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Straight Up From ‘Scratch Beginnings’

Straight Up From ‘Scratch Beginnings’

    With nothing but $25 and a backpack, Adam Shepard set out to prove whether the American Dream still exists. He headed for a city he didn’t know — Charleston, South Carolina — with the goal of having $2,500, a car and a place to live by the end of the year. Shepard chronicled his experiment in Scratch Beginnings. The book holds a few gems for average people working on their own lives — and you don’t have to be completely broke to learn from Shepard’s experiences.

    The Attitude of Success

    In Scratch Beginnings, Shepard makes it immediately clear that his goal is not to create a rags-to-riches story. Instead, he set out to refute Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, along with similar books that claim that “working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever.” Shepard’s goal was to discover whether, with self-discipline and the attitude of success he could actually move beyond homelessness in under a year.

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    The Long View

    Shepard first stop in his experiment was a homeless shelter. The majority of the book is devoted to the seventy days he lived at the shelter and the men he met there. Those men fall into two simple categories: the guys with plans for lives beyond the shelter and those who have become utterly complacent with their lives. It’s a simple lesson. The guys with plans couldn’t be sure that their plans would work, but the guys who had stopped looking to the long view were certainly not going to make progress.

    Many residents of the homeless shelter Shepard landed in relied on a local day labor operation to provided them with money.

    The attraction of just showing up and working and getting cash at the end of the day is, to some people, superior to working a real job. True, some of the laborers are temporarily unemployed, and some are working while they have days off from their permanent jobs, but still others simply come to work a few days a week whenever they need cash. If they don’t fell like working, there’s no need to call the boss faking an ailment or yet another death in the family. They just don’t go.

    It’s an easy way to get by when you don’t have a long-term plan. You can cover your basic needs and just sort of continue along without a particular course of action. It took Shepard only a week to understand that his priority had to be getting a permanent job. But making a long-term plan, whether you’re living on the street or making ends meet, is the only way to move forward. Without plans and goals, we’re all stuck exactly where we are today.

    Guts Get the Job

    Few employers are willing to take a chance on a worker who’s only address is the local homeless shelter. But there’s one thing that can overcome just about every obstacle in getting a job: sheer guts. Don’t have the skills? Don’t have the education? Don’t have the address? Going into an employer’s office and asking for an opportunity anyway takes guts, but that can be enough to land you a job. Shepard learned that fact the hard way, by getting passed over by a moving company uninterested in a prospective employee who lived at the local homeless shelter. Shepard made the moving company a particularly gutsy offer:

    Let’s make a deal. You send me out for one day with one of your crews. Any crew. And I’ll work for free. You will have the opportunity to see me work, and it won’t cost you a dime. If you like me, super, take me on. If not, well, then we will part ways and I can promise you I won’t be a thorn in your ass, coming in here every day begging for a job.

    Not only did the manager say that he’d never heard an offer like that, he was impressed enough to hire Shepard on the stop. That willingness to be bold got Shepard through a few other rough patches chronicled in his book and it’s one of the greatest lessons I think most people can learn. You don’t win big when you won’t play big.

    In The End

    Adam Shepard wound up cutting his experiment short by three months: his mother had cancer and Shepard went home to help her. He’d more than met his goal, though. Nine months through his experiment, Shepard had already purchased a used truck, rented and furnished an apartment and saved $5,000 — double what he had hoped to save in 12 months.

    He did it without the connections and advantages many of us take for granted. He landed a job through sheer guts, not listing his college degree and other qualifications on his applications. He figured out frugality on his own. He even earned a raise during his experiment. Shepard’s story proves unquestioningly that it really is possible to reach your goals and beyond, even if you start from scratch. I think he more than made clear that success — at every level — isn’t so much about the opportunities you’re offered. It’s about the opportunities you make for yourself, your willingness to plan big and your efforts to chase your goals. Scratch Beginnings is certainly worth a read, especially if you want a little inspiration without saccharine sweetness.

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    More information about both Shepard and the book is available on ScratchBeginnings.com.

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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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