10 ideas for ways to expand your personal bandwidth

“I want to meet that person face to face, in order to get an idea what their bandwidth is.” I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone say that about someone else in business.

As a first-time startup leader, I have a lot to learn. In order to do my ever-changing job as well as possible and learn at the same time, one of the (many) things I’ve been thinking about is expanding my personal bandwidth. Why? So I can avoid being overwhelmed, make fewer mistakes, catch problems earlier and be more effective. Among other benefits.

I’m a fan of James Altutcher’s How to Become an Idea Machine, where he challenges readers to come up with 10 ideas every day. “People say ideas are a dime a dozen and that execution is everything. Is this true?” he asks. “No. Ideas are a dime for 3. A dozen ideas are hard. Try it.”

So the other day, I made as my daily list of 10 ideas, “10 ways I could increase my personal bandwidth.” Specifically, I made that list in June and this weekend I’m going over my notes from June (I give each month its own Evernote file), and doing the Discern and Assimilate parts of how Chuck Frey says we learn: Gather info, Discern which of it is worth keeping, Assimilate it into our worldview and Use it.

The other thing I like is Scott Young’s Feynman Technique for learning. (If you visit that page, please forgive Young’s persistent hucksterism for his e-learning course. It’s really obnoxious but his free resources are really valuable if you can tolerate that.) The Feynman Technique is this: take something hard that you’re aiming to learn and present it out loud, like you’re trying to teach it. Pay particular attention to the relationship between parts. Do this without looking at your notes, until you need to. Note the places where your understanding fails you – because that’s what you’ve got still to learn. As an exercise, it’s effective. A good example of Active Recall, another part of what Young recommends.

It’s been 3 weeks now since I made my list of 10 Ways I Can Increase My Personal Bandwidth, and in reviewing my notes I’ve now talked through them out loud a couple of times. I thought I’d post them here too.

Tell me what you think. What preamble!

  1. Read more, to reduce Unknown Unknowns. I’m reading The Essential Peter Drucker right now and learning about a bunch of questions in business that I had no knowledge of before. Drucker’s recommended answers to those questions are good – but being familiar with the questions alone feels like a big boost to bandwidth. One of the ways I’m making my online reading more efficient is to bookmark things in a to-read app, then send each link to a virtual assistant with a request to email me back the first paragraph and 3 bullet points with key facts or arguments from the article. I can scan 5 or 10 summaries pretty quickly each morning.
  2. Learn from experience, including by taking notes. The definition of Learning, in one dictionary at least, is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills, through experience, study or being taught.” I love that. So much of it flows together in practice, too. So I try to take, and revisit, a lot of notes. One thing I’ve been trying to do more and more of is this: when I come up with a new or tricky question about how to do my job, I open up Evernote, type out the question and then just write out my gut-level working answer. Based on previous thinking, just spit it out. Then, I set a reminder on the doc (only available on mobile app? I can’t find it on desktop) to revisit the question in 1 week. A lot happens in a week, so I come back with fresh eyes and see if I still like the answer I put down. I very often do, which is encouraging in the “trust your gut” department. If appropriate, I edit the doc with more perspective or info. Then, I change the alert to come back in 30 days and then in 1 year. One year might be too long, but that’s what I’ve been doing so far.
  3. Leverage mentors. I’ve got a number of friends or advisors who have been startup CEOs or business leaders otherwise and whose worldviews I really like. Talking with them is like an IV infusion of new thinking, experience and perspective. Except I look at it a little more critically than I might an IV. ๐Ÿ™‚
  4. Delegate.
  5. Plan ahead. For myself and for those I would delegate to, the sooner you decide to turn the car, the less abrupt and disruptive the turn ends up being, right?
  6. Business rules. Make decisions ahead of time, in the abstract, like if/then statements. Don’t re-invent the wheel or make every decision anew every time. I haven’t really done this one much.
  7. Make fast decisions.
  8. Make a list and pick 6. Ram Charan said in an HBR interview in 2013 that the best CEOs “take in a lot of information from many sources and then crystalize a point of view. They sort and sift the information and select the handful of factors that matter most – usually no more than six – from the myriad possibilities. That’s what they’ll base their decisions on. They cut through the complexity to get to the heart of the matter, without getting superficial. And they do it without losing sight of the customer.” I bought that issue of HBR at an airport, for $20, and read that on the plane. It’s been on my bookshelf for the past 2 years and I’m glad I was able to grab it to type it in here tonight. I’ve been using that method ever since, often to make really fast decisions when there is a lot of complexity at issue.
  9. Pick your battles.
  10. Prioritize.

Done! That’s 10.

Readers, what have you done to expand your personal bandwidth?

Here’s a great suggestion over on Twitter: