Advice Saturation Point
March 2014 (perspective of a postdoc)
(Yes, this is an advice article about how to get advice. #meta)
One of the best productivity hacks I know is getting lots of focused advice in a short time span, often right before I need to use it. Timely advice can save a tremendous amount of agony by preventing common mistakes.
Whenever I need help on something substantive, I go through the following three-step process. It usually doesn't take long before reaching an advice saturation point where I feel like I've learned enough for the time being and can put the advice into action.
Step 1: Start by scouring the Internet for advice guides, blog posts, and video presentations. Maybe read a book or two that those resources link to. By getting tons of data from diverse but noisy sources, you expose yourself to a wide spectrum of opinions. This process is overwhelming, but remember that it's just your first glance. Don't trust anything as definitive yet. Notice what points keep getting repeated by different sources, and hone in on those. Take lots of notes.
Step 2: Ask up to five of the most knowledgeable people you know for their advice on this topic. Sometimes the best people to ask are those who have recently experienced what you want advice on. Their memories are still fresh, and they are more likely to be in your peer group. A 15-minute phone call works wonders. An in-person meeting is even better. Regardless of format, first do your homework in Step 1 so that you know what to ask. For details, watch:
Step 3: Integrate those people's advice into your notes. Finally, ask one or two outliers – people who have either extreme or contrarian views. Integrate this advice with what you've already received from the mainstream. This final step provides a much-needed alternate perspective and could lead to some surprising insights. By now you should be at an advice saturation point. Nothing that anybody says about this topic should surprise you.
Remember to express gratitude for the help you've been given, and also pay it forward by helping the next generation.