and enlightening.

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I have noticed that for more complex problems (and for finding good gifts), distancing yourself from the problem, or asking someone else to solve it, is indeed helpful. However, in this “prisoner attempting to escape from a tower” problem, I decided to try to find an answer putting myself in the place of the prisoner, just to see what would happen. It took me just a few seconds to come to the solution already mentioned by various people, cut the rope in half lengthwise.

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Dan, I think the prisoner split the rope in two, tied a large knot just below one of the severed ends, and pulled the strands apart (so that, when laid on his pillow, it would resemble human hair).

Later, after the prisoner was unresponsive to the prison guard’s bed check, the guard entered the cell, walked over to the bedside and asked, “Are you feeling okay?”

Just then, the crafty prisoner emerged from a darkened corner of the cell, slipped through the open door, and as he pulled the cell door closed behind him answered, “I’m afraid not.”

Just a theory… Steve Curtin

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Not strictly for the purpose of swapping problems, but Lissn.com pairs you up with a random stranger for chatting. It strikes me that the problem swapping idea would just be an extension of a system like that. Find me someone I don’t know, who is willing to swap problems. If you need creative solutions, you may not even care about filtering who you are paired with, since creatives solutions may come from expertise you did not expect. The only challenge is overcoming Metcalfe’s law to build a network large enough that you can easily find a counterpart.

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This raises one (of many 🙂 problems with education. The insular nature of the teaching profession prevents exactly this kind of interaction.

Some proactive districts have hired coaches to help stimulate the kind of conversations that would build the kind of perspective you write about, but that’s a major culture shift and so has encountered a lot of resistance.

Ideally, we would build more collaboration into the structure of a teacher’s (and any professional’s) work day. A short-term loss that should lead to long-term gains.

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I wonder whether our need for purpose, quenched in this case by helping someone else solve a problem, is at work here.

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I say it this way: It’s always easier doing somebody else’s homework.

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This approach clearly works. I recently visited with some regional folks at work who were meeting with various managers, looking for some ideas to solve a problem. I thought the solution I suggested was obvious, that five other people would have already mentioned it by that point in time. But when I mentioned my idea, their faces lit up – it had never, ever dawned on them to look for a solution in that particular direction! And yes, when I’m stuck on a painting, comic, etc, I do put the piece away for a while to think it over.

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Someone else can still be you in the mirror. I use to speak and teach someone in the mirror and this results have been splendid to my educational progress. wow

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It is amazing to know that there are articles like this on web.Thanks for helping me out…

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See, I guess I didn’t understand the rope problem correctly. In my solution, the ends of the rope are tied together to make a loop, the loop is slung over the tower, and the guy escapes by shimmying down, like the telephone linemen of old.

They obvious answer didn’t occur to me.

From this tiny post, you learn so much about my mind and my life 🙂

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Great post as always.

In our work with positive deviants, they rarely encounter these limitations. In fact, as we wrote about in “Positive Deviants Rule!”, they are often the best source of innovation in an organization.

Positive deviants appear to be less limited than others because they have an exceptionally strong sense of “purpose” (as used in DRIVE). This drive to achieving a purpose is so strong, and so proactive, that their starting point of all problem solving and work is “how do we do this the right way.” As such, they are rarely constrained by their own or organizational limitations.

The implications for the rest of us to transcend our typical constraints is to go back to “purpose” and get refocused on the big picture of what you are trying to do and why you are trying to do it. The stronger you hold on to your purpose, the more likely you are to let go of constraints and come up with better “out-of-the-box” solutions.

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I like Andrew’s rope answer better, but maybe he looped the rope around the tower (like a belt) and climbed down that way.

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I believe that a natural creative wisdom exists deep within every one of us and the blocks to that wisdom, particularly when it comes to ones self, are rooted in disempowering subconscious beliefs. As an example, subconscious beliefs of unworthiness or being undeserving (Which are more common in the workplace than you’d ever imagine) would result in that shut down for yourself while the problem would be more easily solved for someone else.

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I think he folded the rope in half, made a lasso and threw it over a nearby treetop. Then he pulled it closer, hopped onto the tree and climbed down that way…

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I think this is quite interesting and taps into something I first witnessed when I started teaching music, and then was just thinking over again last night.

I had been studying the flute for years, but then as a college undergrad took some work teaching 9-12 year olds. I heard myself saying the same things to these kids as my teacher said to me, even despite our huge skill gap. It was so much easier to find the energy to see it in others and problem solve about how to best address the problem each student might be facing. I realized I needed to harness that objectivity in my own practice, but sometimes easier said than done, especially when the thing you are trying to solve connects to hopes, dreams and fears – as our biggest problems do.

Fast forward many years to last night, where I no longer play the flute, and I was thinking about the same thing again. When a problem swirls around in my head, as it was last night, it very rarely goes anywhere useful. If I articulate it to someone else, that can help, but there’s not always someone I know immediately who’s interested in hearing it or helping to solve it. It occurred to me that it always helps me to actually write down my problem, something like what Gretchen Rubin describes as ‘identifying the problem’. Some problems need many small ‘sub-problems’ articulated in this way, and it takes some investment of energy upfront, but I find doing this definitely helps to give me objectivity to solve my own problem.

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Thanks, I have recently been seeking for details about this subject for ages and yours is the best I have found so far.

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Divide vertically, not horizontally.

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Problem Solving by Solving an Easier Problem

One of the most important things students should be learning in math class is not some specific, useful math topic or skill, but how to problem solve . Math is not easy! If students understand that math is hard, and requires thinking and practicing, they will be less likely to give up at the first sign of trouble. If students understand that it’s ok to wrestle with a problem for a little while, and maybe even make some mistakes first , they won’t be as frustrated when the answer doesn’t simply pop into their head the first time they read the problem. Sometimes, the best way to solve a difficult problem is by solving an easier problem first , as I’ll discuss today.

