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4 Borrowed Ideas That Have Made the Biggest Difference in My Work

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If it takes a village to raise a child, it’s possible that it takes a vast digital village to raise a teleworker. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our work habits, tools and business perspective are at least partly influenced by the people and ideas we encounter online.

Take a moment to think about the blogs you regularly visit, the high-profile professionals that you consider your mentors, and the groups you interact with online. How have they shaped your work? What extraordinary ideas have you learned from them?

As I pondered this myself, I identified the most important ideas that have helped me as a web worker.

Inbox Zero. Email processing is an important skill for us to learn. Most of us deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of incoming email messages each day. This makes email processing a tedious task for most of us. But for me, what made this task simpler was the concept of Inbox Zero from Merlin Mann of 43 Folders.

The main idea is that you need to process your email inbox until there’s nothing in it. There are only five things you can do with each email you receive: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do. If you know that each email is actionable, tackling a hyperactive inbox won’t feel as overwhelming.

190593_light_bulb_2The E-myth. Just as I was starting my online freelancing career, I was lucky enough to read “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. Basically, the E-myth refers to the “entrepreneurial myth” that if you’re good at a certain skill, you can automatically run a business around that skill. If you’re a talented and original graphic designer, for example, it doesn’t always follow that you’ll be good at running your own design studio or practice. From budgeting business costs to marketing, entrepreneurs deal with several responsibilities that they have to learn on their own.

Although this might not be relevant to telecommuting employees, it’s essential for freelancers to understand. We may be very skilled in our line of work, but we also need to be smart business people if we want to succeed.

Stop when you’re going good. Two months ago, I came across a post by Nadia-Ballas Ruta for Write to Done. Included in the article was a quote from Ernest Hemingway about how to beat writer’s block:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck.”

I still take advantage of bursts of creativity, but I follow Hemingway’s advice and always end a writing session mid-sentence. This means that I can avoid being stuck during the following session.

The Purple Cow. Seth Godin wrote a book called “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.” The gist of this book is that whatever it is you’re offering — whether it’s a product or a service — should be remarkable and original. For example, it’s not enough to just be a web designer. There must be a compelling reason why clients want to work with you and not the hundreds of thousands of other designers out there.

At this point in my career, I may not be a remarkable purple cow. But the idea gives me something to aspire to. At the very least, I no longer fear my own attempts at being remarkable. In his book, Seth Godin wrote something that I take comfort in when I’m in doubt:

“Another reason the Purple Cow is so rare is because people are so afraid. If you’re remarkable, then it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise — ever.”

From my day-to-day habits to the big picture, it’s likely that I’ve overlooked dozens of other borrowed ideas that have helped me become a better online worker. Ten years from now, if I look back and feel proud of my career accomplishments, I know that I’ll have a vast digital village to thank for that.

What borrowed concepts have you followed and applied to your own work? Have you tried any of the ideas listed above?

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11 Responses to “4 Borrowed Ideas That Have Made the Biggest Difference in My Work”

  1. Great article – I especially like Inbox Zero… With Google Tasks I have found that I can run something very similar in conjunction with Gmail – so all is still great in the world!

  2. The two most important ideas that I borrowed amd more or less changed my life are:
    1. Lifehacking: well, in fact a whole bunch of ideas making my life more efficient, productive and thus a lot more fun. Not only because lifehacking gives me more time to *have* fun.

    2. The secret of the second circle: since every person knows an average of 400 other people, your friends know a total of 400 x 400 – doubles = about 80.000 persons. They hold a vast amount of information, that easily can be reached by starting to share the information that *you* have. E.g. on Twitter or in blogs. (Sorry, but my blog is in Dutch).

  3. It’s not a borrowed concept, but it was built on top of one. Recently I have attended the time-management course, where a never-ending concept of a time sheet was reintroduced. As in – keep track of your time so you would know when you’re slacking off.
    So what I did then I broke it into 2. The sheet on the left lists tasks I have planned to accomplish. The sheet on the right holds list of things I actually did. There’s a time line in the middle and a balance at the bottom. The idea is that for each planned task you’ve accomplished you score 2 points, for each planned task not done you subtract a point and for each unplanned but complete task you add a point. If you’re good at self-motivation and don’t need brownie points – skip the balance.

    This stuff makes me proud of each day I live.