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How I Get Things Done with Only Half of the Time Others Need

How I Get Things Done with Only Half of the Time Others Need

Professionals and entrepreneurs today lead extremely busy lives. Despite the abundance of gadgets, tools, and other technology that can improve productivity, people today are working longer hours[1] than ever – resulting to excessive stress and reduced performance over time.

Whether you’re doing work for a client or pursuing your own projects, you need to be smarter with how you handle tasks to thrive in this competitive world. For this, you need to adopt strategies that can help you stay productive[2] and be efficient with your available resources. Most importantly, always remember that your mind is your greatest weapon – so keep it collected, focused, and organized.

What Is Critical Path Analysis and How It Can Keep You Sharp And Focused

Simply put, Critical Path Analysis (CPA) is a technique that can help you ensure the timely accomplishment of important tasks. In this process, a big goal is broken down into a set of smaller objectives. Afterwards, you must determine the time it takes to accomplish each task and the relationship between them.

In the much simpler method of using a network diagram, you specifically need the earliest start time, latest finish time, and the appropriate sequence in which the tasks must be done.

By gathering these pieces of information, CPA allows you to calculate the maximum amount of time it takes to complete the entire project. This, along with all the tasks required to accomplish the overall goal, constitute what’s known as the critical path. In case a shorter plan is available, it will also enable you to identify tasks that can be delayed or “slacked” on while still staying on schedule.

How You Can Benefit from Using CPA to Tackle Your Daily Complex Tasks

Project managers use CPA all the time when managing and tracking complex tasks, but it can also be applied by everyone in almost any field. All you need to do is to understand its model, know how it works, and learn how to map your CPA diagram. In doing so, you can take advantage of the following benefits:

• As a product manager or a leader, utilizing CPA allows you to stay focused over the course of a project. It helps you stay aware of exactly what everyone needs to do to stay on the right track.

• With the right approach, CPA is an effective risk and cost management[3] tool.

• The timeline determined through CPA can be the basis of future decision-making.

• CPA helps you spot opportunities to make tasks shorter while still accomplishing the same end results. Adjustments can be made by pumping more budget, building a bigger team, or implementing automation[4] and other time-saving strategies.

• Identifying work that can be done simultaneously to eliminate delays in the critical path.

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• A fully-plotted CPA diagram will give you a complete bird’s eye view of a sophisticated project.

Even Though CPA Is a Powerful Tool, You Should Be Aware of These

While CPA can be highly beneficial to any endeavor, it isn’t without a few flaws:

• Plotting projects without sufficient data will force you to depend on assumptions.

• Large-scale projects require you to examine many dependencies, paths, and tasks – making CPA a time-consuming process.

• Even with CPA, you need to be flexible and develop contingency plans.

The Step-by-Step Instruction to Apply the Critical Path Analysis

Below are the important steps for leveraging CPA in your next big project:

1. Enumerating Critical Tasks

Before everything else, you need to identify all the things you need to do to accomplish your goal. For example, if you plan to start a new online store, below are some of the objectives you may need to hit:

A. Pick and research a niche – 1 day

B. Do keyword research – 2 days

C. Conduct surveys for product research – 10 days

D. Conduct online product research – 3 days

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E. Build the site (install WordPress, set up web security, etc.) – 4 days

F. Create content – 10 days

G. Develop and optimize product pages – 20 days

2. Determining Dependencies

Next, you need to map out the sequence of all activities by determining their dependencies. Start with the tasks that must be done first before all the other tasks that lead to the finish line.

For example, you need to do A (pick a niche) first before you do B, C, or D. You must also do E (build the site) first before you begin task F and G. For now, enumerate the dependencies required for each task as they are needed for the next step.

3. Creating a CPA Diagram

The conventions in creating a CPA diagram requires three components – a node, activities, and durations.

A node is usually represented by a circle. It includes the earliest start time (EST), latest finish time (LFT), and an activity number:

    In a CPA network, tasks are indicated by arrows, which connect nodes to determine dependency. Take note that the arrows—not the nodes—represent the tasks you’ve identified earlier. Don’t confuse the activity number with the specific task.

