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Learn Something New Every Day

Learn Something New Every Day

Most of us have one or two areas of knowledge that we strive to know very well — things related to our jobs, of course, and maybe a hobby or two. But while it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the things that matter most to us, it is just as important to develop a broad understanding of the world in general.

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A lot of unfortunate people think that learning for the sake of learning is something for schoolchildren, and maybe college students. All the things there are to learn and know that don’t impact directly on their immediate lives they dismiss as “trivia”. Out in the “real world”, they think, there’s no time for such frivolities — there’s serious work to get done!

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There are a lot of good, practical reasons to make learning something new a part of your daily routine, but the best reason has nothing to do with practicality — we are learning creatures, and the lifelong practice of learning is what makes us humans and our lives worthwhile. If that idealistic musing’s not enough, here’s some more down-to-earth benefits:

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  • Learning across a wide range of subjects gives us a range of perspectives to call on in our own narrow day-to-day areas of specialization.
  • Learning helps us more easily and readily adapt to new situations.
  • A broad knowledge of unfamiliar situations feeds innovation by inspiring us to think creatively and providing examples to follow.
  • Learning deepens our character and makes us more inspiring to those around us.
  • Learning makes us more confident.
  • Learning instills an understanding of the historical, social, and natural processes that impact and limit our lives.
  • And, like I said, there’s the whole “making like worth living” thing.

There is, after all, a reason the term “well-read” is a compliment.

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With the entire world of knowledge just a few mouse-clicks away, it has never been easier than it is right now to learn something new and unexpected every day. Here are a few simple ways to make expanding your horizons a part of your daily routine:

  • Subscribe to Wikipedia’s “Featured Article” list. Every day, Wikipedia posts an article selected from its vast repository of entries to it’s Daily-article-l subscribers. If you were a subscriber today, you would have recently discovered that Daylight Saving Time was first proposed by William Willett in 1907 and adopted during World War I as a way to conserve coal. You might have also been interested to find out that Kazakhstan discontinued Daylight Saving Time in 2005 because of alleged health risks associated with changed sleep patterns.
  • Read The Free Dictionary’s homepage or subscribe to its feeds. The Free Dictionary has several daily features on its front page, including Article of the Day (RSS), In the News (RSS), This Day in History (RSS), and Today’s Birthday (RSS). One recent day’s stories told the history of the Hell’s Angels, the identity of the new “7 Wonders of the World”, the origin of the first cultured pearl, and the life story of one of the world’s most prominent tenors.
  • Subscribe to the feed at Your Daily Art (RSS). Every day you’ll be confronted with a classic work of art to contemplate, along with a few notes about the piece. If you were subscribed right now, you might have recently seen Man Ray’s intriguing and playful “Le Violin d’Ingres” and Frank Weston Benson’s luminous “Red and Gold”.
  • Subscribe to the feeds at Did You Know? and Tell Me Why?. These sites are both run by an R. Edmondson, who certainly knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Updates are slightly less than daily, but I like the two sites so much I couldn’t leave them off this list. If you were a subscriber to these sites, you’d have recently learned why clouds are white, what the European Union is, the French terms for the days of the week and the months of the year, and the history of the development of public health efforts in response to the hazards of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Listen to podcasts like In Our Time and Radio Open Source. Radio Open Source is a daily interview/panel show covering everything from politics to science to art and literature to the greatness of the movie Groundhog Day. (At the moment, Radio Open Source is on summer hiatus, but subscribe anyway — they’ll be back!) For a history of the events and ideas that shaped the present, In Our Time is ideal: a weekly gathering of scholars discussing subjects as diverse as the life of Joan of Arc, theories of gravity, and what we know about the Permian-Triassic boundary. Subscribe to a handful of good, literary podcasts and get smart while you drive!

Check the directory at Elite Skills for more sources: there are college course podcasts, online documentaries, foreign language lessons, and more — all free. Believe it or not, your head will expand to fit whatever you try to stuff into it!

Which is really the whole point.

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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