Advertising
Advertising

Focusing on four simple questions can be the key to fulfillment

Focusing on four simple questions can be the key to fulfillment

Why finding happiness at work may be less complicated that you think.
Happy girl

Everyone wants to be happy at work. Nearly everyone also wants to feel fulfilled by what they do. The Baby Boomer generation thought they could achieve both of these by hard work, long hours, and (hopefully) hard cash. Many people today are not so sure they were right.

Advertising

Their conventional approach at least had the merit of being clearly understandable and easily translated into action. It also proved to have serious drawbacks in terms of delivering either happiness or fulfillment; often providing stress and anxiety in their place as people launched themselves into a frenzy of competitive striving where losers inevitably outnumbered winners.

Advertising

I don’t believe that there are any sure-fire recipes for obtaining happiness. It’s too personal a concept. Too much of it relies on chance elements like genetic make-up, early family circumstances, and social background. The best that anyone can do, in my opinion, is make sure that they don’t choose a path that is more likely to squash opportunities for happiness that create them—which is what my generation, the Baby Boomers, has done on a massive scale.

So here’s my alternative approach. It has less to do with grim effort and following a set of rules and much more to do with creating the circumstances in which happiness and fulfillment can arise by themselves. And, since it neither prescribes what happiness is, nor assumes that what makes me happy will do the same for you, it at least has the merit of being applicable to almost anyone’s circumstances.

Advertising

The approach is based on providing guidelines for answering the four commonest questions that people ask:

Advertising

  • What should I do with my life?
  • What should I avoid?
  • How should I go about doing whatever I choose to do?
  • What else should I leave space for besides work?

What should I do with my life?

  • Do something that gives you a sense of purpose. Empty, meaningless work, however well-paid, is rarely satisfying. At best it should be tolerated only as a temporary means to raise essential cash. At worst it is a form of prostitution. The only purpose that satisfies long-term is based on expressing your deepest values in whatever you do.
  • Only do work that you believe is inherently worth doing. You won’t find self-esteem via a job you despise. Each morning you have to look at your face in the mirror. What kind of person will look back at you? One who is engaged on something worthwhile, or one who is about to spend another 8 hours or more doing something he or she cares nothing about? Do you value yourself so little that you can afford to waste your life in that way?
  • Always do what you are good at doing. It’s the simplest way to enjoy yourself and stand a chance of excelling. I don’t believe that anyone finds happiness through doing work that they’re not very good at, or work that reminds them of their weaknesses on a hourly basis. Forget whether anyone else values your particular strengths. Use them for your own satisfaction and pleasure. You may be surprised how wrong you were about what others would applaud.

What should I avoid?

  • Don’t do anything that gives you a bad conscience. Even if you don’t end up in jail, or shunned and despised by your friends, you’ll spend too much time being anxious about who will find out—and probably hating yourself into the bargain.
  • Don’t do more than is good for your health. No job—no amount of money—is worth harming yourself for, physically or mentally. You won’t be happy if you know you traded your well-being for money and a position you’re now too miserable, sick, or damaged to enjoy. Not only do the ends of life rarely, if ever, justify the means, they won’t compensate you either for the problems using those means may have inflicted on you, your family, your relationships, or your ability to enjoy what you achieved without feeling ashamed.
  • Don’t do things that rob you of your peace of mind. You have to live with yourself and others have to live with you. Inner torment is no path to happiness. Nor is trying to silence personal turmoil with drink, drugs, or conspicuous consumption. This is one situation where that old warning is entirely true: you can run, but you can’t hide. How can you hide from the accusations of your own mind?

How should I go about doing whatever I choose to do?

  • Do it with people you like and respect. The opposite is virtually certain to make your life a misery—and nothing will be an adequate compensation. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the line: “Hell is other people” (in a 1944 play called No Exit). It’s often true of the workplace too, but only if you allow it to be.
  • Do it with people you trust and who trust you. If you can’t trust those around you, your life will pass in a blur of suspicion and paranoia. If they don’t trust you, you’ll never be given anything worthwhile or important to do.
  • Do it for enough reward to make you feel valued. That’s all you need. More than that won’t make you feel better, and will likely excite jealousy and continual competition to bring you down. One of the reasons why many super-rich people go on working, when they already have more money than they can ever spend, is the fear that, if they stop, they will discover that they are worth nothing except their bank balance. What kind of a life is that?

What else should I leave space for besides work?

  • Time and leisure to enjoy life while you’re living it. Don’t put off enjoying your life until some time in the future. You never know what may happen first. Don’t make your happiness contingent on achieving some longed-for goal. You may find what you sought doesn’t deliver.
  • Time to pursue other interests. People who are single-minded easily become narrow-minded too. An investor who puts all his or her wealth into a single investment is a fool who is asking for trouble. Someone who invests all their happiness in their work is taking an even bigger risk.
  • Time to give enough of yourself to those you love. Do they deserve only what you have left after everyone else has taken all they want? Can you build good enough relationships on putting the demands of your work above their needs? Will they accept money in lieu of your attention? I think you can work out the answers for yourself.

You can’t compel happiness. You can’t buy it—save for the briefest of periods, usually at an exorbitant price. But you can—so very, very easily—drive it away.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include Why you should sometimes think very seriously about giving up and Why perfection isn’t a viable goal. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

More by this author

20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science Quit Your Job If You Don’t Like It, No Matter What What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

Trending in Featured

1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

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:

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

Read Next