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Looking for Answers Online

Looking for Answers Online

    The internet is all about information, but sometimes it can be hard to sort out the answer you really need from the celebrity gossip and gadget rumors. You can email your question to friends and family, read Wikipedia articles until your eyelids droop, or even post your question to your blog. You still may not find the answer you’re trying to find. But there are some websites that are all about answering questions — it’s just a matter of taking advantage of the folks who happily hang out, just looking for questions that fall into their expertise.

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    My Favorite Places to Ask Questions

    • LinkedIn Answers — I’ve had good luck getting answers on LinkedIn Answers. While questions on this site are supposed to focus on business, there’s a little leeway. I’ve gotten much higher quality answers here than most other sites.
    • AskMeFi — The variety of questions on AskMeFi is nothing if not impressive. Today alone there are questions about water resource engineering, vacation planning and more. The folks who frequent the site seem to be able to answer just about anything.
    • WikiAnswers — This site, as it happens, is a wiki where you can add a question to a particular category. You don’t have to actually wikify either questions or answers, though. The site handles that sort of thing automatically.
    • Yahoo!Answers — Yahoo!Answers seems to just have more people frequenting it than any of the other sites I use to find answers. If I’ve struck out everywhere else, I head to this site. There’s a higher likelihood of getting an answer you can’t use here, just as there’s a higher chance of getting any answer at all.

    Beyond these four sites, there are thousands of other sites devoted at least partially to answering questions. Heck, even Slashdot posts questions on a regular basis, allowing readers to contribute ideas. By no means should you consider this list exhaustive, and if you have a site you prefer, please mention it in the comments. I know there are plenty of sites focused on particular topics as well as forums that can help lead you to the information you’re looking for.

    Crafting the Question

    Not all questions get an answer, no matter which site you post it on. It’s not always an issue of whether anyone knows the answer: you may need to tweak your question-writing technique. I’ve found, for instance, really broad questions get ignored. On most sites, question answers are only spending a small amount of time answering questions. They’ll go for the easy responses first — the questions they can answer in under five minutes. With really broad questions, there is a certain feeling that whoever is asking hasn’t done any research, and no one wants to do someone’s work for them.

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    It can also be difficult to write a question that gets the answer you’re looking. More than once, I’ve had to rewrite and repost questions because I assumed that the folks looking at my question would be thinking the same way — maybe I assumed that everyone would think that I’d already looked into the obvious answer. That’s really not the case, though. You have to state limitations if you want people to conform to what you really want for an answer. Most sites provide plenty of room in which to write your question: it can be worthwhile to make a note of answers you’ve already looked into and discounted, or other information that can help limit your request.

    Considering the Answers

    Unfortunately, not everyone who hangs out on a website and types up answers to random strangers’ questions is a reliable source. Especially if you’re asking about sensitive subjects, you might get a few ‘interesting’ answers. It’s up to you to sort out the information you can really use and set aside the rest. Depending on the importance of the question, I try to do a little research to, at least, confirm the answers I’ve received. I’ve actually found that once I have an answer, it’s much easier to Google for confirmation than it was to get Google to find an answer in the first place.

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    There are also more than a few sites that guarantee that you can have your questions answered by experts. The major difference between these and the sites I’ve been discussing is a matter of price. As long as you don’t care about the quality of your answers, you can get them for free. If you need something a little more reliable, though, it might just be worth investing in a few minutes of an expert’s time.

    Give Back a Few Answers of Your Own

    While spending all day on AskMeFi, answering every question you can, may not seem like a good time to you, it still may be worth your while to spend a little time on one of the various answer sites. It can be a good way to kill time, especially if you stick to the relatively simple questions, but some people do it for other reasons. Many members of LinkedIn, for instance, answer questions to help build up their reputations as experts in particular subjects. Other sites award points for good answers, although some points systems may be arbitrary and I’m still not sure what value most of those points have. No matter what the reward, though, I firmly believe that answering questions gets my brain going and are probably better than the many YouTube videos I could be spending my time on instead.

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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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