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The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

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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:

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    • 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!

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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