Problem Solve by solving an easier problem

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–>Pssst! Do your kids need help making sense of and solving word problems? You might like this set of editable word problem solving templates ! Use these with any grade level, for any type of word problem :

Solving an Easier Problem: 

As essential as problem solving is, knowing how to problem solve is not something that will come naturally to every student in your class. So it is important to take time to explain and try out some problem solving strategies with them, and even model your thinking as you work through difficult math problems. Don’t just show them your steps; walk them and talk them through the process!

In this series of blog posts, I will be discussing some helpful problem solving strategies that you can use and teach to your students. And if you have any good strategies that you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments! 🙂

“If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it .”

If a problem seems overwhelming, has a lot of steps, or very large numbers, try to solve a simpler version or a similar problem to help get you going in the right direction.

For example, I was recently working with a third grader on some story problems. The question said,

“Brielle and Lindsay found 527 bugs on Wednesday. On Thursday, they discovered 374 bugs. How many more bugs did the girls find on Wednesday than Thursday?”

My student immediately wrote 527 over 374 on her paper and drew an equals sign. So I asked, “Ok, we have these two numbers, what do we need to do with them?” She did not understand the question well enough to know if she needed to add or subtract, so we looked at a simpler problem .

First, I drew a chart with Wednesday and Thursday and how many bugs they found on each day and we talked about what the question was asking (how many more, meaning how much bigger or what’s the difference between the two).

Then, I simplified things by changing the numbers from 527 and 374 to simply 5 and 3. Because she was still unsure of the question, we plotted the numbers on a number line and saw that 5 is 2 more than 3.

So I asked, “What operation can we use to find that 5 is 2 more than 3?” She answered with “subtraction,” and I was able to show her that if subtraction worked in this simple version , it would work with the larger numbers as well. Then she was able to subtract and solve the problem!

Taking the time to think through this problem was important because she struggles with knowing what to do with all the pieces of information given in word problems. If I had simply let her guess and work it out (using addition), and then said, “Oh, actually you’re supposed to subtract here. Try again!” she likely would have made the same mistake the next time.

Great tips and helpful strategies for teaching kids to be problem solvers!

I hope you find this useful! How do you encourage and aid students in problem solving?

reference: Polya, George (1957). “How to Solve It.” Garden City, NY: Doubleday. p. 253.

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Math Hacks: How to Think Faster and Solve Problems Quicker

Do you ever wish you could solve math problems faster and more efficiently? If so, you’re not alone. Many students struggle with math and would like to have a better understanding of the subject. Fortunately, there are some proven techniques that can help you think faster, work more accurately, and solve math problems more quickly. This guide will provide you with some basic tips on how to maximize your performance in mathematics.

Using Technology

how to solve problems faster

Source: businessinsider.com

The use of technology can be especially useful when working through math problems. From scientific calculators and apps to computer programs, there are many resources that can help you think faster and solve problems quicker.

Scientific calculators are great for doing calculations on the fly, while a graphing calculator helps identify patterns in data. Apps like CameraMath and programs provide step-by-step tutorials and allow you to explore concepts quickly. They often have interactive features that require you to type in your own expressions, allowing you to quickly explore several different options and arrive at a satisfactory solution.

Computer software may be the best resource for solving complex equations or visualizing data sets in two or three dimensions. With the help of software like this, it is possible to automate much of the work that goes into solving tough math problems, from performing tedious calculations to categorizing related topics into helpful visual graphs. Allowing technology to do some of the heavy liftings can help free up your own mental energy so you can focus on finding patterns within data sets and developing creative solutions for more challenging mathematics tasks.

Problem-Solving Strategies

how to solve problems faster

Source: oneeducation.org.uk

First, it is important to identify the problem and break it down into its component parts. Analyze the data available on the subject and ask relevant questions about them in order to gain a more thorough understanding of the elements comprising it. This may help by leading a person towards recognizing relevant information that can be used in solving the problem or by enabling them to create hypotheses as potential solutions.

Guessing and checking, looking at concrete examples and identifying counter-examples, or generating new possibilities are all helpful methods when formulating hypotheses or answering questions relating to the data set.

When evaluating a hypothesis or considering alternatives, numerical estimation techniques may be of use. This involves using existing numbers that one is familiar with in order to process information faster or simulates an answer in light of restricted time constraints. Comparing possible outcomes alongside relative directions is also beneficial when trying to make an accurate guess.

Along these lines, charts and diagrams are great visual tools for simplifying complex ideas quickly for improved comprehension as well as aiding one’s memory recall in faster identification of problems; this could be especially useful when dealing with multi-step equations or trying breaking large cohesive units into manageable bits.

Finally, if complex calculations are required during lengthy exercise tests one’s mental capacities then expressions such as mnemonics (anagrams) can help greatly by providing easier recall while attempting various problems at once under time pressure so corrections may be implemented without too much ado if achieving accuracy is important.

Math Shortcuts

how to solve problems faster

Source: dkfindout.com

Studying math shortcuts can result in dramatic increases in speed and precision when working with problem-solving. Here are some examples of common shortcuts used throughout mathematics:

  • Estimation: Estimation is a way of using educated guessing to quickly determine an accurate answer without one hundred percent precision. In many cases, it can be used as a substitute for precise calculation, allowing for faster problem-solving.
  • Memorization: Memorizing certain formulas or equations can assist in solving problems quickly by eliminating guessing or long calculations and by helping you focus on applying them appropriately. Besides reducing overall time, memorization also helps increase general understanding because fundamental principles must be kept in mind even as shortcuts are employed.
  • Algorithm: An algorithm functions as a formula — it offers steps that methodically provide results like complex equations, but for different types of problems; this combines logic and math to save processing time and reduce guesswork when approaching logical issues.
  • Graphical Calculation: Graphical calculation is making use of graphs instead of algebraic operations to solve problems; its advantage lies in quick visual processing instead of employing computations when answering set questions.

