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10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place

10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place

An important part of our growth and motivation as people lies in contributing to the greater good, being part of something greater than ourselves. While “making the world a better place” often calls to mind images of great leaders at the head of mighty social movements, white-coated researchers developing new medicines or energy sources, or geniuses dreaming up theories that explain the world around us, there is plenty of room for less lofty acts that create small measures of happiness in the lives of those around us. Little gestures can create or strengthen our sense of community and of shared humanity, lightening our burdens for just a moment and giving us something to smile about. And that’s no small matter.

Here are ten little gestures, all of them easily within our grasp, that can spread goodwill in our own communities, as well as increase our own sense of mindfulness about the people around us and our relationship to them.

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  1. Tip generously: As often as you can afford, leave a tip of 25%, 50%, 100%, or even more. (Obviously this applies mostly in countries where 15% tips are the norm.) Unless the service was simply awful – and even then, it might pay to consider what your server goes through – leaving as large a tip as you can afford not only puts a little extra extra money in your servers’ pocket, it tells them that they’re appreciated, a message that often slips our minds in our demanding, service-now society.
  2. Compliment someone: Tell someone how much you like the job they’re doing, their outfit or new haircut, their singing voice – whatever. Be honest and sincere. I like to practice “drive-by compliments”, sending an out-of-the-blue email to someone whose website, post, or comment on a post I really liked. Don’t expect anything in return, just let someone know that something they’re doing works and move on.
  3. Be totally open with someone: Let someone know exactly how you feel about something on your mind (though not something negative about them – there’s a different “protocol” for that sort of thing). We often keep too much to ourselves; letting someone into your confidence can be a great way to show your trust and appreciation of them. Of course, you have to judge what is and isn’t appropriate – it is possible to move past openness to dragging others into your problems, and that’s not making the world a better place.
  4. Give someone a book you’ve read: Making a gift of something you’ve read and enjoyed is more than just a nice gesture, it’s a way of showing someone that a) you think of them, b) you understand them, and c) you want to share something with them. The moment doesn’t end when they take the book – once they’ve read it, you can talk about your reactions together. Don’t do this with people around you who don’t read, though – you’ll build up an obligation that will be painful for them to discharge.
  5. Make something for someone: Bake an extra batch of cookies, draw a picture, decorate an extra Christmas ornament, and give it to someone for no good reason. Like giving someone a book, it tells them that you were thinking about them and wanted to do something nice for them, and that it’s something you made adds a nice touch. Give without expectations – whether they return the favor or not, whether they like it or not, whether they’re nice to you or not, these are all irrelevant.
  6. Send a letter, email, tweet, or text message out of the blue: Email someone you haven’t spoken with for a while, or text someone you see every day just to be nice. Maybe they’ll respond, maybe not – it’s beside the point. They just need to know that they’re important to you.
  7. Commend an employee to their manager: It’s one thing to tip or compliment someone for their service, it’s another to contact their manager and tell them what a great job they’ve done. If you don’t have time at the time of service, note the employees name and call, email, or write a letter later.
  8. Teach someone how to do something: Share your skill or talent with someone by showing them how to do something. Not so they won’t bother you with it, but so they can move a little bit towards improved mastery of the world around them. Have patience and respect for the person you’re helping – you’re giving them a gift, not compensating for some lack in their character.
  9. Let someone shine: Put a spotlight on someone else’s talents by letting them take over a presentation, deferring to their wisdom, asking them advice, or otherwise flex their “talent muscles”. Especially if they are junior to you, giving them a chance to strut their stuff shows that you trust them and appreciate them, as well as allowing them to get the attention they deserve (and which might often be obscured by your own shadow).
  10. Connect like minds: Introduce two friends or colleagues who you feel have something to gain from each other. You’ll be letting them know you value them – and maybe creating a partnership that will make everyone better off.

You’ve probably heard the saying “Practice random acts of kindness”, and that’s basically what I’m talking about here. Anything that shows people you care about them – something we can be mighty stingy about most of the time – has the potential to make the world, or your small corner of it, a better place.

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Do you have anything to add? What little gestures do you do, or have others done for you, that have brightened the world even just a little bit? Let us know in the comments.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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