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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 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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