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Helping the Family to Get Things Done

Helping the Family to Get Things Done

helping hand

    Ever had a conversation with your brother about how he feels like he never seems to get anything done beyond checking his email? Or talked to your mother about her difficulties finishing a project?

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    Have you ever tried to help them set up a system — make their lives a little simpler or a little more productive? And had that attempt blow up in your face?

    My experiences with helping my family (and many friends, as well) — even when they ask for the help — seem guaranteed to blow up in my face. If I’m lucky, I get a shrug and a ‘This just isn’t working for me.’ If I’m not lucky, at the next family get-together, I’m in for some serious snubbing.

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    Why is it so hard to help someone else become more productive?

    At least in family situations, we all generally seem to assume that we have one another’s best interests at heart. I want my father to read a book on productivity or my cousin to filter her email because I think these actions will make their lives easier. And, fairly routinely, relatives ask for some sort of help. Every family get-together seems to focus on some new project: someone’s building a deck or planning a party or otherwise needs help. So, why is helping a friend or a family member out with productivity problems so much harder than pounding a couple of nails into what will eventually be a front porch?

    I’ve got a theory: there’s a right way of hammering a nail. Try pounding a nail upside down and you’ll see how many variations you can really come up with. But with productivity, or even simply making a person’s life a little bit easier, there are thousands of different options. And the options that work perfectly in my life just aren’t going to work as well in anyone else’s — where I need to focus on handling my email addiction, my father needs to deal with an overflowing voice mail box. The techniques that get me through the day don’t translate into his lifestyle.

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    What is the solution?

    We don’t want to leave our friends and family struggling in a situation where we think we might be able to help. But it can be hard to introduce techniques to other people: we can be very excited about a new trick or tip that they may not be able to use, or they may be resistant to changing their system, or a half dozen other difficulties. If you want to share the system you have developed, or even just a small trick that you think another person will find useful, there are ways to go about it that won’t get you kicked out of the next family reunion.

    From my experiences, the most important step is to be okay with people not only ignoring your suggestions but flat out telling you that you’re wrong. Remember, you like these people, or you wouldn’t be offing your help. Pushiness won’t help anyone. So take a deep breath and let it go. Arguing about it will only lead to trouble: my attempts at making my mother’s life easier only got her to threaten to swap me for a grateful child. And, yes, I freely admit that if I hadn’t gotten so emotionally involved with her incoming email, I would have been safe from all such threats. Remember, it’s just email or shopping lists or whatever. The people are the important thing: if their system works for them, leave it alone.

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    You should also keep in mind that different people work well with different systems. Many people consider ‘Getting Things Done’ ideal for their lives, but just as many have decided that, while it’s a great framework, there are plenty of detail that need tweaking — and even more that just don’t like the way they would need to adapt GTD to their lives, or their lives to GTD. Rather than pointing people towards your perfect system, you can often provide more help by pointing them towards the resources they need to find their own niche. While it might be a shameless plug, I think a site like LifeHack is going to be more valuable to someone you want to introduce to the concept of productivity than just handing them a copy of ‘Getting Things Done’ and expecting them to read it. For one thing, the posts here are a heck of a lot shorter than a book — which means that your friend or relative doesn’t need to make a big time commitment to start. For another, there are lots of options and lots of explanations of the pros and cons of those options.

    I won’t argue that there is value in reading ‘Getting Things Done’ or a half dozen other productivity books, but most books aren’t primers: they aren’t a good starting place for someone who doesn’t know that there are options beyond overflowing inboxes and packed schedules. They’re generally written for someone who’s already taken a step or two in the direction of making life a little easier.

    Where to start?

    Rather than sending off books or lists of links, I’ve been able to help my friends and family by narrowing my focus. I’ll email a link to one specific article that directly addresses what problem they’re currently facing. And I don’t offer to walk them through it — I leave it up them to ask if and when they decided they need help. Sure, it’s rare that anyone actually uses the information you pass along in exactly the way you expect, but they often will be able to find some sort of use for it.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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