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How to Make Yourself Indispensable

How to Make Yourself Indispensable

Make Yourself Indispensable

    Let me ask you a question: could you disappear? If you didn’t show up at work tomorrow, if you weren’t home at 6:00 for dinner, if nobody ever heard from or saw you again, would it matter?

    OK, these are depressing things to think about, but that’s exactly  how many people feel, day in and day out, in their jobs and even at home. They feel unappreciated, unchallenged, ineffective, and in the end, completely irrelevant.

    In some cases, it’s the situation itself, and if the paragraphs above describe you, you really need to be thinking about how you can change or get out of your situation. Maybe you work for jerks, maybe your job simply has nothing to offer society, maybe your marriage long since stopped working, maybe you’ve fallen in with a group of friends who ultimately aren’t very good friends.

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    But in most cases, it is what we bring to our jobs, our home lives, our social lives – or, more to the point, what we don’t bring – that leaves us feeling, well… disposable. And if you’re going to turn that around, you’re going to have to start by making some real changes in your life and in yourself.

    None of the ideas below are easy – but none are impossible, either. All they require is that you make a conscious choice to make yourself indispensable, make a plan, and put that plan into action. You might be surprised at how much your life can change – and often, how quickly!

    1. Network

    One reason people can feel like they don’t matter is because they’re “out of the loop”, cut off from where things happen. In today’s world, this is practically inexcusable. The Internet as a whole is little more than a giant social networking tool, and tools explicitly for bringing people together – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Skype, and on and on – abound.

    Join and use one or two choice social networking tools. Off-line, select 10 or 20 people who are prominent in your field and introduce yourself to them. Write them letters or email, give them a call, leave comments on their blogs, whatever it takes to make yourself known and to show what you’re capable of. Don’t fawn; approach them as equals or, at least, as potential mentors.

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    Finally, join and become active in professional or recreational organizations – especially groups that are local to where you live and work. Use MeetUp to find local meetings of people who share your profession, interests, or hobbies.

    2. Love

    Both the easiest and hardest thing we humans do is love. It’s easy because we’re made for it, wired up in all sorts of ways to respond to and offer affection, social unity, and physical presence; it’s hard because to truly love means to make ourselves incredibly vulnerable and, in our society, it’s very hard to find it in ourselves to trust that deeply.

    But try it. And not just with your partner, your kids, your parents and siblings – try to be a loving, caring person in all your relationships. I’m not suggesting you break any laws or anything, only that you approach every person you interact with as a person with their own needs, desires, and motivations and see how you can help them satisfy them. Look out for the people around you, be there when they need someone to lean on, and be open with them about your own life.

    3. Excel

    No, not the spreadsheet. Be excellent at something. Figure out the thing that is most satisfying to you and learn how to do it better than anyone else. That might mean a trip to the library, a couple of night classes, or a full graduate education. But whatever it means, do it – there are few specialities in this world so esoteric that there isn’t a powerful demand for people who do it incredibly well.

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    4. Create something

    Your world changes when you create something and put it out into the world for everyone to benefit from, whether it’s a book, a blog, a painting, an invention, a magazine article, a weekly newsletter, a company, a piece of furniture, or a recipe. Partially it’s because suddenly you’re useful to someone, no matter how few, but mostly it’s because the things we create contain a little part of us, a spark of who we are – a spark that much of our society conspires to smother and hide away.

    5. Innovate

    Although innovation is a creative exercise, I’ve chosen to treat it as something different from creating something because innovation, to me, is about solving problems rather than personal expression. Yes, that’s an artificial distinction. Bear with me, please.

    It would be an understatement to say that the world, and the people in it, have more problems than we know how to deal with. Some are extreme – hunger, pollution, illness. Some are less so – boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction. Figure out how to solve any of those problems, and you will be anything but disposable!

    6. Make people feel good

    Around here, we talk a lot about being productive, about avoiding distractions and keeping focused on your goals and overcoming procrastination. But as humans, it its crucially important that, at times, we be entertained. And it’s just as important, from time to time, that we be reassured. A joke, a compliment, an engaging discussion about the latest film or book – these things add a little light to the lives of those around you. Being the guy or gal people can trust to brighten up their day will always attract attention.

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    7. Share or teach what you know

    As a teacher, I know first-hand the feeling of helping people to learn, of sharing a new way of looking at their world and giving them tools to make their own way in it. No matter what your areas of expertise are, there are people out there who want – no, need – to know it so they can have more power over their own destinies. It’s not all that hard to put together a class, seminar, or workshop on just about any topic – check with your local community college or university extension program for starters – but not all teaching needs to be formal instruction, either. Seek out opportunities to share what you know informally throughout the day.

    8. Be eccentric

    Eccentricity is valuable not just because it can be quite entertaining, but because it represents a significant difference in the way you view the world. While this can be alienating to some people – usually people who are already alienated by the rest of their lives – others will seek out and reward you handsomely for your insights.

    How do you become eccentric? Short of taking lots of LSD, which I don’t advice, I’m really not sure. I include there because it’s one way to make yourself indispensable, not because it’s easy to do! But if you can’t just flip a switch and become eccentric, maybe you can learn the lesson eccentrics teach – to seek out the different. Closely examine your own life for the parts you’ve let be suppressed – or suppressed yourself – and bring them out into the light of day. Embrace the things you’ve worked so hard to hide.

    That’s a start, anyway.

    9. Make a difference

    What matters in all these points is that you make a difference in people’s lives. Do that, and the world – or at least some of the world – will hang on your every action. As you go though your daily life, keep an eye out for the ways in which you can make a difference, however great or small. What little tweaks might make someone’s life or job a little bit easier? What systems or processes are just fundamentally wrong, and how would you fix them?

    Adopt a difference-oriented mindset. Overthrow your commitment to the status quo, because the road to the status quo is littered with the husks of disposable people. Do that, and the rest will follow, and you will have become indispensable.

    More by this author

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective 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 effectively.

    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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    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. 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.

    5. 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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    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    8. 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 Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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