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4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

    Thinking about starting a business or trying to make some cash out of the web? Technology can enable people and it can just as easily distract. We’ve got a few tips for you to consider to cut down on those distractions and costs and get more done, more efficiently and more effectively.

    These tips all center on one thing: technology, whether it involves a specific device or just the way you use tech, computers and the internet in general. Enjoy.

    Save time with Skype

    It’s becoming increasingly common advice: swap an expensive phone plan for a cheap – or free, if you do things right – Skype solution. And it’s true. You can save a whole heck of a lot of money thanks to Skype and solutions like it.

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    But while most people are talking about the money you can save, I think there’s something better for entrepreneurs to get out of Skype. The combination of instant messaging and VoIP allows you to control your communication methods better than any old phone line. Can’t or don’t want to take a call? It’s certainly not worth breaking your concentration if you’re on a roll.

    With Skype you can divert incoming calls to instant messaging and deal with requests and questions at a time of your own choosing. Corresponding via text allows you to focus on a main task while you take their message. But for those who prefer to talk by voice, deferring the call is still a good idea.

    Most calls take a while to get to the point; time that, even if minute from a perspective of quantification, is taking your mind further from the tasks and issues that you need to deal with. Shifting the mental gears is a time-expensive task. Filtering calls through instant messaging means the pretext for the call has been set and you can get right to the point and back to work.

    I personally prefer to communicate via text because it’s swift and doesn’t use as much attention quota.

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    Install a GPS Unit

    Install a GPS unit in your car or grab a PDA phone that has this handy technology built in. If you go the PDA route, make sure you get a mount for it installed in the car you’re most likely to use for business purposes. When you’re starting a business, you want – need – to deliver the best impression for potential, more established business partners. While being punctual is just something that all people need to do no matter what their level of experience or degree of establishment is, you don’t have a reputation to precede you and need to go the extra mile to develop one.

    By using GPS you guarantee that you won’t get lost, late and end up irking the other party, or even having the meeting canceled. Any technology that enables you to respect the time of others as fiercely as you defend your own is a good one.

    Get a Virtual Assistant

    So hiring a VA isn’t really tech, but it has the word “virtual” in it, right? The topic of virtual assistants has crawled its way into this article because you can free up hours of your time that would’ve been spent at the computer beforehand.

    Depending on who you talk to, virtual assistants can be hired from as little as $5 an hour and you can have them take care of a whole range of things:

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    • Monitor your emails and only send you those that need personal attention. You should set up another email account such as assistant@yourname.com and direct correspondence there, rather than giving anyone access to your own account.
    • Send standard form emails for you – fielding the same questions from customers, despite having a FAQ that covers them? You don’t need to cut and paste your standard “Have you checked our FAQ?” letter to them all when there’s a virtual assistant assigned to the task.
    • Research topics you need to be informed on, write or speak about.
    • Manage your calendar appointments and contacts, so that you don’t lose upwards of an hour each day just planning it.

    And there are about half a million other things you can delegate if you sit down and brainstorm the topic. This is the best investment you can make in technology – freeing up the time you have to spend with it (even if that just gives you more time to spend with it in less menial ways).

    Create a News Filter

    Keeping informed takes up huge chunks of time for some people. The most popular methods of dealing with information are the least efficient.

    The first thing you can do is see how much of the information you consume truly is important. For instance, let’s say that you’re the typical web-worker or online entrepreneur and you’ve subscribed to a whole bunch of feeds relevant to your field. You keep up with these feeds because if you don’t, you’ll miss something really important, but in between those occasional high-priority stories, how many are you consuming that aren’t important ‘just in case’ or ‘just because’ they’re there?

    Usually, the feeds you find necessary to subscribe to are simply those that are most popular and, via social proof, considered most important in your field. They may not be news-based at all. Or, they’re entirely news-based and thus conform to the 24-hour news cycle and deliver too much “news” that isn’t important and you don’t need to read about.

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    After you come to this realization it’s easier to cut down on subscriptions to only those that are strongly relevant, don’t publish with great frequency and don’t miss important news. This may mean gathering a few that sometimes overlap, but that’s better than a total overdose.

    The more technically involved way of creating a news filter via feeds is to use Yahoo! Pipes or a similar service to craft conditional feeds that only deliver entries based on a certain set of conditions. The most basic use would be to take a popular news site that covers only the most important news in a variety of fields and filter by certain keywords to extract just one field, or even better, by author where you know that he or she specifically covers one topic’s big news.

    The way you filter news is up to, and limited by your imagination (okay, and the technology), but as long as you’ve got a system in place to weed out most of the filler, you’ve used technology to reclaim a whole bunch of time.

    And a bonus tip: make liberal use of off switches. When it’s not essential that you keep your phone or computer on, do it – keep the work-life boundaries clear. This is where so many entrepreneurs go wrong; they can’t see the forest for the trees and decimate their home and personal life in pursuit of riches.

    Good luck!

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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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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