Advertising
Advertising

How to raise the odds that it’s going to be a fantastic day

How to raise the odds that it’s going to be a fantastic day

Got that Monday (and every other work-day) morning feeling? Here’s how to begin each new day as if you can’t wait to get started.

start_day.jpg

This is my 100th article for Lifehack.org. That set my mind thinking about beginnings and endings. Last week, I wrote about how to leave work gracefully, so it seems natural to follow that by considering how to start your working day on a truly positive note.

Advertising

The way that you start the day nearly always sets the tone for the rest of it. If you begin in a rush, feeling frazzled and harassed, it’s very likely that the rest of the day will go the same way—or worse. It’s well worth a little planning and care to start each day well. It may still go downhill, but at least you won’t have begun in a foul mood.

Advertising

Too many people catapult themselves into each new work-day, fractious and ill-prepared for whatever lies ahead. Since they begin the day feeling miserable and stressed, just about any problems, however minor, have the power to knock them so far off their best that they have almost no chance of reaching the end of the day in anything except the blackest of black moods.

Here are some ideas to help you slide smoothly into the day instead, feeling relaxed and ready to take on whatever comes along:

Advertising

  • Get up early. I know that sounds like punishment, and bed always feels especially comfortable first thing in the morning, but you should allow yourself plenty of time to get ready—and then some. Rushing to get ready causes stress and sends you out of the door tense and high on adrenaline. Believe me, beginning on an adrenaline high is going to lead to some pretty awful cold turkey as the day goes on. Work out how much time you need to get ready without hurrying, then add 30 minutes. You still need your sleep, so go to go to bed a little earlier than you do currently. That’s an additional benefit of avoiding a period of manic frenzy every morning.
  • Establish a morning ritual to help you do what you need to do easily and avoid forgetting things. The great benefit of rituals is that you can run through them on automatic pilot. So if you’re not much of a morning person, you don’t have to force your brain into a thinking state quite so early to ensure that, when you leave the house, you’re properly dressed and have everything you need to take with you.
  • Always eat some breakfast. It’s essential to start the day with your blood sugar in a good state. Sit down and eat something; don’t grab some sugary, high-cholesterol snack as you run down the street. All that will do is give you a quick blood-sugar high, followed by a crash shortly afterwards. You need a breakfast that will provide a steady delivery of sugars to your blood throughout the morning. That way, you’ll avoid the ten o’clock depression—and be much less likely to crave more sugary snacks. A constant see-sawing of blood sugar levels is exhausting in itself and is bound to make you tense and irritable.
  • Give yourself plenty of time for your morning commute. Many things can hold you up. If you’re running behind and meet a problem—like a traffic jam or an accident—it’s going to freak you out and send your adrenaline levels into the stratosphere. Hey, you know that the very worst delays always happen on the days when you’re running most behind. Go easy on yourself.
  • Vary your route to work as much as you can. Make it as interesting and varied as possible. Look around you. Enjoy the ride. Be present. What you don’t want to do is tune out and spend the time anticipating the problems you’re going to find when you get to work. A problem anticipated and worried over is a problem suffered at least twice.
  • When you arrive, have a simple ritual to ease you gently into the work environment. Get a cup of tea or coffee. Greet some friends. Organize your desk. Nothing stressful—just some simple activities to switch your mind easily back into work-day mode. Athletes warm up before an event to avoid needless strains and injuries to cold muscles. You should imitate them.
  • Take 10 minutes to set the day’s priorities. Nothing is more stressful than being busy all day and reaching the end of it tired—then realizing you’ve accomplished precisely nothing on the very items that you know are most important. How many times have you done this? Well, don’t do it again. Decide what you need to do, write it down, then stick to your game plan, If emergencies push you off track, get back on it as soon as you can. Always do what is most important, not what either seems most urgent or happens to be jumping up and down in front of you. Calm application to genuine priorities is most likely to allow you to end the day feeling satisfied with what you have done.
  • Never, never start your day with distractions, like checking e-mail. It eats up time and leaves you feeling pressured and stressed when you snap out of it and discover most of the morning has been spent on useless trivia.
  • If you aren’t sure what needs to be done first, follow this simple rule of thumb: look to see whatever needs to be done next and do it. Repeat until the end of the day. the result will be faster, more secure progress than you ever believed possible.
  • Above all, make a gentle start on the day allows you to preserve your energy for whatever’s still to come. Don’t treat each day like a sprint and hurl yourself into it headlong. Don’t dither and procrastinate and try to avoid starting at all. A steady, middle way is pretty much always the best. Most days are middle-distance races. Some are marathons. It’s amazing how far you can get through either kind without strain or hassle, if you keep plodding steadily along.

Give yourself two weeks to work out the best rituals and patterns for starting your day. Try out several to find what works best for you. Once you have picked the most useful, stick to them despite all the temptations to go back to morning chaos. You’ll be really glad that you did.

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, and its new companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics to this include What’s your Flyway Resort? and Stop tormenting yourself with anticipated hurt. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is available at all good bookstores.

Advertising

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