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211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

Gift

    We haven’t even crossed the six month mark for Christmas this year, but here I am, talking about gift-giving. I haven’t lost it, though: along with Christmas, I’ve already got my gift giving for Father’s Day, various birthdays and a few weddings planned for. How many hours each year do you spend shuffling around for birthday presents or holiday gifts? What about cards? Or even trying to remember to call someone on their happy day? How much time — and money — do you think you can save with just a few lifehacks?

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    But why worry about it in May or June? Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear the thought of even thinking about tinsel in January, or even February. I’ve got no excuse for not getting my plans out of the way in March or April, but I always seem to wind up getting this whole gift giving thing out of the way around Memorial Day — mostly because I’ll take a look through the sales papers and start thinking about who wants what for birthdays and holidays. And if I’m going to sit down and plan Christmas in May, why not get the next year’s worth of gift-giving entirely out of the way?

    18 Days Until Father’s Day

    The biggest change you can make is deciding who you’re planning to give gifts to this year, and how much you plan to spend. Oh, and for what holidays?

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    1. Start with family: Who’s birthdays are you spending what on? Are you doing a family gift exchange for Christmas or Hanukkah? Is anyone getting married or having a baby?
    2. Next up are friends: Do you really want to send a Christmas card to that kid you haven’t seen since 2nd grade? Do any of your friends have kids you plan to give gifts to, as well?
    3. Don’t forget work: Do members of your office ask you to contribute for birthdays and such? Or do you run your own business and plan to send out holiday cards to your business contacts?
    4. And what about your significant other? Do you celebrate an anniversary? Or Valentine’s Day?

    Don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding to this list over the course of the next year, and changing it year after year. I’ll guarantee, though, you’ll be surprised by how many gifts you buy each year. And you may decide it’s time to cut down — especially if you’ve been trying to budget. There’s no shame in cutting a few people off your list — or giving them something smaller than you might have in the past.

    Once you’ve got a list of who you routinely give gifts to, you can start budgeting how much time and money you spend on the effort. I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet with the following columns:

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    • Name of the Recipient
    • Date
    • Price Range
    • Gift Ideas

    It’s a pretty simple system. For date, I use whenever I plan to give the gift — December 25 or a birthday, for example — and I generally keep my spreadsheet sorted so that I can see what’s coming up. I tend to highlight names after I buy a gift, and then change the color of the highlight once I’ve actually given the gift.

    263 Days Until Valentine’s Day

    But what’s so great about this system? For one thing, I save plenty of money because I can buy gifts far in advance — I’ve already started shopping for the holidays. I also can spread out my buying to when it’s more convenient to my budget, and I can hit up sales throughout the year. And for gifts that are time intensive, such as knitting someone a sweater, I have a much better idea of when I need to start — especially if I have several gifts I need to give at the same time.

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    Since I’ve started this gift-giving system, I’ve managed to avoid missing a number of birthdays, as well. I check my list at the beginning of the month and make plans on what I’m mailing off based on that list. I’ve also been better equipped for taking care of time sensitive gifts — like taking a friend out to dinner. Not only do I know to make room for that meal in the month’s budget, but I remember to make reservations as well.

    An Unknown Number of Days Until Your Grandmother’s Birthday

    There are a couple of spots where your plan for the year’s gifts must be flexible. A friend might get married on very short notice or your cousin might have a baby that you didn’t take into account on your spreadsheet. Personally, I’ve made a practice of keeping a few gifts on hand that may not be perfectly personal but will still let someone know that I was thinking of them on their happy day. I also keep a variety of cards on hand for the same purpose — and I routinely make my own, as well.

    Another problem I’ve run into is with books, movies and games: not only do I run a risk of someone receiving whatever I plan to get them long before I hand over a nicely wrapped present, but there’s the fact that buying such a gift and then mailing it off can be far more expensive then letting Amazon do the hard work. For friends and family that I want to give books to, I try not to buy their gifts quite so far in advance anymore. Instead, I make a note on my spreadsheet to order it when their birthday or other event is getting closer.

    Overall, though, planning out my gift-giving is one of the greatest lifehacks I’ve managed to implement in my way of doing things: I’ve saved a pretty significant sum of money in the past couple of years and worried a whole lot less about snubbing Grandma by forgetting to get her a gift — or even give her a phone call.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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