Implementing the five-minute rule for problem solving gives you a time limit on how long to troubleshoot issues yourself so as not to waste time, money, or resources researching questions your colleagues and peers may already have the answer to.
As professionals we take pride in being diligent, resourceful, and capable in our working environments. Yet, despite years of experience and education, each of us will eventually encounter a problem that stops us dead in our tracks.
How do you solve it? You try approaching it from a different angle, using a different technique, modifying the circumstances, and changing out the variables. But trial and error can soon evolve into “I need to research this,” and before you know it, you’re in the middle of the third webinar with a browsing history full of question marks, and you find yourself trying to remember what your question was in the first place.
Instead of reverting to guessing or embarking on a collegiate-level research expedition, try this:
Look at the clock and give yourself five minutes to solve the problem on your own.
When your five minutes are up, reach out to someone for help.
Your teammates, supervisors, and even subordinates are resources who have experience and viewpoints that can develop solutions far beyond what you may be able to achieve by yourself.
First consider who is available in person, by phone, or through email and determine whether they can respond in a timely manner. From those you are able to contact, consider who has applicable expertise or experience with similar problems, and reach out to them with your issue. Provide this person with a brief background, and frame your questions exactly as you need them to be answered. If your prompts are too vague, you risk doubling unproductive time by repeating explanations and addressing topics other than those that address your targeted dilemma.
Knowing whom to address and what to ask serves as a platform for issue resolution under any circumstances; moreover, it demonstrates confidence in your organization, an understanding of your own abilities, and motivation to solve the problem at hand.