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Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Books

    FriendFeed, Twitter, email, Skype, Messenger, Blackberries and iPhones, blogs and e-zines.

    It’s all a little bit overwhelming sometimes, right? We’ve looked again and again at various ways to escape the barrage of online content so we can get more work done – but never so we can take a break and reconnect with other content. Perhaps, the kind that comes under the category of “literature.”

    Let’s face facts; there is some great content online, but there’s more rubbish. At least when you pick up a book in a bookstore, you know it’s been through a rigorous editorial process and most of the rubbish has been weeded out. Evidently, the keyword here is ‘most’ – just the other day I was at one of those huge chain bookstores where I noticed they were still selling copies of Dianetics!

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    While we are always in pursuit of the perfect way to manage and minimize our content intake, somewhat like the diet-crazed society of the second millennium, it’s important to realize that just as with food, quality is more important than quantity. If we cut down on the noise but have no signal, then there’s no point trying to begin with.

    And almost like the blogs in your feed reader, the bestseller list in the bookstore is constantly changing. But what if we had a collection of classics that have stood the test of time to prove their worth that could keep the signal high and the noise low? Here is one take on what that list might look like, bearing in mind that it would be hard to agree on and create a list that could be considered complete.

    Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey

    Homer’s works are sometimes considered introductory and prerequisite into the world of classic literature, and since they’re not light reading, you may as well start on a full stomach. An embodiment of the literature of ancient Greece, considered to be the forefather of modern Western thought, these epic poems speak through heroes to deliver very different messages. The Iliad, the story of Achilles, is about strength and brute force. The Odyssey is about a hero who relies on his mind, despite his strength, to win his battles.

    Plato, the Great Philosopher

    Perhaps one of the most often referenced philosophers of all time, Plato wrote important works that were often delivered through a dialogue in which a particular concept or issue was explored, in the style of his teacher Socrates. Plato’s works are broad-ranging, discussing everything from whether virtues can be taught, to the nature of justice.

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    Aristotle

    If you thought Plato had covered a varied list of topics, his student, Aristotle probably went further – in one treatise exploring biology and in another, aesthetics or politics. Aristotle was trained in medicine before he became a student of philosophy, so it’s understandable that where Plato put more importance in ideas, conceptualization, reason and intellect, Aristotle saw the world as physical reality, that can be dissected and researched. He was probably the grandfather of modern scientific bureaucrats – if it can’t be labeled by science, it doesn’t exist!

    The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

    Moving on from the Greek era, Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who, in the inherent spare time that come with positions of high office, was also a writer. Machiavelli called him the last of the Five Good Emperors (theorizing that those who adopted the throne usually ran a good government, while those who inherited it ran a bad one). In his Meditations, written as a form of introspection for the sake of his own self-improvement, Aurelius promotes ideas such as that of human freedom and that virtue is to live in accord with nature.

    Perhaps most importantly is Aurelius’ idea that what makes us human is our mortality.

    The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer

    Some of the most famous storytelling of the medieval era is that of Geoffrey Chaucer, not so long ago revived in the movie A Knight’s Tale (in which Chaucer is made a character). The movie is based on The Knight’s Tale, the second tale from The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stores written in poetry and prose. Some scholars contend that this is the work that marked the tipping point when English overtook French as the Western world’s primary literary language.

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    Machiavelli’s The Prince

    In our latte-sipping, iPhone-swinging world Machiavelli would’ve had one heck of a scented resume, wearing a multitude of hats – diplomat, philosopher, musician, poet and playwright, and a central figure in the Italian Renaissance. He is best known for his classic work The Prince. It explores Machiavelli’s ideas on political theory, which place a high priority on maintaining stability above all else. A book on politics, theory, and practicality that the clever can apply to many areas of their lives – including productivity.

    The Bard, William Shakespeare

    As soon as I mentioned classic literature you saw this name coming; Shakespeare is either synonymous with it, or he is it! Shakespeare wrote tragic love stories in the masterpiece that has become a modern cliche for romance – Romeo and Juliet – and slapstick in works such as The Comedy of Errors. While he wasn’t the icon he is today while he was still alive, Shakespeare remains relevant because it was written timelessly; at one level or another, his plays are about humanity and its nature.

    Milton’s Paradise Lost

    John Milton was a civil servant for England in the 16th century on one hand, but on another a writer of poet and prose. He condemned censorship, a problem then and now, in Areopagitica, but his most famous work is the epic Paradise Lost. In this book Milton romanticized the fallen angel and looked at the ancient story from a different perspective, the character Lucifer becoming a big influence on Byron’s characterizations. For the modern reader who is looking for material that assists in the field of personal development, this book could provide some food for thought on the topics of individuality and freedom.

    War and Peace by Tolstoy

    Bemoaned for its length, which is epic in and of itself, War and Peace was written by Russian writer and count Leo Tolstoy, and is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of literature (like everything else in this list). War and Peace has broad and sweeping themes of giant proportion including, of course, war and peace, as well as other facts of life; aging, youth, and relationships. It is unique from many of the other Western classics presented since it came from a Russian count, and a totally different culture.

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    These are only a few classics that are part of a very long history of deserving titles, but these are some of the most well-respected in history – not to mention more than enough to get you started and keep you busy for a long while.

    And when you’re done, you can fire up that feed reader again!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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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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