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The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

    Another year is winding down, and that means it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve done here at Lifehack over the last 12 months. 2009 was a scary year for a lot of people – corporate layoffs, a shaky global economy, stunningly vicious politics, old wars grinding on and new ones flaring up. In the midst of all this, though, many saw opportunities; with the myth of life-long corporate employment shattered as some of the world’s biggest companies teetered on the brink of collapse, entrepreneurship enjoyed a major resurgence. This rise in self-reliance extends beyond our work life, too – people are embracing a do-it-yourself, person-to-person lifestyle where status and the display of wealth matter much less than authenticity and social interaction.

    All of this is reflected in the posts that went up on this site over the last year. What follows is a list of the 90 most popular, most commented on, and most talked-about posts from 2009, and as you can see, in addition to our usual mix of posts about personal productivity, organization, webware, and creativity, a large number of posts about personal finance and self-employment made the top of the list. It’s not surprising that Lifehack’s staff and contributors would write posts that reflect the tenor of the times, nor that such posts would resonate most with our audience.

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    What emerges from all this is a treasure trove of good advice, ranging from the lofty and idealistic to the immediately practical. We promise to continue to provide quality tips and advice about work, technology, money, and just plain living in the new year and beyond. If you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our feed and follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have in store for 2010!

    Software and Technology

    2009 was notable for the maturing of online applications, the explosion of applications for mobile phones, and the mainstreaming of social networking services like Twitter and Facebook. Popular stories at Lifehack covered tips for the use (and not abuse) of social networking services, tips on using your computer effectively and securely, and recommendations for applications online, on your PC, and on your Android phones.

    1. Getting Productive with the Webware 100 (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Searching for a Shared Virtual Workspace? (Clemens Rettich)
    3. Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. From Here to Tweeternity: A Practical Guide to Getting Started on Twitter (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. Six Ways to Transform your Presentation (Paul Sloane)
    6. Managing Your Social Network Addiction (Ibrahim Husain)
    7. 8 Keys to Internet Security (Dustin M. Wax)
    8. The First 10 Free Apps to Install on a New Windows PC (Dustin M. Wax)
    9. 12 Free Android Apps to Help Get Things Done (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. Your Guide to Apps that Eliminate Distractions (Joel Falconer)

    Lifestyle: Family, Fitness, and Finance

    Money issues were on everyone’s minds this year, and our writers served up plenty of advice about managing both your money and your expectations. Advice about families and parenting was popular this year – or sometimes controversial, like Craig Harper’s poorly understood advice to take ownership of your past and recognize that whoever wronged you in the past, only you can set things right for yourself. And, since today’s worker is all-too-often someone who spends most of her or his day sitting, our writers’ advice on getting some activity into your life was well appreciated.

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    1. How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids (Erin Kurt)
    2. If Your Childhood Sucked – It’s Time to Stop Blaming Your Parents! (Craig Harper)
    3. How to Recognize Imminent Danger: 7 Essential Safety Rules (Mary Jaksch)
    4. 30 Money Sites to Check Out in 2009 (Thursday Bram)
    5. 3 Scary Misconceptions About Money (Joel Falconer)
    6. Great Ways to Become Poor and Stay Poor (Paul Sloane)
    7. Weight Loss Groundhog Day (Craig Harper)
    8. Pain and Posture: The Basics (Jamie Nischan)
    9. How to Start Running – Without Feeling Like a Failure (Mary Jaksch)
    10. A Workout for Geeks (Daryl Furuyama)

    Personal Productivity and Creativity

    Advice about getting productive makes up the core of Lifehack’s content, so naturally our most popular and most talked about posts this year were just that. From developing the right mindset to promoting creativity to finding inspiration and motivation, we offered tons of advice on getting things done.

    1. 12 Lists That Help You Get Things Done (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Procrastination – NOT a Problem! (Francis Wade)
    3. 10 Best Productivity Books of 2009 (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. 11 Ways to Think Outside the Box (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 8 Ways to Kill Clutter in 5 Minutes (David Pierce)
    6. Reaching Your Goals – Dutch Style (Christine Buske)
    7. New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why (Steve Errey)
    8. How to Make Decisions Under Pressure (Joel Falconer)
    9. Limits and Creativity (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum (Joel Falconer)
    11. 4 Pocket-Sized Tools to Help You Generate Killer Ideas Any Time, Anywhere (Chuck Frey)
    12. How to Think What Nobody Else Thinks (Paul Sloane)
    13. 9 Lists To Keep Updated, and Keep Handy (David Pierce)
    14. 10 Reasons Paper is The Most Flexible Productivity Platform (Joel Falconer)
    15. 3 Tips to Improve Memory Quickly (Steve Martile)
    16. How to Wake Up and Instantly Achieve Something Everyday (Paul Dickinson)
    17. Stripped GTD: 3 Habits That Make You More Productive (David Pierce)
    18. Ten Great Ways to Crush Creativity (Paul Sloane)
    19. Scoring 100% in Time Management (Francis Wade)
    20. 7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It (Annabel Candy)

    My incomplete series on getting back on track with a productivity system, “GTD Refresh”, was quite popular but was never completed. The next step for me was supposed to be eliminating my email backlog and adopting an “Inbox Zero” approach, but frankly, email won. This year – I’m going to try again in 2010 and so you may well see more “GTD Refresh posts in the not-too-distant future.

