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The 80 Best Lifehacks of 2008

The 80 Best Lifehacks of 2008

The 80 Best Lifehacks of 2008

    And so we arrive yet again at the end of another year. 2008 was at best a mixed bag – while the world was electrified by the US election and it’s promise of change, the global economy was shaken to its core as a decade of financial mismanagement and willful blindness finally caught up with us. Gas prices spiked, leading us all to ask some difficult questions about sustainability, efficiency, and consumption – and then plummeted, leaving us feeling somewhat relieved, but baffled by the unpredictability of it all.

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    As we roll into 2009, there is an atmosphere of suspenseful anticipation, of hope mixed with not a little uncertainty. Companies are streamlining to prepare for the worst, even as entrepreneurs look ahead to new opportunities. Overall, it seems that now is a time for shaking off the dust, clearing away the debris of the past, and looking towards the future.

    Here at Lifehack, we’ve always followed a path of cautious optimism. Plan for the worst, but work for the best! 2008 has seen the arrival of a host of new contributors, as well as two new contributing editors, Thursday Bram and Joel Falconer. Together, we’ve continued to bring you the best tips, advice, and recommendations across the field of productivity, helping with everything from managing your todo list to managing your career.

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    Here, then, are the best posts of 2008, selected according to their popularity and the amount of discussion they generated both here on the site and across the blogosphere. Contained in these posts is a healthy dose of the wisdom, direction, and skill you need to move forward into a successful 2009!

    Communication

    1. How to Build Credibility on the Web
      14 ways to make sure that your voice is the one people pay attention to among the anonymous masses on the Web. (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. 7 Little Tricks To Speak In Public With No Fear
      Most people are terrified of speaking in public. With these tips, you don’t have to be. (Mohamad Zaki)
    3. How to win Arguments – Dos, Don’ts and Sneaky Tactics
      Helpful tips to come out on top when it matters. (Paul Sloane)
    4. The Value of Writing Well
      Improve your writing skills to make yourself a better thinker, a more compelling speaker, and all-around better person. (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. Be Heard. Speak Plainly.
      Tips on making yourself clear — and persuasive. (Dustin M. Wax)
    6. How to Write in 140 Characters or Less
      The future of writing is Twitter. Here’s how to make yourself understood in today’s micro-media. (Dustin M. Wax)
    7. How to Write (in a thousand words or less)
      17 tips to help make you a better writer. (Dustin M. Wax)
    8. The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource
      Software, web apps, websites, and other essential resources every writer should know about. (Dustin M. Wax)
    9. How to Write a Business Letter That Gets Results
      Writing a business letter is more than just following the right format — though that helps, too. Here’s some advice on how to nail your business correspondence. (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. 10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations
      Everyone hates PowerPoint presentations, but they won’t hate yours if you follow these tips. (Dustin M. Wax)

    Fitness/Health

    1. Are You Following the Wrong Exercise Program?
      Your exercise program might not be right for you and your goals. Here’s how to tune your exercise regimen to make it right for you. (Craig Harper)
    2. Making Meals Easier: A Few Healthy Eating Ideas
      Easy ideas for healthier eating from three nutritionists. (Thursday Bram)
    3. How to Lose Weight Watching TV
      Exercise ideas you can squeeze into the commercial breaks of your favorite shows. (Craig Harper)
    4. Five Ways to Pick up the Exercise Habit Again
      Get back in shape after falling off the wagon with these tips. (Aaron M. Potts)
    5. 20 Foods To Snack On For Enhanced Productivity
      If you’re going to have a snack, why not have one that gives you more energy, helps you think better, or eases stress? (Kavit Haria)
    6. 15 Reasons Why You’re not Losing Weight
      You’re eating healthy and still not dropping the pounds? Maybe you’re over-indulging on one of these supposedly healthy but really fattening foods. (Craig Harper)
    7. How To Lose Belly Fat
      Helpful tips on working towards a slimmer stomach. (Mark McManus)

