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8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008

8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008
8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008

I don’t believe in resolutions. The idea that a trick of the calendar should be the driving force for real change in my life seems silly. And yet, there’s no denying that a year is a good block of time to think with — long enough to carry out big projects and short enough to keep the end-goal in sight. Plus, a year is a good block of time to look at to get a “big picture” view of your life — what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing right, what you’d like to change.

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So while I won’t be sitting down to make a list of resolutions this January 1, I will spend some time over the next couple weeks thinking about what I want to achieve in the next year: new projects I want to start, old ones I want to wrap up, personal faults I want to conquer, and personal strengths I want to build on.

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However you define it, we’re all working towards some sort of success. Whether that’s achieving wealth, happiness, fame, greater family togetherness, a stronger commitment to one’s faith or one’s vocation, or whatever else, we all want to succeed at everything we set out to do. Here’s 8 tips to help make that happen in the coming year:

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  1. Set SMART goals. Don’t just make goals, make SMART goals. The idea of SMART goals is credited to George Doran, and stands for:
    • Specific: Goals should be as particular as possible. So, for example, not “lose weight” or “make more money” but “lose 10 pounds” or “increase my salary by $10,000 a year”.
    • Measurable: It should be possible to keep track of your progress. You can track weight loss on a chart, or check your salary to know if you’re moving towards your new salary goal, but you can’t measure progress towards, say, “be happier”.
    • Achievable: Unfulfilled goals make us feel terrible about ourselves, so make realistic goals. So “lose 10 pounds” is better than “lose 150 pounds”; if you’ve never run before, “run a 5k” is more achievable than “do an Iron Man triathlon”
    • Relevant: Is this a goal that a) will have an impact on your life, and b) that you are prepared to pursue? If not, maybe your goals should be to attain the skills and resources you need to tackle the bigger, more distant goal.
    • Time-bound: Give yourself a clearly defined end date to achieve your goals by. This gives you a sense of urgency, and also helps keep you focused — you want to lose 10 pounds by June, not at some point in the course of your life, right?
  2. Make a plan. How are you going to achieve success this year without a plan? Planning is the big “gotcha” for lots of people — we might have a big general plan, but when it comes time to sit down and actually do something, we have no idea what to do. Write a plan for achieving your goals in specific, discrete, and doable actions, one after the other. If some steps are contingent on actions or conditions you don’t know right now, sketch them out as well as you can. Make a contingency plan, too, in case things don’t go as you thought they would.
  3. Commit to a due date. Go through your list of projects and assign each one a due date. Do the same for any vague “I’d like to do this” things you have floating around in your head. I use a formula that goes “By March 31st, I will have [insert goal here]” and list everything I want to have finished by then, with matching lists for June 30, September 30, and December 31. Maybe quarters don’t work for you; if not, pick another way to do this, but do it.
  4. Make it public. Share your goals and commitments with other people — your partner, your parents, your friends and co-workers, your blog audience, anyone — to make the commitment more real. If you’ve told everyone you’re going to finish your novel by June 30, then you’ll have a powerful incentive to get it done. And they’ll help, too, if by nothing else than nagging you about it.
  5. Find a support group. A group of like-minded people with similar goals can be a great motivation. Not only will they understand what’s holding you back, they may have tips that can help you overcome your blocks. And if not, chances are they’re struggling with the same things you are, and you can work through them together with the knowledge that it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.
  6. Accept failure graciously — and move on. There’s a chance with any undertaking that you’ll fail. Accept that, and do it anyway. If you do fail, examine the reasons why, and move on. The only real failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes.
  7. Change yourself, not the things around you. Too many people fall into the trap of believing that they can buy their way to happiness — a new product will make them super-organized, a new car will make them feel better about themselves, etc. Change your attitude, not your things– if you’re unorganized, figure out why you have a hard time putting things into a memorable system and change that; if you don’t feel good about yourself, look at your life and what’s not going well, rather than seeking out a remedy that has nothing to do with what’s making you unhappy.
  8. Silence you inner critic. There’s a difference between knowing yourself and undermining yourself. Learn to ignore the nagging voice in your head that says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or good-looking enough to succeed. Set goals, make plans, and move forward in spite of that voice, and soon enough it will start losing its power over you. It might not ever go away, but you don’t have to let it run your life.

Too many of us go through life without reaching success not because there’s something wrong with us but because we’ve failed to define what success even means to us. Instead, we sleepwalk through our days, doing the things that we’ve learned we’re supposed to do, and wondering why none of it feels quite right. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether you’re going to have to keep doing the things you do today for the rest of your life, it’s time to sit down and figure out what you’d rather be doing and how to start doing them.

And this year is as good as any to do that. Good luck, and Happy New Year!

More by this author

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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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