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Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

goal

    Putting in some extra effort at work can pay off. You can get a promotion or a raise, or wind up on a choice project. The same goes with your personal finances — going the extra mile can help you pay off a debt early or save up for a purchase. You can push through to success in just about anything. But once you’ve achieved your goal, it can be hard to keep up that level of effort. If you’ve been staying late every night to finish a project, you don’t want your boss to start thinking that’s the level of effort you can commit to every project. If you cut way down on your expenses, you don’t want to live a spartan lifestyle forever.

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    Just the same, however, you’ve seen your work pay off. You don’t necessarily want to give up every perk that all that extra work got you. In order to find balance, you have to find a way to keep that momentum going, without driving yourself over the edge with all that effort.

    Looking for Balance

    Keeping up an extreme pace for weeks or even months can turn your extraordinary effort into something that you consider quite normal. That trap can make it hard to take a step back and decide whether you can really keep up this level of effort. However, it’s a necessary step: when you’ve accomplished your goal, considering the work that got you there is important. Of course, your work alone isn’t the cost of completing a project or reaching a goal. There are other costs, like the time you’ve been able to spend with your friends and family, your own comfort or even your health.

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    Life isn’t a balance sheet, but you can tell the difference between your lifestyle at a project’s beginning and at its end. Depending on the benefits, you may decide that keeping up your exertion is well worth it: maybe getting a raise means that you’re getting paid enough to make an increase in your workload well worth your while. But, then again, you might decide that you need to reintroduce yourself to a few things that have been missing in your life: if you stopped going out entirely in order to save up money, allowing yourself the occasional night out isn’t the end of the world — and it might do you a little good.

    If you can decide just what you’ve cut that you want back, you can tell just how much effort you are willing to put into keeping momentum on your goal. Think about the example of saving money by cutting entertainment expenses: you may be willing to continue to keep those expenses down, but with at least a little bit of a budget for fun with your friends. You won’t negate all that hard work of saving money — keeping up at least some of the momentum of your original goal and maintaining your success — but not depriving yourself of all entertainment.

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    Setting Up Balance

    Once you’ve got an idea of how far you’ll go to maintain your success, you can go about reintroducing balance to your life. You may need to inform a few people of your plan to do so, though. If you’ve been putting in 12-hour workdays, it’s probably a good idea to inform your boss of the fact that you won’t be doing that anymore. Many employers will revise their expectations upwards if you’ve gone the extra mile — it stops being extra and becomes required. You don’t want an employer to think you’re suddenly slacking off. But sitting down and talking out the matter can be all that it takes to step down to a more sustainable schedule.

    Depending on just what your goal was, you may find that other considerations must be made. Perhaps your friends or family members changed their schedules in deference to yours: changing that schedule back may be difficult. Being willing to compromise might come in handy if you are ready to cut back on your effort in other areas. Unfortunately, creating a bit more balance in your life may not be as simple as waving a magic wand, but it possible with a little consideration.

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    Key to creating balance is ensuring that you do follow through on any commitments you made upon achieving your goal. Maybe you set a secondary goal — something that provided a little continuation and helped you take advantage of the rush of meeting your initial ambition. Or maybe you have a new project set for you by someone else as a product of your prior effort. You may not be in a position to throw quite as much at your new goal as your last, but if it is important enough for you to follow through on, you’ll find yourself putting at least some effort into it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re able to maintain balance with other parts of your life in the long run. But you may need to set a few initial limits to ensure that any new projects won’t consume your every waking moment.

    With a little care, all that extra effort won’t become an every day expectation. If you’re willing to prioritize other parts of your life, you can build on your successes and keep some momentum without working yourself to the point of going crazy.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective 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 effectively.

    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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    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. 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.

    5. 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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    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    8. 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 Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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