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Volunteer Productivity – 7 Easy Ways to Fit Volunteerism into Your Busy Day

Volunteer Productivity – 7 Easy Ways to Fit Volunteerism into Your Busy Day
help me

You know how it feels to help someone in need…it feels good. Not only does volunteerism improve the world, it also gives the volunteer a sense of purpose and adds meaning to life. It’s an instant boost of happiness and self-esteem. Unfortunately, many productive people don’t volunteer because they can’t fit another appointment into their planner or because they are annoyed with the wasted time required at tedious volunteer training sessions.

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Good news: the internet provides would-be volunteers with the chance to fit good deeds into in less time than most web surfers spend sifting through spam. You can volunteer – without leaving your house or even getting up from your desk. Here are seven ways you can fit volunteerism into your day no matter how busy you are:

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  • Send an email, stop a human rights violation. Every week Amnesty International’s Online Action Center sends action alerts to members of their team. All you have to do is add your name to a pre-written email message urging your state senators or other officials to take action on an urgent human rights issue. You can, of course, alter the message to suit your beliefs. It takes only a couple minutes to send the email and adding your voice can make a world of difference.
  • Become a virtual mentor. In less than a half an hour a week, you can mentor kids and teens through the internet. Help young people set goals, learn study skills, deal home or school issues, and plan for a happy future. Encourage teens interested in your profession through I Could Be. Encourage kids to be successful in school through Achievement Advocate. Or, encourage foster children through Vmentor.
  • Send supplies to a rural family. Many families in rural America struggle to provide their children with the necessities of life. Project Box connects sponsor volunteers with families that really need the help. Each month, send your family a box of much-needed supplies that you choose and ship yourself. For example, you might decide to mail school supplies or a small present for a child’s birthday. Get to know your family through their monthly letters, help them overcome poverty, and encourage them to have the best lives possible.
  • Send cards to sick kids. All it takes is paper and a stamp to put a smile on the face of a sick child. Hugs and Hope provides volunteers with brief biographies of sick kids as well as postal addresses and email addresses. Many of the children have terminal illnesses and reading an uplifting note from a hospital bed could brighten their day.
  • Use a charity shopping portal. You buy stuff online anyway – by enrolling in a charity shopping portal program, the website will donate a percent of your purchases to the charity of your choice. You don’t pay an extra dime. Check out Greater Good and iGive.
  • Encourage a foster kid in college. College can be a tough time for anyone. But, it’s especially challenging for orphaned students who don’t have a family to set an example and offer support. Through an Orphans of America program, you can help brighten a lonely student’s day. Send a card with an uplifting message, a book of stamps, or a gift card.
  • Add an Amber Alert ticker to your website. If you have a website or blog, you can help find missing children by displaying a real-time Amber Alert ticker. When a child can’t be found, users visiting your website will see the details. A code for Amber Alert tickers can be found at Code Amber. It takes only a couple minutes to add.

Before you dismiss volunteering because “it takes too much time,” consider how many minutes you waste every day. Each of the above projects can be completed on your own schedule, whenever you have the opportunity. Make a difference during your lunch break or while waiting in lines. It’s that easy.
Volunteering online is a simple way to do some good – and making a difference is definitely more fulfilling than mindless web surfing.

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Jamie Littlefield is the Senior Editor of Children’s Issues at CharityGuide.org, a non-profit website featuring hundreds of virtual volunteer opportunities focused on children’s issues, animal welfare, environmental protection, and health and safety. Many volunteer projects can be completed in 15 minutes or less.

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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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