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Eight Tips to Find Your Information Oasis

Eight Tips to Find Your Information Oasis
Desert

    The Internet Age allows you to get whatever information you want, as much as you want it. This, however, may do you more harm than good. The reason is simple: there is usually far too much noise in the information we consume. It becomes increasingly difficult to get the gems out of it, and it takes a lot of time and energy to deal with. Besides, increasing noise means decreasing clarity, and that means decreasing effectiveness.

    An information oasis – where you can get only the gems of the information without the noise – is the dream land of Information Age. It is the place where the information you consume boost your personal effectiveness rather than decrease it.

    But how do you get there? How can you find your information oasis in the midst of information desert? Here are eight tips:

    1. Minimize your news consumption

    News is probably the most noisy kind of information you could get. The reason is simple: 99% of what you read in the news today would not make it to the history 100 years from now. That implies that 99% of what you read in the news is actually not that important. There are simply too many details than you need. Reading the headlines is more than enough in most situations.

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    2. Read history in place of news

    Rather than reading news, I believe it’s a good idea to read another kind of information which has much less noise: history. History has filtered 99% or more of the unimportant details to give you only the important. Furthermore, history also allows you to see the contexts of the events that happened.

    Why is it important? Because contexts allows you to find patterns which in turn give you invaluable lessons of what to do and what not to do. Why should you repeat the same mistakes made by others throughout the history if you can just avoid it in the first place? News, on the other hand, gives you just details without contexts. You may read hundreds of pages of news without ever capturing the big picture.

    3. Unsubscribe the feeds and magazines which are not essential

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    To find your information oasis, it’s important to reduce your information intake. Besides minimizing your news consumption, you should also unsubscribe the feeds and magazines which are not essential. Check your magazine and feed subscriptions, and assess the value you get from each. Is it really worth your time? Does it help you do the important? Or maybe it actually distract you away from the important?

    4. Read quotes from the great thinkers

    I love quotes because they are the kind of information that has the highest density of wisdom. In the same amount of time, you can get much more insights by reading quotes than by reading other kinds of information. Just go to quote sites like ThinkExist or BrainyQuote, browse the quotes by topics or authors, and internalize what you read there. This is among the purest kinds of information you could get.

    5. For each reading, read no more than what is necessary

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    It is an important key to effective reading. Why should you let all the noise get into your mind if you can just get the gems? So whenever you read something, just read what is necessary and no more. That’s why it’s important to have a clear purpose before you read, especially for readings which require longer time commitments like books. Clear purpose helps you distinguish the necessary from the rest.

    6. While reading, focus on getting actionable ideas

    Another key to effective reading is focusing on getting actionable ideas. Actionable ideas are ideas you can act upon to improve your life. If it’s not actionable, the information might just take up space in your memory without doing anything useful for you. In other words, it might actually be noise.

    7. Check your email no more than twice per day

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    Email is one of the main sources of information noise in the Internet Age. If you check your inbox again and again during your day, not only it introduces a lot of noise into your brain, it also distracts you from actually doing the important. It’s better if you allocate certain periods of time (at most two) during the day to deal with it so that the noise is isolated and the distractions are minimized.

    8. Ruthlessly stop consuming information whenever the value you get is no longer worth it

    Whenever you consume information, don’t forget that diminishing returns applies. Over time, the value you get from consuming the information is decreasing. Eventually it will reach a point where you can get more value by doing other activities than by consuming the information. To minimize noise, you should ruthlessly stop at this point. More than that and you are introducing noise into your life.

    Donald Latumahina is an avid learner who blogs about personal growth and effectiveness at Life Optimizer. Read his articles on 33 Tips to Become a Well Liked Person, How to Develop Your Ideas Exponentially, and 30 Ways to Increase Your Mental Capacity.

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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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