Whether you’re a student struggling with calculus or a professional seeking to improve your math skills, resources like plainmath.net can provide you with helpful tips and tricks to help you think faster and solve problems quicker.

Memory Techniques

how to solve problems faster

Source: meer.com

Memory techniques are methods for improving the recall of information and skills. Having a good memory is essential for mastering math and problem-solving tasks, and developing strong memory skills across all areas of your life. Memory techniques can help boost your memory power and you may even find that using memorization tricks can enhance your understanding of mathematical concepts in general.

For example, the Method of Loci is a technique that can help encode information in a way that helps with its recall. This technique involves creating mental images or “loci” to link items to a familiar environment such as your house or office. Through this method, you create vivid images around specific items which makes it easier to remember where you placed them later on by visualizing the associated scenario.

The Mnemonic Linking Method is another useful memorization tool that presents the material as a story or series of events so it becomes easier to remember later on. This mental image approach uses linking words and phrases from numerous topics to connect one idea to other memories already stored in our brain, making it much easier for us to capture and retain information over time quickly.

Finally, The Peg System works by associating specific topics with everyday items or numbers so they become easier to recall shortly thereafter. The rhymes used are also known as pegs because they deposit data into our memory container like pegs on a clothesline would hang clothes onto poles. All these memorization systems work well when used repeatedly over time helping you improve the speed with unfamiliar math problems faster than before without having to rely solely on the brute force approach.

In summary, the key to thinking faster and solving problems more quickly is to stay organized, use diagrams, stick to the question at hand, keep track of your definitions and ideas, and practice as much as you can.

With these valuable tips in mind, you’ll be able to confidently approach any math problem that comes your way. Don’t be discouraged by challenging problems; instead, break them down into component parts and work through it in a step-by-step manner.

And remember – with enough practice and patience anyone can become proficient in mathematics.

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How your development team can solve any problem fast: A proven framework

how to solve problems faster

If you work in development, your work is mostly about solving problems. So if you find the most effective way to solve any problem, you will be infinitely more effective. 

In this blog post you will learn a structured way to approach any development-related problem. You will be able to create just the right environment where solutions come easy. 

Let’s begin by outlining what it is you need to do, and then we will dig into each item in turn. 

This is our framework for solving any problem effectively. You need to:

Step away from everyday things

Engage others in a safe atmosphere

Identify and focus on the critical part

Use a disciplined problem-solving approach

1. Step away from everyday things

To work on a problem, you need to think. People cannot think when they are stressed. We are still animals, and stress has evolved over hundreds of millions of years to prepare us for action. 

We do not think well under stress, so the first thing you need for effective problem solving is to create an environment where you can think without stress.

Tips on how to achieve this:

Turn off or remove distractions, such as phones, computers, and Slack.

Go to a quiet place where you are not interrupted by others.

Timebox your problem solving. You cannot focus for more than 45 minutes. Book time in your calendar to work on the problem.

Make a mental promise to dedicate the time. Return to other tasks after the thinking time is up.

Ritualize your thinking. You can have a chair for thinking, music for thinking, and a beverage for thinking. This is highly personal. Search for a place, time, and environment that you notice encourages you to think effectively without thinking about the other everyday tasks you will return to shortly.

If you want to dive deeper into this, I recommend the book The Road Less Stupid: Advice from the Chairman of the Board. Here is a link .

2. Engage others in a safe atmosphere

Have you ever noticed that when you talk to somebody about a problem, things suddenly become clearer?  

Research has shown that talking to others about a problem that is troubling us, vents our feelings about the issue. Even if we engineers think we are robots and do not react to problems with feelings, it is still in there. You may feel pressure or anxiety about an issue. Talking to others allows you to share and expose your feelings. You reduce stress, stop thinking with your lizard brain, and start thinking more analytically.

The second reason for involving others in problem-solving is simple: More brains, more viewpoints, and more opportunities to critically review assumptions and probabilities. More diverse thinking sheds more light on the problem.

The challenge with involving others is to do it in a safe atmosphere. You do not want more “senior” team members to dominate or overshadow the opinions of less distinguished participants. This is why it is important for the team lead to use proper language and set an example with her behavior. You may want to consider coaching the more senior team members to try to stay silent and give room for the more junior members to participate.

3. Identify the critical part of the problem

If the problem is part of a larger “wall of problems”, it is easy to get distracted or overwhelmed. You start to not only think of the current problem, but you also start to think of all the other problems that you need to solve after this one. This distracts you from finding the optimal solution.

If you need to build a wall from thousands of bricks, the amount of work is intimidating. You get so stressed, that laying even one brick becomes difficult. So focus on the one brick you are holding, and lay it. That is the only problem.

Of course, you need to consider the other things that affect the problem you are solving. But you need to identify the main problem to solve. Do not accept a suboptimal solution to the main problem, even if that would mean that other problems are easier.

A small example of choosing the right problem to focus on 

Suppose you need to go to work in another city. The move itself is stressful. Packing all your belongings, finding a place to live, renting a truck to move your stuff, getting the kids to a new school. What about hobbies? Where do you start? All the other problems start to influence the first problem to solve. Perhaps the first problem to solve is where you will live.

