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The Lifehack Last-Minute Gift-Giving Guide

The Lifehack Last-Minute Gift-Giving Guide

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    Christmas is just over a week away, and no matter how organized you are, I bet there are a few people on your list that you just can’t figure out a gift for. In the spirit of giving, then, I offer these suggestion – each of which is, as of 12/16, available to ship in time for Christmas. (All prices are in US dollars.)

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    kindle
      Kindle
      It’s no secret that we’re fond of the Kindle ‘round the Lifehack halls. A single device that can carry a library of books, magazines, newspapers, and blog content? What’s not to love – and what could be more Lifehack-y? This year, the Kindle got improved battery life, PC and iPhone companion apps (with a Mac app on its way), native PDF support, and a big brother in the form of the Kindle DX. If you really love someone, you’ll get them a Kindle! (You reading this, dad?) ($259; $489 for the DX)
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        Flip MinoHD
        Shoot incredible-looking high-def video with this camera that’s so tiny you’ll never have a reason not to carry it along with you. With 8GB of built-in memory, you can shoot up to 2 hours of video; downloading to your PC is as easy as plugging in the flip-out USB jack. ($229 list; on sale for $199 at Amazon right now)
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          Lilliput Mini USB Monitor
          This 7” monitor is so cool I can’t even stand it. Powered entirely by USB, the monitor sits next to your main monitor to hold… well, whatever you want. Photoshop tools, Windows gadgets (or widgets, or whatever they’re called these days), your todo list, notes, your media player controls – I’m sure your loved ones can think of something to do with the extra real estate. Works with Windows PCs or Intel Macs. ($79.99)
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            D-Link DIR-685 Xtreme N Storage Router
            You know what’s ugly? A wireless router, that’s what. Who wants that thing sitting on their bookshelf or entertainment center? Well, this router solves that problem with a built-in 3.2” digital picture frame, showing off your favorite photos as it serves up your web pages and print jobs. Oh, by the way – you can also add a 2.5” hard drive, making it into a network-attached storage drive that can backup files from all the computers on your network, or act as a media server sending music and video to any PC, Xbox, PS3, or other plug-n-play device on your network. You’re forgiven if by now you’ve forgotten that it’s still a router. ($249.99 list; $214.17 at Amazon)
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              Logitech V550 Cordless Laser Mouse for Notebooks
              I’ve been using one of these for about 6 months now, and I’m absolutely in love with it. It’s on the large side for a notebook mouse (which is good, since I’m on the large side for a person) but still quite a bit smaller than a typical desktop mouse. The USB dongle is literally a USB plug and about 1/4” of electronics, so it doesn’t stick out of the side of my notebook and get in my way. The scroll wheel is a hefty metal job which you can press down on (hard) to release a clutch that lets it roll freely – so you can shoot up and down long documents with the flick of a finger. The scroll wheel also tilts left and right (which I have set to go “back” and “forward”, which is AWESOME for web surfing) and a little button behind the scroll wheel can be set to your choice of about a dozen different functions. Some kind of secret Santa’s elves technology allows it to go for a year on a single change of batteries, which ain’t half bad! ($39.95)
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                OGIO Hip Hop Messenger Bag
                I’ve been lusting over this bag at my local Best Buy for a while (‘cause I’m fly like that!) but can’t convince myself I need yet another shoulder bag. (Yet. I’m weak, I’ll cave eventually). Made to hold a 15” laptop (and I just happen to have a 15” laptop…) this messenger-style bag has about a million pockets and sleeves to hold just abut everything – pens and pencils, airplane tickets, your media player, a water bottle, a kazoo (what, you don’t carry one?), a Yeti, tractor tires – everything! (OK, maybe not quite all of that; still, it’s impressive.) Available in a bunch of colors (there are several listings, you might have to click around to find the one that has the perfect color for your geek sweetie). ($45.99)
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                  Powermat
                  The dream is here – wireless charging! Just set an iPhone, Blackberry, or other device on the Powermat and it charges wirelessly, using the power of children’s dreams (I assume – I’m a little fuzzy on the science). Of course, you also need receivers for each device, so here’s the deal: get this for your spouse with a receiver for their phone, and you know, just happen to order an extra one that fits your phone, and it’s like a double-Christmas just for you! ($99.99, plus $30/receiver)
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                    Swiss+Tech Utili-Key
                    The perfect stocking stuffer, this key-shaped (and key-sized) multi-tool opens to expose a Phillips-head and flat-head screwdriver, a super-tiny glasses screwdriver, a bottle opener, and plain and serrated cutting surfaces. Naturally, it slides onto your key-ring so you have everything you need, any time you need it. I bought a stack of them for all my family members who scoff at the idea of carrying a Swiss army knife. ($7.95)
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                      Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuk
                      Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibraryTV shares the secrets of his success in this slim, accessible volume. In two words: CRUSH IT! Find your passion and just go for it, all out, no excuses. Of course there’s a little more to it than that, or it would just be an inspirational poster. Perfect for anyone in your life facing the consequences of the economic downturn, or just looking for a little more meaning in their lives than pushing papers for the next 30 years. ($19.99 list; $11.69 at Amazon)
                      Underwear Repair Kit
                        Men’s Underwear Repair Kit
                        What could be more productive than getting every last bit of use out of your underwear? The Men’s Underwear Repair Kit contains iron-on patches, replacement elastic, safety pins, white-out, and 32 pages of instructions – everything you need to get years and years of wear out of your tighty-whities. ($10.95)

                        Got any special gift ideas of your own? Share them with us last-minute shoppers in the comments!

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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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