Simplify

There’s too much unactionable information on the Internet.

Too many generic 10 Productivity Hacks You Need RIGHT NOW (And 2 You Should Never Do) articles out there, doling out surface level advice in rapid fire. Great for immediate gratification (“Wow! I just read an article with tons of great tips!”); absolutely awful for long-term retention and application of those ideas.

To convert new ideas into lifestyle change, you need deep focus, time investment, and an action plan that resonates with you (remember, you’re not average). Quick, easy-to-read lists offer none of these necessities.

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Why Ignoring Advice Is Often a Great Idea

By: Jonathan Guerrera In: Crafting Lifestyle 8 Jul 2014

Bad Advice Free

One of the first things a student in a statistics class may learn is how to calculate the variance of data.

Two data sets may have the same average value, but one data set may have significantly more samples on the extremes.

For example, two cities have an average household income of $70,000. One city has low variance; almost all households make between $60,000 and $80,000. The other city is a bit more extreme; half of the city makes less than $30,000, the other half making over $110,000.

Although the average household income is the same in both cities, the way you’d handle each city’s situation would be quite different.

Similarly, when talking about a specific group of people (artists, bankers, San Franciscans, New Yorkers, men, women, etc.), you’re missing the point if you only focus on the average person in that group.

On that note, I’ve noticed a lot of advice in books, blogs, lectures, and news publications tends to be worded to appeal to the most amount of people. In other words, vaguely pointed at the “average” person.

For example, here are a few headlines I’ve seen floating around the interwebs today, from both small and large publications:

  • 3 Productivity Hacks You Should Be Using At Work (And 2 You Shouldn’t) (Huffington Post)
  • 15 Ways To Stay Productive Over Summer Break (Buzzfeed)
  • Don’t Speak: Three Situations Where You Should Never Offer Feedback (Forbes)
  • People Should Work Less, According to Larry Page (Utah People’s Post)
  • Why You Should Be Using Your Accountant for More Than Taxes (Entrepreneur)

Unfortunately, when people dole out advice that is meant to apply to a wide group of people (whether to sell a product or in an attempt to be genuinely helpful and build readership), you need to take it with a grain of salt.

Why? Simply stated, you’re not average. In fact, as we pointed out at the beginning of this post, the idea of an “average person” is a myth.

Side note: For a brilliant talk on the topic of the “average person”, I’d highly recommend watching The Myth of Average: Todd Rose at TEDxSonomaCounty

You’re a unique combination of personality traits, skills, desires, thoughts, and expressions. You’re anything but average, which means that following cookie-cutter advice – designed for the “average person” – can be unwise, if not dangerous.

For example, just because Steve Jobs has given advice that can be summed up as seven rules of success, doesn’t mean that you should follow them to a tee. For example, note the number one piece of advice in this Steve Jobs article: Do what you love.

Personally, I’ve found that the advice to do what you love can do more harm than good, as it’s not always possible to simply “figure out” what you love. This is well argued by various thought leaders and scholars on the web, and I’ve found better success following alternative recommendations on this subject (in particular, passion isn’t something you seek; for many, it grows over time from mastery of a skill set).

So what’s a unique individual – in other words, everyone on the planet – to do instead of accepting advice designed for mass appeal?

Doubt and experiment.

Set up a filter for any recommendations, advice, or wisdom you receive, especially if it wasn’t based on a careful consideration of who you are as an individual.

Unless you read it on this blog, of course. ;)

In all seriousness though, this idea of strict trial and error is the basis for much of what I’ve figured out in my life. I’d estimate that 5-10% of the recommendations I test out actually work well for me. By being a harsh judge, I’ve saved tons of time that used to be spent forcing myself to be patient with ideas and advice that simply didn’t fit.

Note: This technique doesn’t apply to building habits. Habits will require time and patience no matter how well it fits into your lifestyle.

If there’s one thing to remember here: You’re not average. Average is a myth. Any recommendation that’s made for the average American, man, woman, accountant, entrepreneur, whatever, should be taken with a grain of salt, and diligently tested. If it passes your test, great. If not, move on and wait for the next round of ideas to come your way.

calendar-prototype

Update (5/24/14): Thanks for all of the great feedback on this post! For your convenience, I’ve included starter templates at the end of this post for those of you who would like to have this system for yourself.

For years now, I’ve been using a system called Key Lifestyle Indicators (KLIs) that I modeled after the idea of Key Performance Indicators in business.

My KLI definitions have changed over the years; here’s my current set-up (click the image to view the full size version):

klis

This system works very well for me, consistently reminding me where I’m slacking and where I’m succeeding. The best part: it requires less than 10 seconds per day to enter the necessary information (nowadays it’s simply 1s and 0s transformed into a moving average).

It wasn’t until this past week that I found a way to leverage this tracked data in a new, interesting way. The inspiration came from reading Wait But Why’s post on what your life looks like plotted out into weeks (hint: You have less than 4,500 weeks in your life to spend – how have you been using them?).

I loved the idea of a meaningful reminder of the limited number of weeks we have on this planet. Thankfully, Wait But Why offers some sweet calendars that allow you to track how you’re living out your weeks – either with hand-scribbled notes or via color coding.

I’ll probably pick up one of these awesome calendars some time in the near future, but I wondered if I could use my years of KLI data to graphically represent this without needing to create yet another place to track my progress through life.

This post describes how I took my KLI data and created a Wait-But-Why-styled life calendar that lives in Google Spreadsheets (or Excel, if that’s your thing). If you track similar data in a spreadsheet, this article should help you in creating a similar set-up (read Wait But Why’s post for a deeper understanding of why a life calendar is awesome).

 

Step 1: Prototype the end result

Here’s what I wanted my life calendar to look like when all was said and done:

calendar-prototype

Note how I keep untracked weeks in gray, but everything else is colored yellow, green, or red depending on how my KLIs looked that week. The goal was to have this automatically calculated for me, as manually-inputted tracking can get quite annoying. But in order for this to become automated, I needed to pull together all of the necessary data, which brings me to step 2…

 

Step 2: Survey the current datascape

The calendar prototype looked good, but the data I needed was siloed in different cells. In other words, because none of the data was rolled up by day or week, some intermediary data compilation was required before the calendar could pull what it needed.
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Let Your Passions Collide

By: Jonathan Guerrera In: Achieving Goals 29 Apr 2014

Passions can play off each other in novel and unexpected ways.

In other words, the person with 2 or more passions, hobbies, or skill sets will oftentimes discover that they complement each other in curious ways.

When I moved to California a year and a half ago, I picked up two hobbies, independent of each other: starting a Meetup.com group around electronic dance music and learning to code.

While they remained in their separate worlds for almost a year, an opportunity recently emerged, allowing the two to meet. I used SEO and Google Analytics data to help get my Meetup events on the first page of Google for larger Bay area electronic music events. The rate of people joining my Meetup group tripled during that time.

This blog has yielded similar results. My years of writing here have trained my eyes to avoid sloppy paragraph structure, which has carried over nicely into writing clean, commented code at work (something my co-workers greatly appreciate).

There are countless other examples, but I hope the point is clear: hyper specialization isn’t necessarily the best approach when it comes to developing skills and exploring passions. It looks like successful blogger and Googler Adam Singer agrees with me on this one. And how could both of us be wrong?



I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness and fulfillment.


I also wrote an ebook. If you like what I write on the blog, you should definitely check it out below. Oh, and it's free.

Unlimited Drive is the result of four years of diligent research on what drives people to achieve great things. I always wondered how the most successful people in the world could reach such high levels of success and accomplishment. Well, I found the answer and wrote an ebook so I could pass it on to you (for free).


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