Choosing a new home is a big decision. If you allow the other problems to dictate a timeline for solving this problem, you may choose a home that ends up not serving your long-term needs. You might jump at a chance to buy a property that is available right now but may come with additional complications later. 

4. Find a disciplined problem-solving approach

A common mistake with problem solving is jumping to conclusions with insufficient data. If you are a software development team, you are faced with two kinds of problems: 

Design problems for new features

Bug-fixing problems 

Especially for bug fixing, it is easy for the developers to hack their way through the issue. 

“Why does this happen?”

“I have no idea, it works on my machine”

“Lets try this” 

“Okay that seemed to work” 

If your team wants to be more structured, you need to actually understand the problem. To do that, there are a couple of approaches:

  • The 8D problem solving process  
  • The six-step systematic problem solving model (my personal favorite)

The actual solution is often the easy part. The hard part is finding the root cause. 

Develop a habit in your team to collect the right information about bugs. Especially explore the changes in the system at the time of the first instance of the problem. When did the problem surface? What happened just before it?

Another important and often overlooked aspect is – where does the problem NOT occur when it SHOULD occur? It is easy to focus too much on the environment where the problem happens. But it is as important to look at situations and environments where the problem should exist but does not. Comparing these two environments can give you great insight into the root cause.

Effective problem-solving skills can be coached

With better problem-solving skills, your development team becomes a lot faster and more efficient. So use the methods in this blog post in your own problem solving, but also consider teaching them to your development teams. 

By reducing stress, involving others, focusing on the correct thing, and using a disciplined problem-solving framework, development will be faster and smoother. If you need help coaching these concepts, Eficode can help. 

Published: October 13, 2022

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Coaching for Leaders

Leaders Aren't Born, They're Made

333: How to Solve Problems Faster, with Greg Hall

The more data can bring to a problem...the better we're able to see the solution.

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Greg Hall: Fix Your System

Greg Hall has 20 years experience as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Director of Data Analytics for a Fortune 500 company. He coaches business owners and executives to capture personal data analytics to achieve goals and reduce the stress that comes from sustained productivity.

  • The more data we can bring to a problem, the better we’re able to see the solution. “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.”
  • Before jumping into a problem you need to invest time to gather information about it.
  • An easy way to start with personal data analytics is to just write down the time and the activity. And when you switch activities, update the record.
  • You can’t create a budget if you don’t know how much you’re spending. It’s the same thing with planning: how can you plan if you don’t where you’re spending your time.
  • First, assess how much work you have. Then, honestly ask yourself how much capacity for work you have.
  • The hard work of fixing a problem is defining it well.
  • You can’t plan out your interruptions, but you can plan for them: you don’t know when they’ll happen, but you do know how often they tend to happen and how long they typically take.

Resources Mentioned

  • How to Stop Worrying and Start Living * by Dale Carnegie

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Building Problem-Solving Skills Through ‘Speed Dating’

When students solve each other’s problems, they gain confidence in their own skills and witness the power of collaboration in real time.

When English language arts teacher Cathleen Beachboard was trying to come up with new ways of encouraging her students at Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Virginia, to be solution-oriented, she noticed that while kids often get stuck on their own problems, they are quick to find solutions to other people’s. Her husband jokingly said, ”Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just speed-date problems?” And the problem speed-dating activity was born. Beachboard has used this quick and simple strategy in her classes ever since. 

“Today we were working on argumentative writing. But you could use this in any scenario, in any classroom, for any stuck point that the kids are having with any piece of content,” she says.

In addition to hearing multiple ideas for solutions to their problems, kids get to know each other—and learn to see each other as experts in the room.

“Problem speed dating ultimately teaches them that as a society or as a person, you’re not alone,” Beachboard says. “And reaching out to others is important because that’s where the magic happens. It happens when we use each other and we use the strength that every person has.”

Learn more about Beachboard’s teaching strategies from her posts for Edutopia , or check out her book, The School of Hope .

Fauquier High School

Guiding Tech

We explain and teach technology, solve tech problems and help you make gadget buying decisions.

What Is Bionic Reading and How to Use It

Reading has played a massive role in helping us gain information and improve our imagination. However, if you have ADHD or dyslexia or feel that your reading speed could use improvement, Bionic Reading is for you. With everything improving, shouldn’t reading also get one?

what is Bionic Reading

If reading takes time in your routine and you want to reduce it, you should know what bionic reading is and how to use it to improve productivity and reading comprehension and save time. We will guide you through all the necessary information, including how to use it on your devices. Let’s start!

What Is Bionic Reading

Before we look at how to use bionic reading, let us know more about it. Swiss developer Renato Casuut created it to make reading easier. With this technique, your eyes can quickly peruse the texts with the help of artificial fixation points. Confused? Don’t worry, take a look at the picture below:

How to Use Bionic Reading

In this picture, the first three letters of the word Guiding are in bold, and so are Tech’s first two letters . These bold words are those artificial fixation points we mentioned earlier. With this technique, when your eyes focus on the bold part of the word, your brain can complete the rest without even fully reading them.

As you can guess, this will help you read faster and, thus, save time (the time to read the whole word) while consuming the same information. Here are some more bionic reading examples:

bionic reading

Benefits of Bionic Reading

  • Improved Reading Speed and Efficiency:  It is said that bionic reading could potentially allow users to read at a faster pace and process information more efficiently.
  • Accessibility: It is helpful for users with visual impairments or reading disabilities, with the help of screen readers, text-to-speech tools, or other assistive devices.
  • Customization: It facilitates users to customize their reading experience by adjusting the text, font, background color, and other elements.

use Bionic Reading extension benefits

Disadvantages of Bionic Reading

  • Learning curve: It requires some time to get used to bionic reading. If you are not interested in investing some minutes of the day to learn this new technique, it might not be for you.
  • Dependency on Technology: More reliance on bionic reading tools might lead to decreased traditional reading skills and a dependency on technology for understanding and processing information.
  • Distraction: Instead of doing good, it might cause issues. Incorporating bold and light text together might slow the reading speed for some and irritate the eyes.

using Bionic Reading extension disadvantages 1

How to Use Bionic Reading

Now that you have decided to use the feature, we have mentioned how you can do so, depending on the device.

