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7 ways to catch your breath

7 ways to catch your breath
Coming up for air

If you have ever been in trouble swimming in heavy surf you will know the sensation. You get dumped by one wave and get the air knocked out of you. You struggle to the surface and take another gasp, only to be hit by the next wave. Wave after wave pushes you under and you just can’t get free. You know that you could swim out or ride one in to save yourself, but the waves won’t give you give you a chance. All you really need is a break – to catch you breath – and you will be OK. Isn’t that how the rest of your life feels sometimes as well?

When life leaves you gasping for air there are ways to catch your breath, but they seem impossibly distant at the time. When you are in the middle of trouble, just trying to survive, solutions seem out of reach. The best you can do is prepare yourself in advance by learning these 7 ways to catch your breath, before you need to use them:

  1. Run down your reserves – We all have reserves stored up in our lives and now is the time to use them up. You might eat out your pantry or freezer, saving time and money. You might forget the housework for a while knowing that your normal cleaning has kept things under control enough to last a few days. You might call in some favours that you have stored up. You might cut into a corner of your savings or “rainy day fund”. Reserves like these are only good if you know when to use them and this may be the time.
  2. Lean on your friends True friends are obvious in bad times. The best friends support you without contributing to the problems. Lean on them a little and show them that you trust them. Lean on their advice, their time, their wallet, their help. How much you lean will depend on how serious your situation, how strong the friendship and how much dependency you can stand. If all you need is to catch your breath, you should not be hesitant to ask your friends for support (then be willing to do the same for them later)
  3. Tear off half your to-do list – Realistically half of your to-do list is essential and half is optional. Sure, you want to get it all done, but in this case sticking to just the essentials, will leave you with spare time to catch your breath. Tear off the items that are not absolutely essential in this couple of days. Most tasks will still be there later when you come back for them. Give yourself a break from your “get it done” attitude and you will soon be back on top.
  4. Ask for mercy – No matter where the waves are coming from there is someone, somewhere who can give you mercy if only you ask for it. You should not feel bad about asking for a break just to get you through a short bad patch. If you owe money, be honest up front and ask for an extension (people will usually agree – machines will usually not). If you owe time, ask whoever demands it, to be lenient for a couple of days. If you need to jump the cue at the doctors, ask for mercy. Explain what you need, why you need it and how they can help. You will be surprised how many people will willingly help you if you make a personal request and explain why.
  5. Think long term survival first – Your problems will quickly escalate if you don’t know what to focus on. You must attend to your most important needs first. If you are in the surf, you need air. In the rest of your life, you need at least your minimum sleep, food, water. Don’t take uncharacteristic risks. Keep your eyes on the road when you are driving. Now is not the time to play with chemical dependencies. Make sure you look after the basics of long term survival because otherwise a short term bad patch could end up crippling you for life.
  6. Downgrade your expectations but mark your place – When you are in the middle of it, you may have to cut back on your achievements. Put your progress on hold for a couple of days and concentrate on catching your breath. If it is not essential, it can wait till you are back on your feet. However, before you stop doing something, mark where you are up to so that you can quickly get back on track later. Measure, bookmark, photograph, write down where you are today, so that you can pick up where you left off later.
  7. Take one step at a time and do one thing at a time – When there are different pressures rolling in from all directions it is easy to try and do too many things at once. Don’t do it. Focus on one thing and knock it off. Then move onto the next. You will find that by doing one thing at a time, you are able to achieve more and get out of trouble faster than if you tried to accomplish everything at once. There is nothing that makes a bad situation feel worse than having too many half finished things on your mind at once.

Nobody ever caught their breath by just continuing to struggle. Whether you are facing an unending set of waves or the continual beating of bad times in your life, all you need is a break. If you can find a moment of peace, high up on top of a wave, you will probably see your way out. All you really need is to catch your breath.

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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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