(5 min read) As a mid-career engineer, micro-business owner, & parent of 2 the opportunity cost of anything I do has never been so apparent.
Each passing year brings more fun opportunities, resources to work with, ideas to investigate, & productive work to carry out than the previous year, to the extent that my primary constraint in life is time.
There is not enough me to go around! A good problem to have but a problem nonetheless.
So I came up with a selection system to help sniff out the best uses of my time and I thought I’d share it with you!
Last year I build a web scraping tool to search Etsy for winning product ideas & learn about the characteristics of success.
My tool parses literally millions of listings using a unique criteria to classify & quantify the quality of the opportunity any given listing represents. (more on this another time!)
This tool, along with my experience running a craft shop and my full time job automating every manufacturing process in sight, has fundamentally changed how I think about what is worth my time.
When life is generous with opportunities, how do you choose the best path among many promising options?
With that in mind, this is what I take into consideration when deciding what to work on next:
- Data Supported Projects Win More Often.
I know what I like but as far as other people are concerned, my innate judgement of what is ‘cool’ is terrible… it’s almost an inverse indicator of what most people like! 🙂
This makes sense though. Everyone on earth has only met a teeny tiny fraction of everyone else on earth. So our judgement of what other people will find valuable is necessarily constrained by the limits of our network & our ability to extrapolate from there.
So rather than picking my favorite pet projects it is far more effective to aggregate lots of data to find what success looks like, then apply my creativity onto a proven template.
- Value Added Work Matters Most.
Despite what many make-money-online course hucksters will tell you, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
My opportunity finding tool showed that drop-shipped goods made in China, 3rd-party-print-on-demand products, and copy/pasted digital downloads from Google search are extremely ineffective at generating revenue, let alone profit!
Every single widely successful product I see on Etsy & elsewhere is a creation that expresses some unique creative flair that could only have been produced by its creator.
Whether physical or digital the makers who win the most are doing the important legwork themselves rather than outsourcing the soul of the project.
- Easy Projects are Often More Worthwhile.
Compete where you can win! If something is easy that’s a sign your working to within your strengths.
Not everything you do has to be a monumental effort to achieve outsize results. If you are swimming in opportunities then start with the low hanging fruit!
Estimating risk vs reward is always a gamble, but the aspect of that equation you have the most control over is limiting your downside by not investing too much of yourself in the first place.
- Compounding works both ways.
Sometimes completing a project opens new doors or adds value to an existing body of your work. This is the best use of your time since it multiplies the overall value you’ve created.
Similarly, completing a project could also mean you get add maintenance to your already full to-do list. Your time becomes even more divided….avoid this when possible.
- Rubric Check > Gut Check.
Your gut is not to be trusted. (You, yes you too!) Human bias sneaks into our decision-making at every opportunity.
I’ve read that job seekers can get an edge simply by virtue of being either first or last to interview. And that judges are more likely to rule conservatively if they have to make a decision immediately before lunchtime (when they are hungriest).
This type of decision making error is best thwarted by applying the same standardized set of rules to each opportunity to fairly evaluate the merits of each. A rubric is the best means of making an unbiased evaluation.
Is this blog active again?
I am most productive working in uninterrupted blocks of time so I can think clearly, focus, & make meaningful progress on a project.
If I have a free hour I can find a small product idea worth developing. In another hour and I can design it. Another hour I can produce it & post a sales listing. From then on out, with yet one more hour I can make & ship numerous copies of that item.
But I’ve found that sort of work is only possible as long as I can sustain deliveries. A profitable yet compounding input!
With reflection I’ve realized that the area of leverage I most lack is network reach. Advertisements can be bought, but a genuinely interested follower network cannot! Attention does not equal credibility.
And this blog is the best place to grow in that area. Investing in social media on a network owned by a foreign country or some megalomaniac billionaire who plans to enshittify their own website or dispose of my profile on a whim does not feel wise. (That any of them will use my personal information against my best interests is the center of the bingo card.)
Despite my extremely infrequent posts here this blog has had an outsize impact on random opportunities finding me. Miraculously, a few hundred people still stumble upon an EngineerDog article every day. Some of you email me with the most random ideas & feedback. I love it!
So yes, I intend to continue regularly sharing ideas…as succinctly as I can!
My numerous draft posts make clear to me how often I have to abandon a verbose article.
It also occurred to me that long posts often get passed over by readers simply by virtue of being long. A heavy lift for me is a heavy lift for you too!
So lets see if I can use my 1 hour block strategy to occasionally pump out tidy value-added EngineerDog insights going forward.
After my second kid came along free time became a very scarce commodity. Both kids need as much of my presence as possible for love, learning, & climbing on. I make time to do that, often at great personal cost (usually sleep!).
All the more reason to be extremely selective with the opportunities I choose to pursue.
You missed a couple of criteria I use: will I learn something? and will it be fun? Of course, I’m retired now, so I’m mainly into projects for recreation, not financial reward.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Totally agree! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it, and learning can be both a challenge and a compounding benefit.