On PC and Mac

Step 1: Open Chrome or any other Chromium-based browser that supports the Chrome web store.

Tip: Here are some of the best Chromium-based browsers for Windows

Step 2: Install the Bionic Reading extension using the link below.

Install Bionic Reading Extension

Step 3: Hit ‘Add to Chrome’ and select Add extension to confirm.

Tip: Once installed, it’s best to pin the extension for easy access.

Choose Add to Chrome 1

Step 4: Now, open the webpage you want to convert. Next, hit the Bionic Reading extension icon.

select the extension icon at the top

This will reload the current page in a new bionic  reader mode  format. From here, you can customize certain features, including font size, style, and background colors.

You can also download the Windows and Mac apps using the link below.

Download Bionic Reader for Windows and Mac

On Smartphone

Bionic Reader also offers a dedicated app for both iOS and Android. You can download it from the link below.

Download Bionic Reader

Once you open the app, there are three ways to access it. You can follow the one that suits you.

1. Convert the Text: This will be the first option available in the app. Paste the text you want to convert and tap Process.

choose text paste the text and then tap Proceed

2. Website:   As you can guess, paste the link of the article or webpage you want to convert and hit the process button.

choose website and then paste the link

3. File:  You can only use this feature if you have subscribed to the premium plan. However, once subscribed, you can upload and convert the text.

Remember that certain features apart from converting a document are locked behind the premium version. This includes the customization option, free for the Google Chrome extension version.

FAQ on Bionic Reading

There is no official way to convert all the text on your device to a bionic reading style. However, you can still use the methods mentioned in this guide to convert text, articles, and documents.

Read Faster

Now that you know everything about Bionic Reading, we would like to know your experience with it in the comments below. You can also try your hands on these websites and apps to download audiobooks for free to complete books faster and meet your reading goals.

Last updated on 16 November, 2023

The above article may contain affiliate links which help support Guiding Tech. However, it does not affect our editorial integrity. The content remains unbiased and authentic.

how to solve problems faster


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Anoop Varghese

Anoop is a tech nerd at heart with a focus on preparing guides surrounding Android and Windows devices primarily. His work has been featured in many publications, including iGeeksBlog, TechPP, and 91mobiles. When he's not writing, you can find him on X (formerly Twitter), where he shares the latest updates on tech, science, and more.

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Healing the 'Invisible Ache' behind the suicide crisis among Black men and boys

Headshot of Tonya Mosley.

Tonya Mosley

The Invisible Ache, by Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Robin L. Smith

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline .

Actor Courtney B. Vance was a young actor on Broadway in the 1990s when he received a call from his mother that would tear his world apart: His father was dead, she said, by suicide. Years later, Vance's godson, a promising college student, would also die by suicide.

In the wake of these devastating losses, Vance has focused on peeling back the layers of both his father's pain and his own struggles as a Black man in America. In a new book, The Invisible Ache, Vance and psychologist Robin L. Smith (who often goes by Dr. Robin) explore the trauma unique to Black men and boys, and address what they see as an urgent need to change the conversation about mental health.

Reach out and listen: How to help someone at risk of suicide

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Reach out and listen: how to help someone at risk of suicide.

"[With] Black boys and Black men, the rates of suicide is increasing," Smith says. "The rate is accelerating faster than any other group in the country, in the United States. And so we have to ask why."

Smith points to a modern culture of isolation and loneliness, which the surgeon general has referred to as a public health emergency . But, she adds, those factors are compounded for Black men and boys.

how to solve problems faster

Courtney B. Vance is an award-winning actor, known for his roles in The Hunt For Red October, The Preacher's Wife, The People v. O.J. Simpson and Lovecraft Country. Matthew Jordan Smith/Hatchette hide caption

Courtney B. Vance is an award-winning actor, known for his roles in The Hunt For Red October, The Preacher's Wife, The People v. O.J. Simpson and Lovecraft Country.

"If we then put race and racism with isolation and loneliness, surely we understand that Black boys and Black men are up against historical trauma as well as current-day trauma," Smith says.

Though the book is focused on the mental health of Black boys and men, Vance says the issue has universal implications: "We are all interconnected. ... My ache is your ache. If I'm aching, [and] you [are] clutching your purse as I walk by, you're aching. You're as much in a prison as I am," he says.

Interview highlights

On Vance's father

Vance: He was my hero, and he was the smartest man in the room and was able to talk on any topic, which was very intimidating to me.

Smith : His father is still his hero. His father did not lose his stature because he died by suicide. And I think it's really important for us to know that when we understand that someone had a struggle that we didn't know anything about, that we don't need to punish them or ourselves for the mystery of what was unknown.

On the silence around suicide and mental health

how to solve problems faster

Robin L. Smith (aka "Dr. Robin") is a licensed psychologist, New York Times best-selling author, and talk show host. She's known for her regular appearances as the on-air therapist for The Oprah Winfrey Show. Nick Onken/Hatchette hide caption

Robin L. Smith (aka "Dr. Robin") is a licensed psychologist, New York Times best-selling author, and talk show host. She's known for her regular appearances as the on-air therapist for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Smith: We hear the old adage that silence is golden, [but] we often don't hear the times in which silence is deadly, because there is so much moving in the inner world of a person. And if they feel isolated, if they feel that there is no safe place to explore and express what's going on inside, that manifests in lots of ways. And one of those could be suicidal thoughts. It could be thoughts that life is too much. And if you're living in that silence and isolation by yourself, it can take you to very dark and scary places.

