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The Lifehack 2008 Gift Guide

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The Lifehack 2008 Gift Guide

The Lifehack 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

    It’s that time of year again – time to sally forth in search of the perfect gift for the special and not-so-special-but-they’re-family people in your life. Given the economic situation this year, I made up a list with a few criteria in mind:

    1. Nothing crazy expensive. Everything on this list is under $400, and most is way under. Sure, a 48-foot LCD TV would be nice, or a 64 gigapixel DSLR, or that 128-core gaming PC you’ve been looking at for your teen, but in these uncertain times, I felt it would be best to keep things a bit more reasonable.
    2. Lots of style. Good design doesn’t have to be a luxury. In the past, style was what you traded for affordability, but these days it’s easy to find fashionable classics for everyday prices.
    3. Practicality first. With one exception, I tried to find things that your loved ones will actually be able to use regularly – things that will make their lives a little easier, a little nicer, or both.

    Most items link to Amazon for quick shopping, and when I had a choice I made sure they qualified for Prime shipping (Prime members pay about $70 a year for “free” 2-day shipping on every Prime order). Prices are in US dollars.

    Feel free to share your ideas in the comments – let’s help each other make the best of this holiday season!

    Productivity to Go

     

    Acer Aspire One netbook

      Acer Aspire One netbook

      This tiny laptop, barely bigger than a hardcover book, packs everything you need to work wherever you might find yourself. 1/6 GHz Atom processor, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB hard drive, and built-in wi-fi power a laptop with one of the larger keyboards available on a netbook and a lovely 8.9” screen. Runs Windows XP (although there’s a Linux-powered model for about $20 less). ($350)

      Fujitsu Scansnap S300 Color Mobile Scanner

        Fujitsu Scansnap S300 Color Mobile Scanner

        Small enough to travel just about anywhere, the ScanSnap is favored by paperless office devotees for its ease of use. Powered by your computer’s USB port, the ScanSnap scans documents directly to PDF, allowing instant capture of important papers, receipts, articles, and whatever else you want to keep. ($360)

        RichardSolo 1800 portable charger for iPhone

          RichardSolo 1800 portable charger for iPhone

          The geek’s charger, the Richard Solo 1800 is stylish and functional, providing just about a full charge to your iPhone’s famously short battery life. If that strikes you as all too pedestrian, consider this: it also has a built-in LED flashlight and laser pointer. Useless, of course, but doesn’t the uber-geek in your life deserve something useless and shiny? ($70)

          SimpleTech Signature Mini 250GB Portable Hard Drive

            SimpleTech Signature Mini 250GB Portable Hard Drive

            250 gigabytes in a case smaller than your Hipster PDA? Tiny, sleek, and sexy as hell – that’s some kind of backup! ($85)

            TomTom ONE 125 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

              TomTom ONE 125 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator

              The Tom Tom one is a super-affordable yet full-featured GPS, with full US maps and points of interest, turn-by-turn directions using built-in voices or downloadable “celebrity” voices, and both “official” and community-contributed updates. ($100)

              Practical Productivity

               
              Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen

                Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen

                Perfect for students and people who attend a lot of meetings, the Smartpen takes taking notes to a whole new level. Sensors detect where you are on the special paper, allowing you to not only capture your analog notes in digital form but control the built-in recorder as well. Notes and recordings can be imported to your computer and even uploaded in sync, meaning that clicking a spot in your notes brings up the recording at exactly that moment. ($200)

                Field Notes “The Kit”

                  Field Notes “The Kit”

                  Field Notes pocket notebooks are thin enough for the back pocket and have great retro, Indiana Jones-y charm. “The Kit” comes with 6 notebooks, 6 wood pencils, 6 ballpoint pens, and a Field Notes mini-calendar. ($27)

                  Asus Eee Box PC

                    Asus Eee Box PC

                    Asus has crammed all the components of it’s popular Eee PC netbook (sans the screen) into this compact desktop computer, perfect for students and other casual computer users, especially when space is tight. ($320)

                    USBCELL AA Rechargable Batteries

                      USBCELL AA Rechargable Batteries

                      Unchain yourself from wall chargers with these AA rechargeable batteries. To recharge, simply pop the top and plug into any USB port! Great stocking stuffers for the gadget geeks in your life. ($20)

                      Staple-Free Stapler

                        Staple-Free Stapler

                        A great stocking-stuffer for the office jockeys in your life, this cute little device attaches up to 5 sheets of paper without a staple. ($7)

                        Epson Artisan 800 Wireless Photo All-in-One Printer

                          Epson Artisan 800 Wireless Photo All-in-One Printer

                          Epson brings its photo printing expertise to the home in this all-in-one printer. Best of all, it’s wi-fi enabled, allowing you to set it up anywhere in your home and print – or even scan – from any computer on the network. Two paper trays allow you to switch from plain to photo paper (or between photo sizes) and Epson’s archival-quality inks produce pictures that will last for decades.($230)

                          Productive Style

                           
                          Give & Take Card Box

                            Give & Take Card Box

                            Anyone who has ever juggled the task of accepting a card from someone while fumbling around for your own cards will appreciate this card case – one compartment holds your cards, the other holds the cards you’re given. Of course, its modern styling doesn’t hurt, either.($20)

                            Blomus Notepaper Roll Holder

                              Blomus Notepaper Roll Holder

                              Keep your thoughts straight with this ultra-modern twist on plain oldnotepads. Addingmachine rolls allow you to jot notes, make lists, and doodle as long as you want! Mounts vertically or can be used on a desk- or countertop. ($25

                              Bubble Calendar

                                Bubble Calendar

                                This giant wall (48”w x 18”h )calendar combines stylish looks with the most satisfying activity known to humankind: popping bubble wrap. Pop each day’s bubble as it passes! ($50)

                                3-Bay Charging Station

                                  3-Bay Charging Station

                                  Another Vat19 product, this charging station has spaces for three gadgets with a concealed power strip underneath and space to hide all those ugly power cords and convertor “warts”. Comes in glossy black finish. ($45)

                                  db clay Version 3.1 Wallet 1
                                  db clay Version 3.1 Wallet 2

                                    db clay Version 3.1 Wallet

                                    db clay wallets combine function and artistry, with beautiful imagery printed onto each waterproof, eco-friendly wallet. They’re already sold out online, but they’re now available in stores; check out their store locator to find a location near you. ($45 – $85)

                                    Just for Fun

                                     
                                    iPod Building Block Speaker

                                      iPod Building Block Speaker

                                      Our friends at Vat19 sell these funky, fun little additions to your iPod accessory case – tiny clip-on speakers for your iPod. They require no batteries, look like Legos, and sound decent given their size. ($20)

                                      xkcd “Actual Size” stickers

                                        xkcd “Actual Size” stickers

                                        Highlight the obvious or mock the small with these snarky stickers from the snarky folks who bring us the xkcd comic strip. (5 ea. 1”, 2”,and 3”, $5)

                                        image

                                          Samsumg YP-S2 1GB MP3 Player

                                          Samsung takes on the iPod shuffle with these cute-as-a-button (and almost as small) 1 GB mp3 players. Available in 5 colors,the S2 plays mp3, wma (including protected wma) and ogg files. Bookmarking allows you to pick up where you left off, making this a nice player for listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

                                          ($34)

                                          Sony Cybershot T700

                                            Sony Cybershot T700

                                            10 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization – everything you’d expect from a digital point-and-shoot these days. What sets the T700 apart is two things: it’s super-slim body, of course, and 4 gigs of internal memory, enough to hold thousands of pictures. You can display all those pictures on the big 3 1/2” high-resolution screen. ($350)

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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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