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8 Ways That You Can Think Outside The Box Like Freakonomics

8 Ways That You Can Think Outside The Box Like Freakonomics

Sometimes, the most unusual of collaborations can produce the most spectacular results. This was certainly the case in 2005, when author Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt joined forces to co-author the ground-breaking work Freakonomics. This book, which sold a staggering 5.5 million copies in more than 40 languages, was the first in a series that has combined unique and personal narratives with unconventional analysis to explore the benefits of innovative thinking.

The Freakonomics series has created a blueprint for thinking outside the box, and encouraged loyal readers to identify entirely new methods of solving their problems. Whether these relate to major global reforms or the issues that complicate everyday life, Dubner’s and Levitt’s literature has revolutionized thought processes and changed the boundaries of possibility for citizens from across the land.

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    With this in mind, what are the pivotal lessons that can be taken from the Freakonomics series and how can they be applied in your everyday life? Let’s consider the following 8 ways you can think outside the box like Freakonomics.

    1. You can say ‘I Don’t Know’

    A common theme that has ran throughout the Freakonomics series is that the majority of issues are more complex than they initially seem. We do not generally acknowledge this fact which subsequently creates a learning gap that can affect us negatively as we grow older. This is why the latest book in the series, Think like a Freak, has dedicated an entire chapter that encourages individuals to say ‘I don’t know’ on a more frequent basis and open up their minds to new information and understanding. This is particularly important when discussing environmental issues, as Dubner claims that such an outlook would prevent individuals from “getting on one side of the debate and digging in their heels” without a comprehensive understanding of the topic in question.

    2. You can think Small and Still Succeed

    This taps into another prolific section of the Think like a Freak book, which implores readers not to abandon their childlike instincts as they enter adulthood. After all, it is the child’s capacity for open-mindedness and curiosity that makes them able to absorb information in their infancy, while their ability to think small and without inhibition also enables them to conceive viable solutions for problems. The concept of simple and uninhibited thinking has been embodied by the brand Pokerstars, which employed hard working and renowned sporting legends such as Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal as brand ambassadors as a way of driving recognition, challenging existing misconceptions and transcending the industry in which they operate. By selecting a relatively simple and bold solution to a problematic marketing issue, the brand embraced childlike instincts to achieve success.

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    3. You can live with Risk Easier than Regret

    While it may be argued that bold and simplistic decision making can incur risks, this is not necessarily something that should be feared. One of the most persuasive arguments of the whole Freakonomics series is that risk represents an easier burden to carry than regret, as the latter occurs as a result of failing to take a chance due to fear or an innate sense of inhibition. This can only ever create uncertainty and leave you wondering what might have been, and while risk takers may ultimately succeed or fail they have a clear conscious and the knowledge that they have at least tried to achieve their goals. So when making a decision, it may be worth re-evaluating the process and considering which option you would end up regretting if you failed to take it.

    4. You Can Flip a Coin to make Important Decisions

    For complex decisions that also affect others, such as relocating or changing careers, your thought process is likely to be even more confused and convoluted. In these instances, flipping a coin can be an excellent way of helping you to achieve clarity and choose a finite path. This theory was tested on a website called Freakonomics Experiments, which invited visitors to share their dilemmas and offered to flip a coin on their behalf. While this may seem fanciful, more than 40,000 visitors have taken the plunge and many found that they were more content when the coin encouraged them to follow a particular path. In contrast, others choose to ignore the coin toss as they instinctively believed the call to be wrong for them. It is therefore clear that the result of the coin toss is inconsequential, as the intuitive sense of clarity and insight that it brings enables individuals to make an informed decision.

    5. You can conduct a ‘Premortem’ when considering Options

    There is a fine line between thoughtfulness and over analysis, and it is important to achieve a balance when making decisions. This is something that is considered in detail in Think like a Freak, where the authors reference a theory forwarded by leading psychologist Gary Klein. Using something that he refers to as a “premortem“, it is possible for individuals to give careful consideration to their upcoming decision in a way that creates clarity rather than confusion. More specifically, by thinking ahead into the future and imagining that your decision has produced little but abject failure, you can pinpoint exactly where issues are likely to occur and how easy it will be to avoid them. This will enable you to develop a balanced view of the risks involved, before determining whether or not it is a decision that should be delayed or discarded in favour of an alternative option.

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    6. You can disregard the Majority of Conventional Wisdom

    In Freakonomics, the authors discussed the concept of conventional wisdom at length and concurred that it is generally either wrong or biased towards the views of the writer. The main reason for this, they argue, is that the experts who generate conventional wisdom are inclined to use their knowledge and informational advantage to articulate their own agenda or express an informed opinion. It can also be used to create sensationalism regarding a social or political issue, and Freakonomics uses the example of drug dealers to make its point. While experts present the illicit drug trade as being extremely immoral and driven by individuals who generate huge financial gains, for example, in reality it is little more than a capitalist enterprise where the majority of workers earn less than the minimum wage. This is something to bear in mind when evaluating information and it reinforces the importance of developing knowledge and forming your own, unique opinions.

    7. You can be sure that Correlation does not Always Mean Causation

    As the Freakonomics series has continued, the authors have moved away from their economic basis and focused more predominantly on social science. This is reflected in one of their core principles, which is that correlation does not directly imply causation. It is a common misconception that when two variables change in the same manner at the same time, one is automatically responsible for triggering this evolution. This is not the case, however, and despite this being a fundamental finding of social scientific research it is often ignored. In any case where two or more variables in your life begin to change simultaneously, it is always worth addressing the circumstances on their own individual merit and identifying any other factors that may be responsible.

    8. You can become too Preoccupied with End Results rather than the Process of Achieving them

    The Freakonomics brand is now huge, and includes Dubner’s radio show in addition to a blog, film and additional literature. Dubner references his own radio show in the most recent book, and says that he is often disturbed at how fans evaluate an event or debate and “look at its conclusion rather than the process of getting there“. To illustrate this, he presents the example of a discussion where it was suggested that hitting a pedestrian with a car has surprisingly few consequences in the modern world. This was met with acclaim by pedestrian advocates, despite the fact the same demographic had criticised Dubner for suggesting that “drunk walking” may be a huge factor in the rate of automotive accidents. In short, we have a tendency to celebrate occasions where people reach similar conclusions to ourselves, without considering the discussion in its wider context and the process of arriving at such an assertion.

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    Featured photo credit: Suzi Duke via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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