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Opportunity Overload

Opportunity Overload

    You’re not alone if at the end of each day you feel like you didn’t accomplish enough. And it’s no wonder. Everywhere we turn we see and hear messages about ways we could be making more money, how to be a one minute manager, businesses we could start, technology that could make our lives easier, 1001 places you should visit before you die, cars & trucks that you should buy, relaxation techniques you should try, and on and on. We’ve got opportunity overload.

    There are so many opportunities to improve our lives, careers, relationships, etc., yet we have only a limited amount of time each day. How can we take advantage of some of these, and still enjoy our lives? How can we find the best and leave the rest?

    Top Down Approach

    Most of us are using a Top Down approach to life improvements. In this approach we sort of browse the universe of ideas that are out there, picking and choosing what looks interesting at the moment. The problem with this is we may be spending our time on things that are not really a top priority, thus crowding out the time we need for more important improvements. It’s like going browsing in the mall with your rent money. You buy some new boots and suddenly you don’t have enough money to pay the rent. We have to look at our time as just as valuable, even more so, than money.

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    Why do we use the Top Down approach? Simple. Because it’s much easier to browse than it is to analyze our needs and seek out the opportunities that will be most meaningful to us. But we pay the price of wasting our time and suffering unnecessary anxiety over missed opportunities.

    Better Approach: Bottom Up

    The better way to handle all the opportunities available is to approach it from the bottom up. That is with you at the bottom looking up at all the opportunities. Your goals become the filter. Think of it more like a decision tree. With the bottom up approach you start with the trunk (your goals) and then seek out only those branches (opportunities) that are important to you.

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    How to Use the Bottom Up Approach

    1. Review your life goals. What are you trying to accomplish in your career, relationships, finances, and life in general? Which goals are most important to you right now? These should guide your search for opportunities.

    2. Turn off daily input that is not targeted to your needs. For example you might stop watching the news and instead just read the highlights in a weekly magazine, such as The Week. Or you might turn off the TV altogether. Most people watch TV in the evening because they are too tired to do work on any of their goals. If you fall into this group, you might consider shutting off the TV, do some light reading instead and go to sleep earlier than usual. This way you can get up earlier than usual and work on one of your goals before work instead of watching mindless TV night after night and not making any headway on your goals.

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    3. Limit or stop random web browsing. Random inputs into our lives are good for creative sparks, but most of us get way more than we need and the creativity factor is far outweighed by the overload factor.

    4. Seek out targeted web inputs. Use Google search or Google Alerts to find opportunities that align with your goals. Subscribe to RSS feeds of sites that consistently have content that is aligned with your goals. Cut out RSS feeds that don’t add real value to your life.

    5. Be more targeted in your reading. Cut out magazines that you can’t keep up with. Cut out magazines that don’t align well with your interests or goals. If you read the newspaper, consider reading just certain sections that pertain to your goals or interests. Or you may want to just read the Sunday paper for the weekly recap. Again, there, limit the number of sections that you read. If it is a high priority goal to leisurely read the Sunday paper all morning, then definitely do that. If your goal is that you want to go places or do things on Sunday, then try limiting.

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    6. Capture the best ideas. When you do find opportunities that are a match with your goals, then write down those ideas in a notebook where you keep all your ideas.

    7. Review the ideas you write down at least weekly. If you haven’t already taken action on them, decide which ones are most important to you and set your first action step to take.

    8. At the end of the day take a few moments to review your day either mentally with eyes closed or through journaling. What did you accomplish? Did you make progress on your top priorities? Are you satisfied with that? What could you change tomorrow or going forward to improve? What was good about today? What are you grateful for? What will you do tomorrow?

    9. Be at peace with your day that has passed. Relax and rest for the evening so that you can face tomorrow with renewed energy!

    K. Stone is author of Life Learning Today, a blog about daily life improvement Should You Start Your Own Work at Home Business?, How to Stop Being “Busy” and Live Your Dream Life, How to Write a Book in 60 Days or Less, and How to Be a Great Salesperson.

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    K. Stone

    The founder of Life Learning Today, a blog that's dedicated to life improvement tips.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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