On the shame around suicide

Acting Is 'Problem Solving,' Says Courtney B. Vance

Acting Is 'Problem Solving,' Says Courtney B. Vance

Smith: [The term] "committed suicide" is like a crime. Suicide is not a crime. It's an act of desperation. It's an act of running out of steam and hope. "HOPE" is an acronym that we use for "Hold On, Pain Ends." But if I don't know that the pain is going to end, if I think whether I am a young Black boy or an older Black man, that there's no way out except death to bring relief and release, the truth of the matter is that's a prison of a different kind, and so the shame is so misdirected.

On skepticism in the Black community about therapy

Smith: When I think of the disservice that that [skepticism] has perpetuated in men and particularly Black men, that "I don't want anybody to get in my head," "I don't want anyone in my business," "I don't want anyone messing with my mind." "I don't need any of that because I've got this." So all of those messages are conditioned responses to trauma and to dis- and mis-information. If you understood that you were whole and whole people need other people who are safe to explore their internal worlds, you wouldn't need the defense that you don't want anyone getting close. ...

A survivor of multiple suicide attempts explains 'How Not to Kill Yourself'

Mental Health

A survivor of multiple suicide attempts explains 'how not to kill yourself'.

So when you talk about stigma for therapy — that therapy is for white people, for rich people, for sick people — not only is that not true, therapy ... at its best, it's an opportunity to be in a safe space and [to] overhear the conversation that you've been having with yourself all of your life, but it's never been safe to listen.

On the trauma of living in a racist society

Smith: If you go into a store and someone is following you around simply because of the melanin in your skin, that is a traumatic moment. It's a traumatic event.

The Compounding Effects Of Racial Trauma, A Year After George Floyd's Murder

The Compounding Effects Of Racial Trauma, A Year After George Floyd's Murder

If ... a Black boy ends up being chased or shot and killed, too often, this is about: How is it that Black boys are often seen as scary and dangerous, even when they are 6 or 7 or 10? The experience that the white world has of them is their skin color and their gender, [which], put together, creates a level of fear. So that person who I'm describing, who is pathologized and demonized, can ingest that as if those lies are true and then never expose and be treated for what it has cost them to be Black and male in America.

On needing to go deep within himself

Vance: There's a mathematical formula for as high as you want a building to go, you have to go a certain amount of feet deep. And if you want to later on try to add to the height, you cannot do it. You have to tear that building down and go deeper into the ground. So if you want to go higher, you must go deeper. And I want to go higher. And it's going to cost me something. Everything that's worth doing costs you something. And just because it's hard work doesn't mean there's something wrong. It just means it does work. You got to go through it.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Carmel Wroth adapted it for the web.

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We No Longer Need a Big Carrier’s Wireless Plan. Discount Ones Are the Way.

We are overpaying for phone plans from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Budget wireless services, similarly fast and robust, can save thousands.

In a colorful, collage-like illustration, a yellow cellphone on the left is held by two hands, and a head in the foreground on the right is viewed from a rear angle.

By Brian X. Chen

Before becoming the personal tech columnist for The Times, Brian X. Chen was a beat reporter covering phone carriers.

Americans have long been conditioned to believe that when they buy a cellphone, the next step is to pick a wireless plan from one of the big carriers: Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile. With their plans ranging from $60 to $200 a month for individuals and families, the price of a phone is soon eclipsed by the recurring service bills .

What if I told you that it no longer had to be this way?

Your phone bill could shrink to as little as $25 a month if you picked a wireless plan from a lesser-known service provider known as a discount carrier. The cheaper plans, based on my tests, offer sufficiently fast internet speeds and reliable phone service. It takes some courage and technological know-how to make the switch, but the potential savings outweigh the downsides.

On the surface, these budget carriers, which include Cricket Wireless , Straight Talk , Boost Mobile , Mint Mobile and Visible , lack a cool factor. They do not operate their own cell networks; instead, they lease wireless services from the big carriers and market them toward retirees. The no-frill plans often have trade-offs, including slower download speeds, since Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers have priority access to faster network performance.

Yet in the past few years, so much has changed that I can now confidently recommend discount phone plans for most people, including white-collar professionals and Instagram-obsessed youths. Here’s why:

Cellular networks have peaked. Newer 5G and 4G cell technology is so fast that even budget carriers can provide very fast download speeds — zippy enough to stream video, load maps and download apps — even if they are somewhat slower than what the Big Three provide.

The shift to hybrid work. Office workers who used to spend more time commuting and had to rely on their cellular network now have their commute time cut in half and are relying more on the Wi-Fi connection at their home or office cubicle for making video calls and sending messages. That means slower cellular performance on a budget carrier may be unnoticeable.

You can try a discount carrier without breaking up with your big carrier. The eSIM, the digital version of the SIM card that carries your phone number, is now common on many modern smartphones. It lets you immediately activate an extra phone line without needing to insert a physical SIM card, which makes experimenting with an off-brand wireless service easier and less intimidating.

Once you have converted to a discount phone plan, the savings add up quickly. A family of four buying new iPhones with a Cricket phone plan would spend $3,762 over two years, $1,311 less than they would spend with Verizon, according to an analysis by WalletHub, a personal finance research firm .