    2009 was bookended by two publications with something to offer the would-be personal productivity expert. David Allen’s Making It All Work revisited the core concepts of GTD and expanded on elements that had been weakly developed in his earlier work. You can read my lengthy review here: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

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    And our most popular series, my “Back to Basics” posts from 2008, were collected, revised, and expanded (with 2 new chapters) in the release of Back to Basics Productivity which will be joined in 2010 by several more ebook releases.

    Work and Career

    With the economy huddling in on itself this year, even non-entrepreneurs had to learn to be more entrepreneurial. Promotions, raises, or just holding onto your job and pay level, required a demonstration of unusual career intelligence, and our writers offered a heaping portion of it. And for those in our workforce who took the plunge – voluntarily or not – into self-employment, advice on personal branding, small-business promotion, and entrepreneurship were in no short supply.

    1. What to Do if You Don’t Get Along with Your Boss (Paul Sloane)
    2. Darth Vader’s “Management” Secrets (Art Carden)
    3. 21 Entrepreneurship Websites Worth Checking Out
    4. 3 Areas You Must Invest in During an Economic Recession (Dan Schawbel)
    5. Personal Branding Basics (Dan Schawbel)
    6. Seven Great Questions to Ask at a Job Interview (Paul Sloane)
    7. Why A Good Web Site Matters To Your Business (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    8. How to do Good AND Make a Profit (Arvind Devalia)
    9. 12 Tips for Better Business Writing (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. 10 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Job (Paul Sloane)

    Productivity Pr0n

    It may seem distracting, even materialistic, to drool over office supplies, but let’s face it: I do it, you do it, and geeks around the world do it. And with good reason, actually: the right tool can (in David Pierce’s words) make all the difference. Moleskine’s were popular as always, but a list of alternative notebooks caught the eye of those put off by the style or cost of the famous pocket notebook. Pens also got a lot of attention – it may seem silly to those who are (or pretend to be) perfectly comfortable with their 12-for-a-dollar stick pens, but there truly is no feeling quite like that of a quality writing instrument gliding over the page. And for funsies, there’s are review of the Prada Link, because gadgets are way cool.

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    1. 13 Ways of Looking at an Index Card (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Stationery Pr0n: Japanese Pens and More from JetPens.com (Dustin M. Wax)
    3. Why a Great Pen Makes All the Difference (David Pierce)
    4. 5 Reasons to Pay Good Money for a Moleskine (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 13 Things to Do with a Moleskine Notebook (Dustin M. Wax)
    6. 10 Great Moleskine Hacks (Dustin M. Wax)
    7. 9 Places to Always Keep Pen and Paper Handy (David Pierce)
    8. 10 Affordable Pens Geeks Love (Dustin M. Wax)
    9. 10 Great Notebooks Productive People Love (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. The Trend of Productivity Accessories is Here (Leon Ho)

    Life Lessons

    Finally, the catch-all for what’s left. There are some brilliant people writing on Lifehack – small business experts, marketing gurus, life coaches, creativity specialists, and so on. It stands to reason that not all their advice could be slotted into easy categories. So below you’ll find advice on relating with others, mastering your own weaknesses and giving rein to your strengths, developing a charitable mindset, dealing with hardships, and more.

    1. 10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Have You Started Planning for a Successful 2010? Here’s How! (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    3. Rethink the Season of Giving (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. 7 Ways to Deal with Annoying People and Still Get Things Done (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 12 Personality Types to Avoid to Make 2009 Your Best Year (Craig Harper)
    6. Life Lessons of the Dread Pirate Roberts (Dustin M. Wax)
    7. Six Great Ways to Vent Your Frustrations (Danielle Marie Crume)
    8. How to Stay Motivated and On-Track When You’re Struggling (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    9. Change The Way You See Fear And Change Your Life (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    10. The Five Reasons Why You Are Not Fulfilling Your Potential (Paul Sloane)
    11. How to Be Offended (Dustin M. Wax)
    12. Improve Your Charitable Giving: Let Not Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Is Doing (Art Carden)
    13. 10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    14. 7 Steps to Start Lucid Dreaming (Steven Aitchinson)
    15. Changing Your Personal Reality (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Craig Harper)
    16. Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self (Dustin M. Wax)
    17. Go on a Date with Life and More Ways to Go on a Date with Life (Dustin M. Wax)
    18. Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    19. The Work of Worry (Dustin M. Wax)
    20. Your Happiness Plan (Craig Harper)

    Were there any other posts here in the last year that helped you or gave you a new perspective on your work, life, or the people around you? Let us know in the comments!

    Finally, I want to take a moment to recognize all the staff writers and guest contributors who worked hard to provide our readers with wisdom and insight in 2009. On the staff, there’s Leon Ho (site owner), myself (project manager), and our staff writers Joel Falconer and Thursday Bram, now departed. Our contributors and guests consist of:

    • Steven Aitchison
    • Susan Baroncini-Moe
    • Christine Buske
    • Annabel Candy
    • Art Carden
    • Kit Cooper
    • Danielle Marie Crume
    • Arvind Devalia
    • Paul Dickinson
    • Steve Errey
    • Chuck Frey
    • Daryl Furuyama
    • Danny Gamache
    • Lisa Gates
    • Elisabeta  Ghidiu
    • Craig  Harper
    • Liora Hess
    • Ibrahim Husain
    • Mary Jaksch
    • Erin Kurt
    • Angus Lau
    • Alexandra Levit
    • Steve Martile
    • Jamie Nischan
    • David Pierce
    • Clemens Rettich
    • Dan Schawbel
    • Paul Sloane
    • Mike St. Pierre
    • Francis Wade

    Thanks to all of them, and to you, our readers, for making 2009 a great year!

    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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