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10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair — and What to Do About Them (Part 2 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair — and What to Do About Them (Part 2 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren't Fair - and What to Do About Them

    “If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”– Johnny Carson

    In Part 1 of this series, I discussed some of the ways that life deals us a bum hand, and some of the ways we can deal with that. In this post, I continue the list, starting with some oddnesses about factors that seem to play as big a role, if not even bigger, as individual merit in determining or life success.

    1. Most CEOs are tall.

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    90% of Fortune 500 CEOs are of above average height. Some 30% – compared with only about 4% in the general population – are 6’2” or taller. Since it’s highly unlikely that a random sample of 500 people would show this great a deviation from the national average, the only explanation is that tallness conveys qualities that are seen as “executive material” even when the tall person might lack those qualities or be merely humdrum. By extension, shorter-than-average people with incredible leadership skills might be passed over in exchange for less-stunning but taller candidates.

    What to do about it: This is even tougher than appearance issues, since there’s no good way to increase your height (you can wear lifts, I suppose, but will always risk exposure). Again, confidence is key, and the handful of shorter-than-average CEOs out there (less that 3%) are distinguished by their confidence. Study the behavior of shorter CEOs like Jack Welch or Barry Diller. Think “tall” – be seen, make yourself heard. Shorter CEOs also tend to be those that work their way up in a company, so commit for the long haul; taller CEOs come from executive job searches, where they have less personal history and more “flash” in play. And, of course, you can become an entrepreneur – hopefully you wouldn’t replace yourself with someone taller!

    2. People buy brands.

    Brand loyalty is one of the major factors influencing people’s buying decisions. Part of this is “following the leader” – if I know the brand, it must be because people are talking about it, thus it must be good.” Part of it is packaging design. And part of it is comfort in previous knowledge – the brand you know and kind of like is a better bet than the one off-brand you don’t know and might love or hate.

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    What to do about it: Commit yourself to trying something new every so often – maybe every month, replace a favorite brand with a brand you don’t know and see how you like it. You pay a huge premium for branding, often at the expense of quality, so it’s worth it to shed a brand here and there. For durable purchases (as opposed to consumables like food), develop a systematic way of comparing your brand against the competitors – Apple (or Microsoft), Ford (or Chevy), Nike (or Adidas) might not always be the best way for you to go, even if you’ve had good experiences with them in the past.

    3. People do, in fact, judge books by their covers.

    It’s a publishing industry fact – book covers are what grab and hold attention long enough for a purchase to be made. If it were something about the content, you’d expect authors to have some say, but often they have no contractual right to even see the cover before it’s published, let alone approve or disapprove. (More often, authors can disapprove, but publishers reserve – and usually exercise – the right to ignore the author’s disapproval).

    What to do about it: If you’re in the authoring game, let book cover designers do what they do best – they know their domain far better than you do. For buyers, check reviews – lots of handheld software allows you to access Amazon and other sites with reviews while you’re standing in the store. Also, get used to using your library – most libraries have online reservation systems that are nearly as effective as Amazon at getting your chosen books to you in a couple of days. That way, you minimize the risk of blowing money on books that turn out to be less than the cover promises.

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    4. Most people would rather not choose at all than choose between two equally good options.

    This is decision paralysis of a sort – when presented with two equally good options, we freeze. Two options where one is clearly better we handle fine, but not where they are equally good, or for that matter, difficult to compare on the same criteria (the apples v. oranges dilemma).

    What to do about it: The standard response to difficult decisions is to list pros and cons, but where things are more or less equal, or where pros and cons aren’t comparable, this isn’t helpful. A better option is to re-frame the decision – the think out a way of looking at the choices in a way that is comparable. One way to do that is to look at goals and objectives – what is the goal you hope to meet by choosing one or the other, and which one is better suited to that goal? This moves you past the immediate characteristics of the objects under consideration – that is, one tastes delicious, the other offers two hours of solid motion picture excitement, so if your goal is to have fun for as long as possible, you might spend your $10 on the movie and not the super-sundae.

    5. The best ideas often get lost for lack of funding, competence, or experience.

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    The people who think up brilliant ideas aren’t always in a position to make them happen. They lack sales skills, people skills, marketing skills, or, quite often, just enough money to bring an innovation to market or the mainstream. Or a start-up gets bought out by a monopolistic corporation simply in order to quash their project.

    What to do about it: If you’re in a position to do so, seek out start-ups without the skills to succeed and support them however you can. If you’re an idea person yourself, seek out people with the skills you lack – do not could on your idea to succeed for its greatness.

    Well, that about covers it – as before, I’d love to hear what you think is unfair about life, and how you’ve dealt with unfairness in your own life. Let us know about it in the comments.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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