“The negative perception around budget plans is fading,” Cassandra Happe, an analyst for WalletHub, said. “Now they’re seen as a smart choice for everyone. People are realizing you can get a great phone plan without spending a fortune.”

To put discount phone carriers to the test, I activated three services — Visible, Cricket and Straight Talk — on an iPhone. In various locations in California, I ran speed tests, made phone calls and used apps like maps, YouTube and TikTok. For comparisons, I ran the same tests on my Verizon connection.

The discount carriers were, on average, up to 46 percent slower than my Verizon connection. That sounds like a lot, but in real-world tests, I didn’t notice a difference — my apps worked fine, and videos streamed smoothly.

Here’s how the setup and testing process went.

Buying and activating a discount phone plan

Consumers can sign up for discount phone plans by buying a physical SIM card from a website or retail store, though I recommend eSIM as the way. The digital SIM card saves time — and because you can install multiple eSIMs at the same time, you can try a discount carrier and compare it with the performance of your big carrier before deciding on a plan.

The steps for setting up an eSIM vary somewhat from carrier to carrier, but the process is fundamentally consistent: You buy a phone plan through a brand’s website or app and click a button or scan a bar code to activate the service.

Visible charged $25 a month for a plan that included unlimited data; Straight Talk charged $35 a month for a plan with 10 gigabytes of high-speed internet; and Cricket charged $40 — $10 to activate the eSIM and $30 for a monthly plan that included five gigabytes of data.

Visible, which is owned by Verizon, had the smoothest setup. Its mobile app let me buy a phone plan using Apple Pay and tap a few buttons to activate service. With Straight Talk and Cricket, I perused the websites to find their eSIM offerings. I ran into problems with Cricket, which emailed a broken web link to activate my plan; it took me about 20 minutes to find a tool on its website to manually activate my service.

My iPhone could hold up to eight eSIMs, so I installed all three plans and toggled among them for each test.

I drove to 10 locations, including hiking trails, shopping centers and wineries, in California. At each location, I used the Speedtest app to test each carrier’s internet speed, and I called my very patient wife and streamed video on apps like TikTok and YouTube.

Broadly speaking, the discount phone services performed fine. They were occasionally sluggish when loading videos on TikTok, but my Verizon connection had similar delays.

Based on the results measured with the Speedtest app, Cricket and Visible had comparable performances, with download speeds of 154 megabits per second, on average. Straight Talk delivered speeds of 279 megabits per second — similar to my Verizon connection, which delivered download speeds of 287 megabits per second.

What do those numbers mean? To stream video through apps like Netflix and Hulu, you need a minimum of 25 megabits per second, according to AT&T. So the budget carriers gave me more than enough speed to handle some of the most data-intensive tasks.

Taking the leap

Among the three discount carriers, my favorite was Visible because of its smooth setup process and consistent network performance. Visible was also more transparent with its billing in emailed receipts. Straight Talk never emailed me a receipt. I was turned off by Cricket’s clunky website and the $10 fee for activating an eSIM, which was not a charge the other two carriers required.

Angie Klein, president of the Verizon Value organization, which oversees Visible, said its budget plans were designed for tech-savvy customers who wanted a single line, and Verizon’s traditional wireless plans were a full-service experience with more perks. Straight Talk and Cricket did not respond to requests for comment.

On the whole, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all recommendation. As with the big carriers, cellular performance for each discount carrier will vary depending on the network’s coverage where you live and work.

But because eSIM technology makes it easy to switch to another network — and the discount phone plans are cheap — it would be foolish to pass on the opportunity to give a budget phone plan a try.

Last year, Robin Phillips, a 54-year-old Seattle resident who works in food distribution, broke up with Verizon to try Visible. He ran into hiccups. The wireless service initially would not activate, and the customer support agents, available only through a chat app, were unhelpful.

But he said he didn’t regret the switch. Visible’s service began working after a day, and he pays $25 a month, down from the $70 that he used to pay for a Verizon plan. His wife also converted.

“Is it worth it?” he said. “We’re saving about $1,000 a year. I’ll deal with the hassle for that.”

Brian X. Chen is the lead consumer technology writer for The Times. He reviews products and writes Tech Fix , a column about the social implications of the tech we use. More about Brian X. Chen

Tech Fix: Solving Your Tech Problems

Brian x. chen, our lead consumer technology writer, looks at the societal implications of the tech we use..

‘Free’ iPhone Promotions:  The so-called iPhone giveaways marketed by Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T can make customers spend more on perks they don’t need .

Google’s Pixel 8:  The smartphone lets you use A.I. to add or remove elements from your images. It’s not clear we really need this .

Meta’s Quest 3:  The headset lets people see the outside world while immersed in virtual reality. The benefits are to be determined .

‘What Did He Just Say?’:  Dialogue on streaming platforms is rarely crisp and clear because of myriad factors at play. Here are some ways to improve your experience .

Venmo:  The mobile wallet service is a cautionary tale of how apps may be exposing more information than you would like. Here is how to protect your data .

Weather Tech: If you live in an area that’s prone to extreme weather events, it helps to be ready. These apps and tools can help .

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Get ready to meet your Quantum Health care coordinators

The problem-solving, frustration-fighting people are on a mission to simplify your health care.

A smiling customer representative wearing a phone headset talks with a client.


By HR NewsWire

As announced before Annual Enrollment , all Johns Hopkins employees with CareFirst medical plans in 2024 will be automatically enrolled in Quantum Health and have free access to its health care navigators.

Think of Quantum Health care coordinators as your personal team of nurses, benefits experts, and claims specialists who will do all they can to support your unique health care needs. Each time you contact Quantum Health, you'll speak with a person who understands your benefits and knows how to navigate the health care system.