    Lifestyle

    1. 50 Ways to Make Your Home More Organized, More Attractive, and More Efficient
      Tips from Lifehack readers about home organization. (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. 10 Keys to Work/Life Balance
      Approaches to maintaining a healthy relationship between your work and the rest of your life. (Dustin M. Wax)
    3. T.H.U.M.P. – 5 Ways to Deal with Irresponsible People
      How to get irresponsible people out of your life — or at least make them less dangerous. (Aaron M. Potts)
    4. 5 Simple Steps To Be Happy — Finally
      FIgure out what makes you happy and start doing it! (Alex Shalman)
    5. Punctuality Counts
      Being on time might not seem that important, but it portrays confidence, respect, and command. Check out the follow-up, How to Be On Time Every Time, for tips on breaking  the late habit. (Dustin M. Wax)
    6. 34 Tips for Your Younger Self
      Lessons Lifehack readers wish they had known when they were younger. Required reading for young people of every age. (Joel Falconer)
    7. 10 Morning Rituals For The Healthy EntrepreneurHow you start your day can make the difference between success and failure. Start it right with these productive habits. (Kavit Haria)
    8. 11 Tips to Carve Out More Time to Think
      When it feels like you don’t have time to form a complete thought, follow these tips to get things back under control. (Scott H. Young)
    9. What’s It Going to Take to Make You Happy?
      All that stands between you and happiness might well be your failure to figure out what would make you happy. (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. 80 How-To Sites Worth Bookmarking
      A smorgasbord of sites to help you do just about anything. (Thursday Bram)

    Productivity

    1. 50+ Personal Productivity Blogs You’ve Never Heard of Before (and about a dozen you probably have)
      A bird’s-eye view of the productivity blogosphere’s lesser-known reaches. Don’t miss the follow-up, Readers Recommend: 15 More Productivity Blogs You Probably Never Heard Of, drawn from reader’s comments. (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. 6 Signs Your Lifehacks Aren’t Working
      Just because something seems like a good idea doesn’t mean it’s helping. Here’s how to tell when your productivity tricks are causing you more trouble than good. (Thursday Bram)
    3. Read This Now! Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done — or Else!
      Tips on breaking the hold of procrastination. Took forever to get around to writing this! (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. How to Ruthlessly Reclaim Work Day Time
      Sometimes lifehacks just aren’t enough to take control of your time. Here’s what to do when more drastic measures are called for. (Joel Falconer)
    5. 10 Hacks to Improve Your Home Office Productivity
      Working at home offers plenty of conveniences, but also distractions. Here are some tips on taking charge of your home office to get more done. (Joel Falconer)
    6. 5 Ways to get out of faffing mode
      Stop futzing around and get moving, already! (Steven Aitchison)
    7. 10 Steps To Working On The Road
      Tips for today’s mobile professionals. (Thursday Bram)
    8. 10 Tips For Improving Your Appointment Setting Skills
      Great ideas for taking charge of your schedule. (Thursday Bram)
    9. 50 Tricks to Get Things Done Faster, Better, and More Easily
      Your one-stop shop for the best concepts and tricks for increasing productivity. (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. The Ultimate Student Resource List
      Free software, web apps, and websites, along with links to the best of Lifehack’s advice for students, make this post the ultimate guide to success for students. (Dustin M.Wax)
    11. 10 Productivity Myths That Hold You Back
      Misguided beliefs about productivity that sap our energy and lead us down the wrong path. (Dustin M. Wax)
    12. 30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity
      Great ways to recharge your creative batteries and get the ideas flowing again. (Joel Falconer)
    13. 8 Good Reasons to Be a Lousy Musician
      Who says you need to be perfect at everything? Here’s some good reasons to give yourself permission to suck at something you love. (Dustin M. Wax)
    14. The Science of Setting Goals
      What goes on in our brain when we set, achieve, and fail to achieve our goals. (Dustin M. Wax)
    15. 5 Effective Ways to Improve Your Sleep
      Tips and tricks to help you get a fuller, more restful nights sleep. (Joel Falconer)

