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Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season

Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season
Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season

    Barring the sudden mutation of bird flu into Super Death Flu, most winter illnesses aren’t life-threatening (except to the elderly and the very young). Catching whatever bug is going around will usually just slow you down for a couple days, making you feel miserable. They’re more inconvenient than anything else. Still, American businesses lose millions of working hours to employee sickness, most of it due not to missed work days (Americans don’t use sick days) but rather to lowered productivity due to employees coming in sick.

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    There’s no sure-fire way to make sure you don’t catch cold or flu, but there are a few things you can do to increase your odds. And if you do get sick, there are also a couple things you ought to keep in mind to avoid spreading your illness to your friends, co-workers, and loved ones.

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    1. First of all, forget the anti-bacterial soap. Anti-bacterial soap offers no particular advantage over soap alone — it’s the washing that counts, regardless of the soap. Even if anti-bacterial additives worked, though, they still wouldn’t help much, since the main threat in flu season is viruses, not bacteria. Meanwhile, the introduction of anti-bacterial substances into our hand soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, hand lotions, toothbrushes, and just about everything else contributes to the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria — in the long run, posing a greater threat than the risk of normal household bacteria pose today. These products should only be used in clinical conditions — hospitals, doctor’s offices, labs — to minimize the rate of resistance development.
    2. On the other hand, use hand sanitizer. The active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol, not specialized anti-bacterial agents. If you cannot wash your hands, and there is no visible dirt on your hands, hand sanitizer is a reasonable second line of defense. Use it before you eat or prepare food, of course (but only if you cannot wash), but also after using public transportation, visiting the bank teller window (or anywhere else where people put their hands a lot), using a shopping cart, or selecting meat at the supermarket.
    3. Better yet, wash your hands. But do it right, instead of the way you wash your hands now. A good hand-washing is more effective than hand sanitizer, regardless of the kind of soap you use. The problem is, most people don’t wash long enough to get a good hand-washing. You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to assure real cleanliness. How long is that? About as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” two times through (you don’t have to sing out loud if you don’t want to, though).
    4. Avoid the buffet. Yes, buffets are amazing — bountiful cornucopias of delights. They are also among the least sanitary ways to serve food. Almost every customer before you has touched the tongs, spoon, or spatula the food is served with, introducing all manner of bacteria and viruses into the dish (I said “almost” every customer — the rest just stuck their hands right in). Food is rarely kept hot enough to kill any germs that get on or in it; generally, buffet food is kept at a temperature well within the comfort zone of food poisoning bacteria. Yum!
    5. If you do get sick, stay home. A lot of people go into work sick, feeling that they have too much on their plates to miss a day. Those people are profoundly disturbed, and should see a therapist or life coach immediately. In any case, the reality is that more productivity is lost due to sick workers than to absent workers. You can do the math yourself: if you go into work and work at 50% effectiveness for five days, instead of staying home for two days and coming in fully recovered the third, you’ve lost half a day’s work (50% + 50% + 50% + 50% + 50% = 250% vs. 0% + 0% + 100% + 100% + 100% = 300%). On top of that, you risk infecting your co-workers, reducing their productivity as well, and costing your company a heck of a lot more than your two days off.
    6. If you can’t avoid people, at least cough properly. Cough into your sleeves, not your hands. When you cough, cover your mouth with your elbow or shoulder, not your hands. I know, it seems gross, all those germs just lingering around in your sleeve, but better in your shirt (which you rarely touch anyone or anything with) than on your hands (which you touch everything with). Bacteria and viruses will quickly die in the fabric of your shirt or blouse, while the oils and warmth of your hands will keep them alive for hours. Bottom line: you won’t be spreading germs everywhere you go.

      Following the advice above will not completely eliminate the risk of illness, but it will certainly reduce your risks and, if you do get sick reduce the threat you pose to others. Certainly a healthy diet and lifestyle can help, as can a round of flu shots, but neither of those is very useful if you don’t minimize your exposure to the germs that cause illness. Unfortunately, the trend over the last few years has been to put our trust in virtually useless anti-bacterial soaps, leading us down the wrong path entirely. Good hand-washing habits, being careful about where you put your hands in the first place, and common courtesy are far more effective.

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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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