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8 Ways to Take It to the Next Level

8 Ways to Take It to the Next Level
Take It to the Next Level

No matter what you’re doing, there comes a time when you are going to want to take things up a notch. Maybe it’s your career — even if things are going along fine right now, ultimately you’d like to get a promotion, increase your client base, or reach a larger audience. Or maybe it’s a hobby that you think you’d like to turn into a career.

Getting started with anything can be a struggle, but once you reach a certain level of success, it can be hard to figure out how to make whatever it is you do truly remarkable. The things we do have a way of developing their own inertia, and if we’re not careful, we get carried along in the routine without ever realizing the full potential of what we and our lives can be.

How can you shake things up a bit? What do you have to do to take your project, your career, your product, or your life to the next level? Read on…

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1. Build Your Brand

Long-time readers know that I haven’t always been fond of the idea of personal branding. Consider me convinced.

The strength of your brand is how well you are associated with whatever you do. For instance, lifehack.org offers tips and hacks to increase personal productivity. When people hear the word “lifehack”, they think of personal productivity, and when they hear “personal productivity” they think of lifehack. It’s a pretty strong brand. Some people have equally strong brands: when you hear about permission marketing, chances are you think of Seth Godin.

How strongly is your name linked with what you do? What could you do to link them more strongly? Some things to consider:

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  • Traditional marketing: Commercials, print ads, billboards, bus wraps — anything that gets your name and message in people’s faces. There are a few problems, though: people might mistake your message, linking you with the wrong speciality; people tend to tune out a lot of advertising as a survival mechanism; people often respond negatively to blatant branding efforts; it’s quite expensive.
  • Blogging: A blog is a conversation with your audience, and can help build up a loyal following that actually cares about what you do.
  • Word-of-mouth: Hard to create and hard to fake, but very effective. Seek out people with a great deal of influence and focus on convincing them of your value. If Seth Godin wrote on his blog that I was the best web writer he knew of, you can bet that within the day my career would be at the next level (maybe the level after that, even!).

2. Build Your Audience

Make a concerted effort to increase the number of people who know about you. Branding is part of this, but it’s not all of it. Give something away, find a new outlet, tell everyone you meet what you do, hand out cards wherever you go, show up at conferences and exhibitions, go to your kids’ classrooms and talk about what you do (and make it interesting enough that they tell their parents). Make yourself useful so people have a compelling reason to pay attention.

3. Increase Your Output

Give your audience, whoever that is, more of what they expect from you. Double, triple, or septuple your output. If you’re a writer, write twice as much. If you’re an actor, get into more plays. If you’re a filmmaker, pledge to produce four short films this year instead of one. Make a painting a day. Aim to top your sales quotas by 50% every month. Do whatever it takes to make yourself more productive. Learn to do whatever you do in half the time — then halve it again. (Read lifehack.org every day, of course!)

4. Improve Your Output

Make whatever you make twice as well. Improve the quality of your work until people have no choice but to stop and gape. Create benchmarks for your output, and aim to top them every single time. Take classes, read book, follow a mentor, practice twice as much, commit yourself to doing what it takes to master your craft or profession.

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5. Expand Your Niche

Do what you do now but with a wider outlook. If you write about dogs, start writing about pets in general. If you sell widgets, get into the widget case business. If you’re a musician, learn how to produce. Think about the people whose needs you aren’t meeting, and figure out how to meet them. Don’t try to create a new niche altogether, just look for ways to complement and leverage the work you’re already doing.

6. Restrict Your Niche

Or, do the opposite. Focus yourself on a narrow part of your niche until you’re the only one doing it. If you write about sports, write about baseball, then write about left-handed pitchers. If you make household appliances, make appliances for college students (and then for left-handed college students, maybe). If you paint landscapes, paint trees. If you do marketing consulting, offer viral marketing techniques that work with teenage boys. Become the person people have to go to when they have very specialized needs, because you’re the only one that does it.

7. Cross-Develop

Figure out how to use what you know in an entirely different way. If you coach little leaguers, write a book about coaching. If you offer one-on-one organization coaching, work with a developer to create home organization software. If you’re a TV camera operator, tutor middle schoolers in video podcasting. Find a new way to challenge yourself and put your knowledge to the test — while developing new knowledge and skills.

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8. Expand Your Network

Your audience are the people who buy, read, or otherwise use your product; your network are the people that help you make it, market it, or distribute it. Focus on building strong relationships with a variety of people both in and out of your profession. Don’t try to fake it — strong relationships have to be genuine or they won’t last. Join a social networking site like LinkedIn and work it like mad. Go to trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions and talk to every exhibitor and every presenter. Make a list of 20 people in your field you want to know and email them introductions. Build relationships with your 10 best clients. Build relationships with someone from your top competitors (if that’s legal). Join a professional organization and run for an office.

Obviously these are not all exclusive — you can and sometimes have to do more than one at the same time. And they’re not all necessary — some even contradict others. But all of them shake up your routines and make people pay attention to you, whether those people are potential clients, potential customers, or potential partners.

None of these are keys to instant success. All of them require hard work and time to show any effect. If you’re ready to take it to the next level — and you’re ready to put in the work and commitment that entails — then go through the list and ask yourself how each item could help get you there.

More by this author

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain) Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective 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 effectively.

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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1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Theories or Frameworks

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

4. 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.

5. 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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6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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