    Success/Achievement

    1. 8 Essential Skills They Didn’t Teach You In School
      Important life skills like how to network, set goals, and negotiate. FIgure these out and you’re miles ahead the rest! (Brian Armstrong)
    2. 10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything
      No matter what field you’re in, these skills are essential to achieving success. (Dustin M. Wax)
    3. 29 Worn Out Perspectives in Need of the “Oh Really?” Factor
      We all have excuses for why we don’t achieve our goals. But are they really to blame, or are we just avoiding the hard work of succeeding? (Lisa Gates)
    4. 10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better
      In today’s quick-fix culture, there are still great rewards to be gained for people willing to work hard and pay dome dues. (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. I Won Science Fair with A Failed Project: The Skill of Presenting Failures
      Turn failure into success with these tips. (Thursday Bram)
    6. Three Basic Steps to Get Your Desire with the Least Effort
      Know what you want, how to get it, and the tools you’ll need on the way. (Donald Latumahina)
    7. Build Your Platform: How to Show You’re the Right Person for Any Job
      Convince your world you can handle anything by building a strong platform to build your case on. (Dustin M. Wax)
    8. The George Costanza Lifehack for Overcoming Fear and Anxiety
      Important life lessons from everyone’s favorite schlub, George Costanza. (Derek Ralston)

    Technology

    1. 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services
      Review of 11 free applications for creating, storing, and exploring your thoughts. (Joel Falconer)
    2. 7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace
      Replace these bad email practices with more efficient habits and achieve email mastery. (Joel Falconer)
    3. 8 Web Databases for Tracking, Collecting and Recording Data
      Reviews of eight powerful tools to help you manage your data. (Joel Falconer)
    4. 7 iPhone Apps to Boost Your Productivity
      Your iPhone is more than just a toy. Try these apps to increase your productivity on the go. (Joel Falconer)
    5. The Quick & Dirty Guide to Personal Wikis
      Get started with wikis for note-taking, brainstorming, and online collaboration. (Joel Falconer)
    6. 14 Web Apps for Your Portable Office
      Suggestions to build an always-on, access-anywhere web office for the mobile worker. (Joel Falconer)
    7. Aggregate Your Social Networks with EventBox
      Instructions on using EventBox as a universal interface for your online life. (Joel Falconer)
    8. How Bloggers Can Use FriendFeed Effectively
      Use feed aggregator FriendFeed to improve your blogging. (Joel Falconer)
    9. Guy Kawasaki’s Thoughts on Online Life
      An interview with web entrepreneur and author Guy Kawasaki about the present and future of the Web. (Rowan Manahan)
    10. How To Use Your Blog To Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever!
      Blogging isn’t just an outlet for stories about your cat — it can make you a better, happier, and more productive person! (Alex Shalman)

    Work/Finance

    1. 7 Portfolio Tricks That Will Land You A Job
      With the economy staggering about like a drunken baby, creative professionals need all the edge they can muster. These tips will help you organize your portfolio to impress clients and win you work. (Thursday Bram)
    2. 16 Great Personal Finance Resources & Blogs
      With the economy shaking like a Jello shot at a sorority party, these sites are crucial for people who’d rather stay not-broke. (Joel Falconer)
    3. 10 Improvements You Can Make to Your Resume Right Now
      With the economy dodgier than a Washington Square pot dealer, here are ten ways to put your resume in tip-top shape. (Thursday Bram)
    4. 32 Hacks for Sticking to Your Budget
      With the economy looking scarier than a weekend getaway at the Bates Motel, these tips for making your budget work are essential reading! (Joel Falconer)
    5. 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time
      With the economy wobbling like a thirsty Weeble at a wine tasting, a few extra bucks sure couldn’t hurt. Here are 50 ways to build an income on the side — maybe one of them is right for you? (Thursday Bram)

    Back to Basics: Revisiting Productivity’s Fundamentals

    An occasional series exploring the fundamentals of productivity, with helpful tips to bring your  own system together. (Dustin M. Wax)

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    1. Back to Basics: Projects
    2. Back to Basics: Waiting For Someday/Maybe
    3. Back to Basics: Your Task List
    4. Back to Basics: Procrastination – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    5. Back to Basics: The Big Picture
    6. Back to Basics: The Tickler File
    7. Back to Basics: Reminders
    8. Back to Basics: Your Calendar
    9. Back to Basics: Processing
    10. Back to Basics: Your Inbox
    11. Back to Basics: Your Weekly Review
    12. Back to Basics: Setting Priorities
    13. Back to Basics: Your Inbox
    14. Back to Basics: Reference Filing
    15. Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas

    One more thing…

    Don’t miss our new apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch:

    Happy 2009!

    Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and editors for making 2008 a great year. We wish you all a happy, healthy, and productive 2009!

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    More by this author

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

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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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