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Review: Personal Development for Smart People

Review: Personal Development for Smart People

    Steve Pavlina’s credentials in personal development are impressive: he’s written about productivity, goal setting and more on his blog and in other venues. This month, Pavlina’s book — Personal Development for Smart People — hit shelves.

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    With a name like Personal Development for Smart People, I have to admit I was expecting something a little more technical than what Pavlina wrote. I was expecting a system, maybe a few worksheets and some definitive steps that Pavlina might recommend to readers. If you’re looking for a how-to guide, however, Personal Development for Smart People isn’t going to meet your needs.

    Rather than producing a user’s manual for personal development, Pavlina created something more philosophical, more theoretical. His book provides a basic framework from where all other parts of finding a workable system, be it for productivity or careers or something else entirely. It works as such and can provide a good introduction to underlying principles. I think, at least in part, Pavlina’s approach is a reflection of how he came to the topic of personal development. In the introduction to the book, he relates the moment when he decided he needed to straighten out his life — he was 19 years old and in jail. He decided he needed to start from the ground up, down to the point where he needed a new code of ethics. I doubt Personal Development for Smart People could have been written by any personal development expert who came to the field needing to solve just one problem or answer just one question. On a fundamental level, Personal Development for Smart People really is about building from only starting principles.

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    Consider the first half of the book’s table of contents:

    1. Truth
    2. Love
    3. Power
    4. Oneness
    5. Authority
    6. Courage
    7. Intelligence

    These are the topics that Pavlina considers fundamental, and after reading his book, I think I agree. Consider the issues we’re always looking to tweak: our careers, relationships and other fairly surface issues. Pavlina set out to find commonality between all these problems we run into, on the grounds that there must be fairly universal approaches that could work across the boundaries between career and relationships. Pavlina’s criteria were simple:

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    …these principles must be universal. They must be applicable by anyone, anywhere, in any situation. They must work equally well for all areas of life: health, relationships, career, spiritual growth and so on. They must be timeless, meaning that they can still be expected to work 1,000 years from now, and they would have workd 1,000 years ago.

    That’s a pretty tall order, but Pavlina managed to find three principles that fit the bill: truth, love and power. The other four (oneness, authority, courage, and intelligence) are secondary principles derived from those three. It isn’t a stretch to consider most of our questions about personal development in those terms: I know a lot of my own productivity pitfalls have amounted to whether I was really being truthful with myself from goals to my own capabilities.

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    Pavlina didn’t really let me down when it comes to concrete advice on developing parts of my life, despite dedicating the first half of Personal Development for Smart People to a broader over view. The second half is the “Practical Applications” section and I did find plenty more to chew on in the second section. Pavlina really puts the theoretical concepts he discusses in the first section to work when describing his principles’ practical application. Chapter 7 particularly stuck with me: it covers habits, starting with their connection to truth and leading through love and power. With truth, Pavlina suggests a few moments of brutal honesty:

    What are your best habits? What are your worst? Do you have any addictions? Do these habits serve you well or hold you back? Do they help you align with truth, or do you feel compelled to lie about them? What habits are you hiding? What habits are you most proud of?

    Pavlina is suggesting a very difficult conversation to have with yourself, and his approach to handling your habits doesn’t get any easier. When he looks at habits through the lens of love, he has equally tough ideas — including removing connections to friends that make it harder to break your addiction. Nobody ever said that personal development was easy, however. Beyond connecting his discussion of habits to principles, Pavlina does cover some helpful hints on actually breaking negative habits and creating positive ones, such as 30-day trials and stair-stepping. From there, Pavlina dives back into his principles and covers how habits interact with the secondary principles, such as oneness and authority. He does the same with Career, Money, Health, Relationships and Spirituality.

    I don’t know if Personal Development for Smart People is going to be a game-changing book as far as personal development goes. While it is packed with good information, it has a ground-up approach that may not work for everyone. So many people are looking for help with just their careers or just their relationships that it seems not everyone is ready for such a broadly-based book. But for those individuals who are ready to tackle some dramatic changes — especially those interested in starting from scratch — Personal Development for Smart People really could be the right fit. On that note, I recommend adding Personal Development for Smart People to your reading list.

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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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