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Looking for Answers Online

Looking for Answers Online

    The internet is all about information, but sometimes it can be hard to sort out the answer you really need from the celebrity gossip and gadget rumors. You can email your question to friends and family, read Wikipedia articles until your eyelids droop, or even post your question to your blog. You still may not find the answer you’re trying to find. But there are some websites that are all about answering questions — it’s just a matter of taking advantage of the folks who happily hang out, just looking for questions that fall into their expertise.

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    My Favorite Places to Ask Questions

    • LinkedIn Answers — I’ve had good luck getting answers on LinkedIn Answers. While questions on this site are supposed to focus on business, there’s a little leeway. I’ve gotten much higher quality answers here than most other sites.
    • AskMeFi — The variety of questions on AskMeFi is nothing if not impressive. Today alone there are questions about water resource engineering, vacation planning and more. The folks who frequent the site seem to be able to answer just about anything.
    • WikiAnswers — This site, as it happens, is a wiki where you can add a question to a particular category. You don’t have to actually wikify either questions or answers, though. The site handles that sort of thing automatically.
    • Yahoo!Answers — Yahoo!Answers seems to just have more people frequenting it than any of the other sites I use to find answers. If I’ve struck out everywhere else, I head to this site. There’s a higher likelihood of getting an answer you can’t use here, just as there’s a higher chance of getting any answer at all.

    Beyond these four sites, there are thousands of other sites devoted at least partially to answering questions. Heck, even Slashdot posts questions on a regular basis, allowing readers to contribute ideas. By no means should you consider this list exhaustive, and if you have a site you prefer, please mention it in the comments. I know there are plenty of sites focused on particular topics as well as forums that can help lead you to the information you’re looking for.

    Crafting the Question

    Not all questions get an answer, no matter which site you post it on. It’s not always an issue of whether anyone knows the answer: you may need to tweak your question-writing technique. I’ve found, for instance, really broad questions get ignored. On most sites, question answers are only spending a small amount of time answering questions. They’ll go for the easy responses first — the questions they can answer in under five minutes. With really broad questions, there is a certain feeling that whoever is asking hasn’t done any research, and no one wants to do someone’s work for them.

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    It can also be difficult to write a question that gets the answer you’re looking. More than once, I’ve had to rewrite and repost questions because I assumed that the folks looking at my question would be thinking the same way — maybe I assumed that everyone would think that I’d already looked into the obvious answer. That’s really not the case, though. You have to state limitations if you want people to conform to what you really want for an answer. Most sites provide plenty of room in which to write your question: it can be worthwhile to make a note of answers you’ve already looked into and discounted, or other information that can help limit your request.

    Considering the Answers

    Unfortunately, not everyone who hangs out on a website and types up answers to random strangers’ questions is a reliable source. Especially if you’re asking about sensitive subjects, you might get a few ‘interesting’ answers. It’s up to you to sort out the information you can really use and set aside the rest. Depending on the importance of the question, I try to do a little research to, at least, confirm the answers I’ve received. I’ve actually found that once I have an answer, it’s much easier to Google for confirmation than it was to get Google to find an answer in the first place.

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    There are also more than a few sites that guarantee that you can have your questions answered by experts. The major difference between these and the sites I’ve been discussing is a matter of price. As long as you don’t care about the quality of your answers, you can get them for free. If you need something a little more reliable, though, it might just be worth investing in a few minutes of an expert’s time.

    Give Back a Few Answers of Your Own

    While spending all day on AskMeFi, answering every question you can, may not seem like a good time to you, it still may be worth your while to spend a little time on one of the various answer sites. It can be a good way to kill time, especially if you stick to the relatively simple questions, but some people do it for other reasons. Many members of LinkedIn, for instance, answer questions to help build up their reputations as experts in particular subjects. Other sites award points for good answers, although some points systems may be arbitrary and I’m still not sure what value most of those points have. No matter what the reward, though, I firmly believe that answering questions gets my brain going and are probably better than the many YouTube videos I could be spending my time on instead.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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