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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

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                Vikas Agrawal

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                Last Updated on October 17, 2018

                7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

                7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

                How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

                If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

                Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

                So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

                1. Meditate

                We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

                Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

                Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

                Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

                Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

                If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

                And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

                2. Get plenty of sleep

                If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

                If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

                How much sleep should you be getting?

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                Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

                Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

                Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

                Yes, there are.

                Try these three things:

                • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
                • Don’t eat too late
                • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

                Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

                However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

                3. Challenge your brain

                When was the last time you challenged your brain?

                I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

                To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

                Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

                There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

                • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
                • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
                • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

                If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

                Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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                4. Take more breaks

                When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

                At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

                However, I was wrong.

                Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

                Let me explain.

                Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

                Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

                It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

                It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

                What’s the answer?

                Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

                If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

                5. Learn a new skill

                I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

                “Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

                From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

                Let me give you an example of this:

                Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

                Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

                The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

                Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

                Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

                6. Start working out

                If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

                Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

                Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

                “But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

                Not a problem.

                A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

                Interested in getting started?

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                Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

                • Join a gym
                • Join a sports team
                • Buy a bike
                • Take up hiking
                • Dance to your favorite music

                7. Eat healthier foods

                I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

                This applies to your brain too.

                The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

                Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

                Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

                Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

                • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
                • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
                • Nuts – improves memory
                • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
                • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

                Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

                Final thoughts

                I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

                You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

                But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

                Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

                Reference

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