From replacing ID cards to dealing with more complicated matters such as claim resolutions, no request is too big or too small for the care coordinators. Quantum Health is your one resource to contact when you need help with your medical matters, pharmacy benefits, and much more. Empowered and resourceful, care coordinators can:

  • Get answers to claims, billing, and benefits questions
  • Find in-network providers
  • Verify coverage and get prior approval, if needed
  • Contact providers to coordinate your treatment
  • Review your care options
  • Replace ID cards

And you don't have to wait until January to ask for assistance. Starting Dec. 1, you can contact Quantum Health care coordinators at 844-460-2801, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., to help you navigate your 2024 health care benefits.

A dedicated website for JHU employees—jhu.quantum-health.com—launches Jan. 1, 2024.

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How to Fix Slow Computers

Last Updated: March 29, 2022

This article was co-authored by Gonzalo Martinez . Gonzalo Martinez is the President of CleverTech, a tech repair business in San Jose, California founded in 2014. CleverTech LLC specializes in repairing Apple products. CleverTech pursues environmental responsibility by recycling aluminum, display assemblies, and the micro components on motherboards to reuse for future repairs. On average, they save 2 lbs - 3 lbs more electronic waste daily than the average computer repair store. This article has been viewed 184,218 times.

Is your computer running slower than molasses in January? If so, or if you just want a speed boost, there's a variety of tricks and optimizations you can perform to help increase your speed. Most of these tricks are free, and will only require a few minutes of your time. See Step 1 below to learn how to speed up both Windows and Mac computers.

Step 1 Run virus and...

  • Removing viruses can be a difficult process, and oftentimes it may be easier to simply backup and reinstall your operating system instead of trying to track it down and eliminate it.

Step 2 Check your hard...

  • You can run error-checking tools using the built-in Disk Management utility, or you can download more extensive programs that can perform a variety of tests on your hard drive.

Step 3 Clean up your...

  • Even if you use a program often, it doesn't necessarily need to start up with the computer. Most programs will work fine if you start them up later, so you don't need to clog up your startup sequence with a bunch of programs.

Step 4 Clean up hard drive

  • CCleaner is a very powerful hard drive cleaning program. The basic version is free and can quickly analyze your computer and clean out unused files and registry entries.
  • Uninstalling old programs is a great way to keep your computer performing well. Many programs run in the background and start up with your computer. If you're not using these programs, they're taking up resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Step 5 Check for misbehaving...

  • You can see what programs are hogging all of your resources by using the Task Manager. Look for programs that are taking 90% or more of your CPU or are taking the majority of your available memory. You can end these programs from the Task Manager if they're not critical.

Step 6 Install more memory...

  • RAM is one of the cheaper upgrade options available, and you can have it installed in just a few minutes.
  • When installing desktop memory, you almost always will be installing in pairs. Both sticks will need to be the same manufacturer, model, size, and speed. If they do not match, your RAM will be clocked down to the lowest speed and your computer might not start.
  • Most RAM is sold in pairs. Laptops generally have much less breathing room when it comes to upgrading RAM.

Step 7 Install a faster...

  • If you are upgrading the hard drive that your operating system is installed on, you will need to reinstall your operating system.
  • SSDs are typically much more expensive per GB than a standard hard drive, and as such they are generally smaller. A popular setup is to install your operating system and essential programs on the SSD, and then use a larger standard hard drive for media and document storage. This will give you very fast operating system speeds, and you won't have to worry about the smaller size.

Step 8 Reinstall or upgrade...

  • If you can, try to format and reinstall your operating system at least once per year. This will ensure that your computer is always running at optimal speed.
  • Many people are put off by the thought of the time investment needed for reinstalling their operating system. If you have a good backup system already in place, you can have your computer formatted and your operating system reinstalled in about an hour. When it comes to reinstalling your old programs, you'll probably find that you actually used less than you thought.

Step 1 Review your startup...

  • Many programs attach themselves to your startup process but don't actually need to start with your computer. Most programs will run fine if you open them later, speeding up the time it takes your computer to start up.

Step 2 Clean up the hard drive

  • There are several programs available for Mac that can make cleaning up and maintaining your hard drive much easier, such as OnyX, CleanMyMac, and MacKeeper. These allow you to see exactly what types of files are taking up the most space, allowing you to quickly remove files you no longer need.

Step 3 Check for misbehaving...

  • Processes that are taking the majority of your CPU or memory will have a big impact on your computer's performance. Use the columns in Activity Monitor to determine the offending programs.

Step 4 Reinstall OS X...

  • Take stock of the programs you actually use. You may find after reinstalling that you use less programs than you thought you did, meaning more free space and less time spent reinstalling programs.

Step 5 Upgrade your hardware

  • RAM can be installed in just a few minutes, on both desktops and MacBooks. Different systems require different types of RAM, so be sure to check the documentation for your Mac to see what kind you should get and how much the computer supports.

Expert Q&A

Gonzalo Martinez

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  • ↑ Gonzalo Martinez. Computer Repair Technician. Expert Interview. 25 July 2019.

About This Article

Gonzalo Martinez

If your computer isn’t quite as fast as it used to be, try running virus and malware scans to get rid of any unwanted software that might be bogging down your CPU and hard disc. You should always have a lightweight antivirus program installed, like BitDefender or Avast, to catch these issues as they pop up. While you’re cleaning out unwanted programs, you should also clean up your hard drive and remove any old programs and files you don’t use any more. Always make sure you have at least 25% of your hard drive free to allow programs to read and write quickly. If nothing’s working, consider doing a “factory reset” to wipe your computer completely clean. Before you do this, just make sure you have any important files backed up on an external hard drive. For more tips, including how to check for malfunctioning programs, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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