John Addison: 3 Ways to Solve Problems and Make Things Happen (Right Now)

UPDATED: June 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 15, 2016

People do not love traveling with me because I never check a suitcase. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or how long I’m going to be there, I’ll do the entire trip with a duffel bag. You see, when I get off a plane, I don’t want to stand around waiting. I’m ready to go. I may not know where I’m going, but I’m going to get there (or somewhere) fast.

I tend to take the same approach when I tackle a problem. I don’t want to sit around planning how I’m going to solve something. I just want to deal with it right away. Today. In this moment. Wine gets better with age. Problems don’t. I’d rather deal with something unpleasant now, even if I don’t have a clear plan than sit around and let it fester and grow into something that’s going to be a lot harder to solve down the road. Plus, as leaders, we don’t have the luxury of sitting in the corner whining about how awful things are. People are depending on us, and we’ve got to constantly be in motion, putting out fires.

Not everyone shares my line of thinking. I am continually amazed at the lengths people will go to in order to avoid dealing with the pressing issues right in their face. I don’t know if it’s because they are trying to focus on what they hope is a brighter future or if it’s because they hope things will just sort themselves out. Whatever their reasoning, they are asking for trouble. I get that when you’re the leader, your cup seems to runneth over with problems that need handling right now and it’s overwhelming. But, it won’t be less overwhelming tomorrow or the next day. And, with a little adjustment to your thinking, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming today, either.

Related: ‘Leadership Leads You to Be Overwhelmed. That’s Just a Fact of Life’

1. Make a “Today Box.”

When I visited the Cabinet War Rooms, the underground complex where Churchill ran Britain’s efforts in World War II, I was struck by something I saw still preserved on his desk. Instead of having an inbox, Churchill had an “Action This Day” box. Whether it was five o’clock in the evening or 2:30 in the morning, Churchill did not leave his desk until everything in that box was complete. And that’s how he worked every day.

Obviously none of us are the prime minister of a country at the height of a world war, whose avoidance of issues could lead to the end of the world as millions of people know it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work like one. After my visit to the Cabinet War Rooms, I definitely incorporated Churchill’s approach into my daily routine. I wasn’t always successful, but I still had way fewer headaches by tackling as much as I could before I left work for the day—both at the office and at home. No one is saying you need to stay at work until 2:30 every morning, but you should prioritize the hot, must-handle-right-this-second-or-else items and knock them out today because, really, you have no idea what new set of problems tomorrow is going to bring you.

2. Know the difference between a dream and pipe dream.

There is a big difference between a dream and a pipe dream: A pipe dream isn’t real. What makes a dream real is that the person dreaming knows how to take action and deal with the immediate problems standing in their way. Someone with a pipe dream sits around waiting for someone else to deal with the issues or hopes they will just get resolved on their own.

Don’t be the guy everyone rolls their eyes at and says, “Oh, here he comes another one of his pipe dreams,” every time you open your mouth with an idea or solution. Be a person of action. Be the dreamer who takes all the necessary steps to make their dream a reality.

3. Focus on what you can control.

The overarching theme here has been to be in action. Sitting around fretting about things you can’t control not only takes you out of the action, but it increases the odds of the future you’ve been so busy planning for blowing up right in your face. Yes, you can do some planning for the future, but life is going to throw you a lot of curve balls along the way. There is nothing you can do about it. So don’t focus on it. Instead, focus on doing the best you can with what you’re facing right now—the things you can control—and all the rest is going to fall into place anyway.

Look, reality is life turns on the smallest of decisions and you never know which will be the most significant. So quit talking about what you’re going to do. Quit writing it down. Just go do it. Get after it. Make it happen now. The next problem you tackle may be the one that is going to change your life.

Related: John Addison: When the World Seems Against You, Here Are 4 Tips for Being a Mentally Tough Leader

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose,aWall Street Journal and USA Todaybest-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.