    Here is an illustration to help you understand this:

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      Looking at the example above, task A (pick a niche) is in-between nodes 1 and 2, while task B is in-between nodes 2 and 3. To make sense of the sequence, indicate the task description below the arrow.

      Finally, the duration can be included on the opposite side of the task description. The positions of the description and duration can be interchanged freely.

      4. Calculating the EST

      To determine the EST, you must first lay out the activities from start to finish:

        Remember that the EST denotes the earliest start time for the next task. To calculate this, you must add the total duration of all the previous tasks.

        For example, since task A (pick a niche) has no activity before it, the first node’s EST equals 0. Succeeding task B (do keyword research) will have to wait for task A’s maximum duration. Thus, the next EST equals 1.

        Since task B has a maximum duration of 2 days, then the third EST equals 3 – which is the total duration of tasks A and B (1 day + 2 days). This is because tasks C or D will have to wait for both of A and B’s durations.

          Filling in the EST for the rest of the tasks should look like:

            Take note that, in case there are two preceding tasks in an activity, the one with the longer duration will be used in the critical path. For example, since task C (conduct surveys) has a longer duration than task D (conduct online product research), its duration of 10 days will be used for calculating the next EST. In other words, it will be added to the total duration pool along with the next task’s duration – 3 days + 10 days + 4 days = 17 days.

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            After this, you should be able to plot the critical path, which should have the longest possible duration:

              5. Calculating the LFT

              Once you have identified the EST for all nodes, you can proceed to calculate the LFT. This time, you need to start from the left and subtract the previous task’s duration from the total.

              Always remember that the last node should always have an LFT that equals the total duration of the project, while the first node should always have an LFT of zero. To calculate the next LFT, simply subtract the duration of the previous task from the right node’s EST. Since task G (develop product pages) have a duration of 20 days, and the EST of the last node is 47, then the LFT of the next node to the left will be 20 (47 days – 20 days). If you continue doing this along all paths, you’ll notice that the EST and LFT will be different in points where two or more possible tasks are introduced:

                Remember that when calculating the next LFT, the smallest possible difference will always be used. In the diagram above, the difference between two tasks are 3 (13 EST – 10 days) and 5 (8 EST – 3 days). Since 3 < 5, then the value of the next LFT would be 3.

                In short, it means you need to use the values from the critical path, which will enable the first node to have an LFT of zero.

                6. Calculating the Float

                The float denotes the amount of time a task can be delayed without affecting the timeframe of the entire project. This can be calculated with the simple formula: LFT – duration of previous task – EST of previous node.

                In the example above, the LFT of task D (conduct product research) is 13, its duration is 3 days, and the previous node has an EST of 3. Applying the formula would yield:

                13 (LFT) – 3 days (Duration) – 3 (EST) = 7 days.

                This means you or your team can delay task D for up to a week without affecting the overall duration of the project. Take note that if you apply the same formula to a task within the critical path, you will always get zero because those tasks cannot be delayed.

                Spend A Little Time In Advance, Save Much More In The End

                Ready to take control of your goals? Creating a CPA diagram can be tiresome, but once you have a full view of your project’s timeline, you will feel a wave of motivation and enthusiasm. For your next step, try to use CPA diagram tools like Lucidchart[5] or learn more project management tactics from this post[6] . If the lessons above helped you gain some results, feel free to share your experience in the comments!

                Reference

                More by this author

                Vikas Agrawal

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                Last Updated on February 21, 2019

                How to Stop Information Overload

                How to Stop Information Overload

                Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

                This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

                As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

                But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

                How Serious Is Information Overload?

                The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

                This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

                When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

                We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

                No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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                The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

                That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

                Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

                Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

                But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

                Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

                Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

                When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

                Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

                The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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                You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

                How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

                So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

                1. Set Your Goals

                If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

                Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

                Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

                Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

                2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

                Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

                First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

                If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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                • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
                • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
                • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

                If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

                (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

                And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

                You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

                Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

                3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

                There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

                Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

                Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

                Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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                4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

                Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

                This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

                Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

                The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this:

                Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

                Summing It Up

                As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

                I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

                I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

                More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

                Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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