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The Best of Lifehack: April 2012

The Best of Lifehack: April 2012


    April has come and gone, and so it’s time for another installment in our Best of Lifehack series. This series showcases articles from the month just gone by, just in case you missed some of what we offer each and each every day at Lifehack.

    This month we delivered posts on a wide variety of topics, focusing on fitness, nutrition, communication and overall productivity. You may have also noticed a lot of new contributors have joined the fold, largely as a result of our “How to Write for Lifehack” post that was published back in March. The result has been a slew of great articles from some very talented writers — and we’re going to bring even more of that to you from this month onward.

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    As we bid April farewell, here is The Best of Lifehack from the past month.

    How to Get Stuff Done: A Quick Guide

    Have you ever felt like your to do list is completely out of control and you’re just not getting anywhere? You have jobs piling up and you just don’t know where to start? Zoe B. has put together a primer on how to get stuff done that’s well worth checking out.

    7 Things You Should Add to Your Stop Doing List…Right Now!

    You probably make lists of things to do and follow them through. But what about the things you should stop doing? Successful people do not do the following things but chances are you still do. Paul Sloane recommends that you make a decision to add 7 things to your “stop doing list” starting today.

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    Hack Your Weight Loss Workout – Lose Weight In 15 Minutes a Day

    A weight loss workout doesn’t have to be boring. It shouldn’t require you to workout for hours every day to be effective either. You can actually lose weight and excess body fat in just 15 minutes a day. Lifehack contributor Curt Pedersen explains how you can do just that.

    The 3 Best iPhone Apps to Help You Remember

    Regular Lifehack contributor Royale Scuderi has discovered many very useful apps in her quest for better life management. Here are a few of the best iPhone apps to help your remember and that she has found to be very helpful.

    Productivity Hacks: 8 Things That Are Hurting Your Productivity

    Fixing minor issues can sometimes play a big role in enhancing your overall productivity and allow your creativity to flow like never before. Uttoran Sen offers up 8 things that are hurting your productivity — and how to hack them.

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    Lifehack Presents: A Mini-Guide for Weight Loss for Men

    Lifehack Associate Editor CM Smith has been assembling some excellent mini-guides over the past couple of months, and this one is no exception. If you’re a guy who’s looking to lose some excess pounds, give this a good read. And then follow through!

    Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Reach Their Goals

    With everything that happens around us, it is sometimes difficult to reach our goals. Robert Chen hasn’t just listed the top 10 reasons why people don’t reach their goals, but he’s also included a quick fix for each of them.

    20 Encouraging Quotes to Level Up Your Life

    With everything that happens around us, it is sometimes difficult to reach our goals. Robert Chen hasn’t just assembled the top 10 reasons why people don’t reach their goals, but he’s also included a quick fix for each of them.

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    How to Be 25% Happier in Five Minutes a Day

    Remember when you got a raise and bought a new car, and you were happy ever since? Neither does Cara Stein. So rather than dwell on that, she outlines ways that you can be 25% happier in just five minutes — each and every day.

    Seven Truths About You

    In this excerpt from the book Kiss That Frog: 12 Great Ways to Turn Negatives into Positives in Your Life and Work, Brian Tracy and Christina Tracy Stein explain that no matter where you are today, or what you have done or not done in the past, you need to accept seven essential truths about you as a person.

    (Photo credit: Golden leader of business team via Shutterstock)

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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