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With a Little Help from Your Friends: How to Tap into the Hidden Potential of the People Who Surround You Every Day

With a Little Help from Your Friends: How to Tap into the Hidden Potential of the People Who Surround You Every Day

With a Little Help from Your Friends

    Do you have a dream? Is there a business that you’re dying to launch, a story in your head demanding to be told, or an idea you’re frantic to see made a reality?

    If you’re like most people, the answer is “yes.” Or, more likely, “yes, but…” Just about everyone has a crazy dream they’d love to pursue – but they just don’t know how.

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    What you need is a little expert advice, someone with brains and know-how to explain what you need to do and, more importantly, how to do it. The TV line-up is chock-full of shows that promise just that – a worthy but for whatever reason incapable person is selected, a team of experts descends on their life, and bit by bit they’re shown how to make their dreams come true. Trading Spaces, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Big Idea, American Idol, and dozens of other shows are based on some variation of this theme.

    But you don’t have to wait for your friends and loved ones to conspire to remake you, in order to tap into a wealth of expert advice. Chances are, you’re already surrounded by people who can give you the knowledge you need to get moving towards your dreams. You can be forgiven for not recognizing it; chances are, they don’t realize it themselves.

    Here’s the thing: everyone develops a body of unique skills and talents in the course of living, almost all of which can be applied more widely than we imagine. It can often take a creative eye to see these hidden potentials for what they are: a lifetime of expertise masquerading as everyday life.

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    Who are these unwitting experts I’m talking about? Your friends, family, and colleagues, of course. How many people do you know who excel at something so much that it’s become a defining part of their character? Instead of just admiring them for it, why not pay them the greater compliment of learning from them, of letting them set an example for you in the pursuit of your dreams?

    What kind of understanding might you find hidden in the strengths of your friends and loved ones? Consider:

    • The natural storyteller: how to weave compelling, “sticky” narratives; how to grab and hold onto people’s attention; how to set people at east.
    • The slacker: how to relax; how to roll with the punches; how to accept criticism without letting it define you.
    • The social butterfly: how to connect with strangers; how to present yourself professionally; how to avoid being defined by your weaknesses; how to listen.
    • The entrepreneur: how to face adversity; how to understand financial data; how to plan for the unknown.
    • The organizer: how to rally people to your cause; how to balance contradictory demands; how to stay cool under pressure.

    These are just a few examples of different types of people that almost everyone knows. Look around you at the people closest to you and try to identify their hidden strengths. Don’t dismiss people’s talents just because their accomplishments are small – even the simplest achievement might be the outcome of an encyclopedic knowledge of the task.

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    For example, maybe you know someone who runs the church bake sale every year. Maybe it’s a parent, or someone on your block, or a friend. Think about what they do every year: they plan the bake sale, they promote it by making announcements at services and posting signs, they round up the best bakers in the congregation and persuade them to contribute their time and money in baking goods for the sale, and they encourage everyone involved to put in their best effort in the service of a goal bigger than their own personal gains. Now, doesn’t that sound like someone who might have a thing or two to teach you in the pursuit of your dreams?

    Pay attention to the people around you and see what you can learn from them. Better yet, tell them what you see as their strengths and ask them a simple question: “How do you do it?”

    You might be surprised what you learn. And, just as important, they might be surprised at what you learn. You won’t be just milking them for whatever they’re worth to you – you’ll be opening their eyes, maybe for the first time, to their own hidden talents.

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    And what could be a better gift than that?

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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