Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sparked: Micro-volunteering for busy people

Micro-volunteering. I admire the creativity of the marketing team that thought up this concept. Even though each one of us probably wishes to volunteer our time to causes we believe in, our schedules simply don't permit it. With so many little things that need taking care of, and errands to run, it is near impossible to even set aside (say) 4 hours on any given Saturday for volunteering efforts. These days, we are all overburdened sherpas teetering under the load of our personal and professional to-do's.

Which is where the genius of a site like comes in. By allowing us to "micro-volunteer" they are able to remove that barrier to entry. Not too long ago, I found a mention of, an online micro-volunteering site. I was intrigued enough to investigate and I am so glad that I did.

The sign up process is a cinch – you can use your Facebook login (if you like). 100s of non-profits submit their "challenges." We (the volunteers) can click on 2-3 causes from a list of 12 (education and poverty where the ones I selected) and then the "skills" that we have to offer. (Again, from 12 choices I selected IT, Design and Copywriting.) And that was it. I was enrolled and in.

I was immediately presented with dozens of challenges for my causes that could use my skills. Each challenge is a task that takes just a few minutes. Probably because I chose Design and Copywriting, I was offered the chance to review a fund-raising appeal letter, and to critique non-profit websites. I completed a couple of challenges and it was as easy as adding comments to blogs.

A side benefit for me was that I got to find out about so many neat non-profit efforts that I didn't even know existed. In 30-45 minutes, I was able to respond to a 3-4 challenges. also sends me reminder emails (if I have not visited the site in 7-10 days) and sends me a teaser challenge or two, asking if I would help out. So I go back and oblige if I have a few minutes.

Please note that I have only tried out Sparked for a few weeks. Normally, I would try out a site for a few months before posting about it. But it occurs to me that perhaps the best way I can assist Sparked is to help get the word out.

Each time I help out on a challenge, I get a buzz that is sweet and pure. Be sure to try this out and see if micro-volunteering is for you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frugal options

I came across this list, which is quite good, except that it romanticizes frugality. At first, I thought that this was a good list for early-retirement aspirants. However, if you are not already doing a good majority of the things listed here, then maybe you should rethink this whole early-retirement idea. Unless of course you are pretty sure that you have definitely saved up enough.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Two Quotes that resonated

Here are a couple of quotes that resonated:

“If you can’t change the people around you, it’s time to change the people around you.”

That one is by Peter Shankman, in his great post "How to Jailbreak your Life."

"Time is not money, time is worth more than money.”

I got that one from a review of Adrian Ott's book, The 24 hour customer

Thursday, April 21, 2011

So Many Good things, So Little Time… and Is that Okay?

One big reason for me to leave my full time job was the hope of having more time to read good books, to watch good movies and to pursue other good things which I couldn't get to because I was forever pressed for time. To my way of thinking, my job (which I loved) took away from my pursuit of too many other good things.

I have come across very few people who felt the same amount of pressure as I did about time marching on relentlessly. (I've gotten much better now.) Therefore, it was a delight when I read Linda Holmes's NPR MonkeySee article and saw that she knew exactly what I was feeling.

In her post "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything," she writes:

The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see.
This exact thought used to leave me depressed.

Linda then goes on to list out two possible responses to this immense realization. One response is active and aggressive culling -- to try to pick and choose what we consume because our time is so limited. ("So many movies, so little time.") The second response is surrender – to make peace with this realization of our finitude. The latter is the one I have trouble with but am making progress towards, albeit very slowly.

As Linda describes it:
Surrender is the moment when you say, "I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I'm supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn't get to."

It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to.

That's your moment of understanding that you'll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there's something being performed somewhere in the world that you're not seeing that you would love.

The only part where I disagree with her post is where she tries to convince us that missing is actually a good thing.
"It's sad, but it's also ... great, really," she writes
Maybe I still haven't quite surrendered enough to see how it is so great. I can see myself coming to terms with the fact that in this lifetime, all I can ever hope to savor is a tiny cup dipped in a vast ocean of wondrous things. Linda makes it sound like experiencing is an all-or-nothing deal. But to my way of thinking, savoring two cups from that ocean is better than savoring just one.

But that's just a very small nitpick.

Linda's entire post is excellent. Don't miss reading it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 4 Hour Work Week - no middle ground here

When it comes to Tim Ferriss, there seems to be no middle ground. People either love him, or detest everything he propounds.

Consider this comment in this blog from Mike:
I can see from your sidebar that you're reading the 4HWW. Please, save yourself the time. Tim Ferriss is, in my opinion, a digital snake oil salesman and his book is the worst kind of vague, bombastic hype.

I do see Mike's point. Each time I read a chapter of the book, I can't decide if Tim Ferriss is doing an infomercial, or if he really has figured out a few things the rest of us haven't. (More on that later.)

I did find one level-headed review is Charles Broadway's blog C. In the post titled "Is Tim Ferriss A Scam Artist?"

Charles writes:
The only person who can live the Tim Ferriss lifestyle is Tim Ferriss, but the value of his book and blog comes from his zany way of looking at problems and all the ideas you get from his lifestyle experiments. He is a lifehacker extraordinaire.

The entire post is quite good, and Charles is full of ideas and sentiments I agree with.

So here's my own take on the 4HWW:

I actually got quite a bit from the book, especially in terms of different perspectives. 4HWW is also full of great resources for marketing, especially if I ever dabble with an internet business of my own. In a sense, Ferriss is like Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme. These guys hold such extremes of their points of view and with such utter conviction that they force us to re-evaluate our opinions. It is good to be jolted like that from time to time.

What I don't like about Ferriss is that he mocks the timid and the conservative. Surely, he knows that his ideas are not for everybody.

Plus, I actually got the entire 4HWW as an e-book for free in some promotion that Ferriss did. (Wired magazine named Ferriss the self-promoter-of-the year!) I recommend that people check out the book (search the web for a free copy of the e-book) and decide for themselves.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Measurements that mislead

After reading this article by Jonah Lehrer, I wonder if perhaps I have been placing too much faith in metrics and measurements.

In most jobs there seems to be no clear way to measure the truly high performers versus those who are lucky to be at the right place. When I worked a corporate job, I would often wish that all employees could be assigned objective performance ratings (something akin to the Elo chess ratings instead of the subjective ratings that their supervisors give.)

I know of several people (myself included) who can raise their performance when they know that they are being observed and evaluated. Even so, Lehrer's article in WSJ is enlightening in the one main point it makes: That it is important to distinguish between "maximum performance" under staged conditions and long term "typical performance."

Maximum performance has its place, but when it comes to ourselves we should be focusing on our typical performance.

Here's the link to the article.