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10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

Here—in no particular order (except as I thought of them)—are 10 simple ways to tranform your working life. Try them.

  1. Refuse to accept conventional answers or comforting assumptions. If you want to develop, you need to be skeptical of anything that seems to offer a panacea or an easy way to get somewhere with no effort. It’s like all those “get rich quick” schemes: if something seems too good to be true, it is. Conventions, quick-fixes, past assumptions, and comforting platitudes are barriers in your way. Jump over them or break them down.
  2. Avoid anything that will fence you in. Always suspect the superficial. Deliberately keeping it simple makes people act stupid. The universe is a complex and surprising place. Great ideas can’t be reduced to soundbites and slogans. The deeper you go, the more likely that you will discover something of value.

    Snake-oil salesmen and con-artists have always offered really simple, easy ways to achieve things others know are tough and complicated. Why do people still buy? Laziness and greed, mostly. Wanting something for nothing. In breakthrough, as just about everywhere else, there are no free lunches.

    Conventional ways of seeing the world and all kinds of dogma are there to control people; to stop them from “making trouble” by having fresh, creative ideas. People who think they already know all the answers are oddly threatened by those who are sure they don’t. They often go to considerable trouble to try to force everyone else to think and act as they do. Your job is to jump those fences to find new fields to play in.

  3. Take risks all the time. No one ever made a breakthrough without taking some pretty big risks. What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. That’s not such a big deal. Everyone fails sometime. Failure is a sure sign you’re doing the right things to discover new ways forward. As the song goes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
  4. Forget looking for answers. Questions are so much more useful. Questions lure you on, poking and prodding you to discover more. Questions are like bits of grit in a bed: they stop you from resting comfortably with what you think you already know. Answers are a dead end. If you know the answer, there’s nowhere else to go.
  5. Become a specialist in asking stupid questions. They’re the very best ones. Worry about the answer, not the question. Lots of people never get beyond an initial state of confusion because they’re afraid to ask what seems to be a foolish question. Innocent people with a true desire to learn have the greatest chance of spectacular success. Who learns best and fastest? Little children. Your target must be to go through life learning at the same rate as an infant.
  6. Keep a wide open mind. Real change and growth often happen well away from where you look for them. You never know when an idea will hit you, or you’ll meet someone, completely by chance, who will have a profound and wonderful impact on your life. Don’t create your own artificial boundaries by deciding in advance what you will learn from and what you will ignore. Life doesn’t come in neat packages, clearly labeled “learning opportunity.”
  7. Be who you are, whoever and whatever that is. Your potential is unique. Only fools try to make something of themselves by slavishly copying what others are doing and saying. You won’t stand out by fitting in. Learn from others, sure. But never try to be anyone but the best possible version of yourself.
  8. Make mistakes joyfully. The person who’s afraid to make a mistake is afraid to make anything. You won’t get it right first time. You probably still won’t get it right the third, fifth or tenth time. But if you keep trying—joyfully making those mistakes and learning more each time—you will get it right in the end.
  9. Dare to let go. To grow and develop it’s essential to let go of wherever you are now. Let the future through. Allow the universe to change you. Don’t try to force it into channels you think are safe or acceptable. Breakthrough cannot come until you deliberately walk away from the comfortable and the predictable. If you lack the courage to let go, you’ll never make a breakthrough. We all have a tendency to hang on to success and go on repeating it as long as we can. Resist it. Say “thanks” and move on. Don’t cling to your achievements. Let them go to make way for more failures and new ideas. The achievements we cling to and repeat are the ones that will soon come to be the greatest failures of all; plus we’ll have spoiled the recollection of them for all time.
  10. Shut down the critic inside your head. Ignore it. Tell it to go pester someone else. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore ideas and possibilities that your inner critic tells you are useless. Constant judgment and criticism are deadly enemies of breakthrough. Listening to your inner critic will convince you every idea you have, every opportunity to consider, everything you do and say, are worthless. The truly worthless element is that nagging inner voice. Sometimes the best way to deal with it is just to laugh.

Next week I’ll give you 10 more routes to a personal and work breakthrough.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and working life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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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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