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Bootstrapping Life: Five Tips

Bootstrapping Life: Five Tips
Kaizen

If you had just one tool for improving yourself, what would that tool be? A casual study of the world’s self-made millionaires, past and present, may not reveal it, but all of them were likely successful bootstrappers. Bootstrapping, at its simplest, refers to getting by in an entrepreneurial endeavor simply with what you have. You take what you earn and cycle it all back in. Only grow as you are able – no major loans.

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Thus, the ultimate life hack is, arguably, bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is a time-honored way to grow a business, but it can also be used for learning a language, improving your skillset, designing and creating something and much more. Bootstrapping is a way to go from essentially nothing to a more desireable result. It comes in a variety of flavors, with variations from numerous cultures. The following terms are not exactly synonymous, but they are related. Most of these terms have complex meanings; I’ve only given one for each, and generically refer to all of them collectively as bootstrapping.

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  1. Kaizen.
    Kaizen is a Japanese term for a Chinese concept. The gist of its meaning is continuous improvement by slow degrees of change. It has applications in quality improvement (at least in the US) but can be applied to many disciplines. You don’t set out to be perfect immediately. Start with what you have and slowly improve it through continuous/ daily actions. This methodology can be applied to anything. I use this principle to improve my websites and that of clients. The wikipedia definition of Kaizen gives a much fuller explanation which mentions three core principles that must be applied. I’ve only covered the gist.
  2. Top-down design.
    Top-down design/ modelling is a process typically used in software development and programming. However, it is used in other disciplines. Start with nothing but functional specifications, write up the skeleton/ outline, then flesh out each section. Using this technique, I’ve written 1,000-3,000 line programs in just a few days, when the industry standard has been 2 lines of code (including research, design, coding, testing, and revision). I use top-down design to write books, e-books, manuals, and larger articles as well.
  3. Bootstrapping.
    Bootstrapping is a classic method used by entrepreneurs for starting a business with pretty much nothing, and reinvesting all revenues and efforts back into the business to help it grow. Loans are at an absolute minimum, if any at all, and growth is controlled. (Keep in mind that most new businesses fail in the first year, some because they grow to fast for their cash flow.) Bootstrapping is also applied to numerous other disciplines. Want to know more? Read Guy Kawasaki’s article The art of bootstrapping and Seth Godin’s free ebook The bootstrapper’s bible.
  4. Tunneling.
    In an article in the Consumerist entitled How to: move to New York City, Ben Popken mentions the term tunnelling as a way to use the resources in your current job to help you on your way to a better career. This is very much in the same spirit as bootstrapping: use what you have to get what you want.
  5. Refinement.
    Refinement is probably the most general form of bootstrapping, but is more in the vein of Kaizen. It is sometimes used synonymously with top-down design, but I feel that it has some distinctions in the stage of use in a project. For example, stepwise refinement is used in mathematics and physics to use existing data to develop a formula, then refined to be more accurate bit by bit, as new information is available. The distinction for refinement is arguably that it is used in a later stage, after the fact, to improve what you know to already be incorrect, whether that’s a formula or software or something else. SEO techniques often use “tweaking” of content, which is essentially stepwise refinement. You could also say that physical tools have gone through a long history of refinement, with existing tools used to create new tools, then refine older ones.

In the generic definition, bootstrapping is a non-linear activity. Small actions combined eventually produce a greater synergy and exponential growth or successes. These techniques can thus be used to build a new career, a new product or software application, slowly build a successful business, fix something that isn’t quite right and so on. When applied to bootstrapping your life, each unit of action you apply must not only be within your ability to do, but you must feel in control of each action, and each must carry you forwards. This is a necessity if you want to be a self-starter.

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Raj Dash writes about professional blogging, learning and productivity, and ghost writes for several other sites.

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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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