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6 Ways to Ungeek for Productivity

6 Ways to Ungeek for Productivity

    We have to have the latest and greatest gadgets. We have to be on the newest and coolest web apps. We have to be cutting-edge. But does all this technology really help with our productivity? I’ve found that there are days when I just have to back away from the bleeding edge if I want to get anything done, and despite how cool some of these toys are, I’ve found that ungeeking can up my productivity. There are a few specific ways to ungeek that I’ve found particularly useful, and I’m not talking about turning off your internet connection or cutting back on your time on Twitter.

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    1. Get a big paper calendar

    If you’re working on anything involving more than just yourself, you need a big paper calendar. That includes organizing a house full of kids, starting a business, sharing an office, or anything else involving multiple people. And don’t think I’m talking about one of those sissy little wall calendars with spaces of less than a square inch to write in. You need enough room to write multiple notes for each day. Syncing electronic calendars is all very good, but what happens if your technology goes down — or if one of your ‘team members’ isn’t old enough to have unsupervised computer access?

    2. Print off drafts

    Whether you’re working on a sketch of a website or writing out a company memo, take a minute and print it out. No matter what kind of project you’re working on, seeing it off your screen can help you catch typos, think of new directions for your design and generally take a second look at your project. I’ve found that this technique is especially useful when I have writer’s block: when I can’t produce at the keyboard, I can often figure out something to write if I switch to pen and paper.

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    3. Ask for business cards

    I don’t particularly like adding to the paper cluttering up my home and office. But pretty much anytime I go anywhere, I ask for business cards. I don’t do it to kick my networking into hyper-drive, though. After I leave the presence of the origin of the business card, I write down any next steps I need to take on the situation. For instance, I took my car in to get the oil changed. I got the card of the customer service representative and wrote down a note that I needed to put mark my calendar with a reminder to schedule the next change when it’s getting close. I carry my own notebook as well, but I like the context that business cards provide — if I just wrote appointment on the back of the card from the mechanic’s I know automatically that it’s something to do with my car.

    4. Go into the bank

    Rather than relying entirely on drive-thru or online banking, go into your bank on a semi-regular basis. Make friends with at least one of the tellers. It will pay off if there’s ever a problem with your account. Your favorite teller may not be able to make any problem go away — or may not be willing to — but if you’re friendly, she’s going to be more willing to send your case up the food chain to someone who can do something. I’ve had the same experience with tellers and cashiers: I’ve made a point of going to the same lady at my post office whenever she’s working. She knows how most of my packages go out and can get my mail handled in no time flat.

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    5. Do research at the library

    Despite what I’d like to think, Google can’t find me every detail on every topic. Depending on what I’m researching, I often go to the public library. Many libraries maintain subscriptions to databases that cost quite a bit to access, but they also have plenty of offline information. I make a habit of chatting to one of the librarians about what I’m working on. They can often point me to references that I might not have thought of or show me connections between my topic and another that I never would have found searching for keywords on the web.

    6. Go to a real show or concert

    It’s awesome to have my favorite TV shows and bands available by flipping a switch. But I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to music or watching movies while multi-tasking, even when I’m supposed to be watching a show in order to relax. Actually going out to a show or a concert forces me to step away from work and my task list and actually get some downtime. Separating myself from the environment where I know I have stuff I could be doing can be the easiest way to guarantee that I’ve gotten enough of a break that I’ll be refreshed and ready to be productive when I get back.

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    Step away from the computer

    There are some amazing tools on our computers that really can help us be more productive — but there is the occasional benefit from approaching a task without all that technology. It’s a matter of deciding if there’s a benefit in approaching a task in a way that might take a few extra minutes. Is there anything you choose to ungeek for? What makes it worth your while to go with a solution that might seem less productive?

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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