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10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

10 ways to create a breakthrough in your working life (and in the rest of it too).

Here—in no particular order (except as I thought of them)—are 10 simple ways to tranform your working life. Try them.

  1. Refuse to accept conventional answers or comforting assumptions. If you want to develop, you need to be skeptical of anything that seems to offer a panacea or an easy way to get somewhere with no effort. It’s like all those “get rich quick” schemes: if something seems too good to be true, it is. Conventions, quick-fixes, past assumptions, and comforting platitudes are barriers in your way. Jump over them or break them down.
  2. Avoid anything that will fence you in. Always suspect the superficial. Deliberately keeping it simple makes people act stupid. The universe is a complex and surprising place. Great ideas can’t be reduced to soundbites and slogans. The deeper you go, the more likely that you will discover something of value.

    Snake-oil salesmen and con-artists have always offered really simple, easy ways to achieve things others know are tough and complicated. Why do people still buy? Laziness and greed, mostly. Wanting something for nothing. In breakthrough, as just about everywhere else, there are no free lunches.

    Conventional ways of seeing the world and all kinds of dogma are there to control people; to stop them from “making trouble” by having fresh, creative ideas. People who think they already know all the answers are oddly threatened by those who are sure they don’t. They often go to considerable trouble to try to force everyone else to think and act as they do. Your job is to jump those fences to find new fields to play in.

  3. Take risks all the time. No one ever made a breakthrough without taking some pretty big risks. What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. That’s not such a big deal. Everyone fails sometime. Failure is a sure sign you’re doing the right things to discover new ways forward. As the song goes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
  4. Forget looking for answers. Questions are so much more useful. Questions lure you on, poking and prodding you to discover more. Questions are like bits of grit in a bed: they stop you from resting comfortably with what you think you already know. Answers are a dead end. If you know the answer, there’s nowhere else to go.
  5. Become a specialist in asking stupid questions. They’re the very best ones. Worry about the answer, not the question. Lots of people never get beyond an initial state of confusion because they’re afraid to ask what seems to be a foolish question. Innocent people with a true desire to learn have the greatest chance of spectacular success. Who learns best and fastest? Little children. Your target must be to go through life learning at the same rate as an infant.
  6. Keep a wide open mind. Real change and growth often happen well away from where you look for them. You never know when an idea will hit you, or you’ll meet someone, completely by chance, who will have a profound and wonderful impact on your life. Don’t create your own artificial boundaries by deciding in advance what you will learn from and what you will ignore. Life doesn’t come in neat packages, clearly labeled “learning opportunity.”
  7. Be who you are, whoever and whatever that is. Your potential is unique. Only fools try to make something of themselves by slavishly copying what others are doing and saying. You won’t stand out by fitting in. Learn from others, sure. But never try to be anyone but the best possible version of yourself.
  8. Make mistakes joyfully. The person who’s afraid to make a mistake is afraid to make anything. You won’t get it right first time. You probably still won’t get it right the third, fifth or tenth time. But if you keep trying—joyfully making those mistakes and learning more each time—you will get it right in the end.
  9. Dare to let go. To grow and develop it’s essential to let go of wherever you are now. Let the future through. Allow the universe to change you. Don’t try to force it into channels you think are safe or acceptable. Breakthrough cannot come until you deliberately walk away from the comfortable and the predictable. If you lack the courage to let go, you’ll never make a breakthrough. We all have a tendency to hang on to success and go on repeating it as long as we can. Resist it. Say “thanks” and move on. Don’t cling to your achievements. Let them go to make way for more failures and new ideas. The achievements we cling to and repeat are the ones that will soon come to be the greatest failures of all; plus we’ll have spoiled the recollection of them for all time.
  10. Shut down the critic inside your head. Ignore it. Tell it to go pester someone else. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore ideas and possibilities that your inner critic tells you are useless. Constant judgment and criticism are deadly enemies of breakthrough. Listening to your inner critic will convince you every idea you have, every opportunity to consider, everything you do and say, are worthless. The truly worthless element is that nagging inner voice. Sometimes the best way to deal with it is just to laugh.

Next week I’ll give you 10 more routes to a personal and work breakthrough.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and working life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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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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