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Do You Read Too Many Blogs?

Do You Read Too Many Blogs?
Are You Reading Too many Blogs?

    Ades of AdesBlog.com has a theory: that top bloggers don’t read other people’s blogs. To test his theory, he asked several big-name bloggers — Michael Arrington, Darren Rowse, Jeremy Schoemaker, and Yaro Starak — about their blog-reading habits. Except for Darren Rowse, they all said they read few or no blogs; Rowse said he subscribes to 700 but only skims the whole list occasionally — there are about 50 he looks at on a daily basis.

    This is far from an exhaustive sample, but it’s got me wondering: how do you know when you’re reading too many blogs? I can’t imagine dropping blog-reading entirely — I get too much useful information, both for my professional life and my personal life, to consider blog-reading a total waste of time. On the other hand, though, do I read too many (I’m subscribed to 295)? Should I be more selective than I already am — or should I have a better system for processing the ones I do read?

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    Pros and Cons of Blog Reading

    There are lots of good reasons to read blogs, including:

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    • Inspiration: Reading blogs gives me ideas that I can use or build on in my own work.
    • Keeping up with current events: Since local news is useless, and cable news only slightly less so, blogs are often where I learn about the most important news of the day. I also learn of important news that the regular news outlets aren’t even covering (or are covering badly).
    • The pulse of the times: As someone with a professional interest (as both an anthropologist and a writer) in how people and society act, reading blogs offers me insight into the way people see and react to the world around them.
    • Things I wouldn’t think to ask: While I am an adept Googler when I need answers to some pressing question, a lot of time I’ve learned things from blogs I wouldn’t have Googled because I didn’t even know I didn’t know them. For example, I learned this year that I can deduct mileage between my home office and my classrooms, since I don’t have an office on campus.
    • Entertainment: I find reading a strong writer’s thoughts on the topic of their expertise a far more entertaining prospect than watching 22 minutes of sit-com pablum (with 8 more minutes of commercial nonsense).

    Are those pros balanced by the cons, though? The negative side of blog-reading includes:

    • The echo-chamber effect: I read blogs that, for one reason or another, I like, which means it’s possible that I’m hearing viewpoints and opinions that resonate well with my own to the exclusion of others. To be honest, I don’t think this is a big problem, since blogs aren’t the only medium through which I engage with the world, but it’s something to think about.
    • Time consumption: I’m not really sure how much time I spend reading blogs every day. An hour in the morning and again in the evening seems about right for most days. I that time that could be better used for other things?
    • A sense of urgency: I sometimes feel pressure to go through more posts, because even a day or two of scant reading leaves my Google Reader inbox at “1000+”. A thousand of anything seems like a lot of work to do — am I setting myself up with a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety?
    • The other echo-chamber effect: There’s only so much news in any niche, so when something noteworthy happens, chances are several sites will end up running the same story with only slight differences. I can either spend time reading each story to make sure I don’t miss any subtle detail, or skip them (which also takes time, and may mean I miss some key detail).
    • Headlines that don’t pay off: You can process a lot of RSS feeds in very little time if you just look at headlines and delete anything that doesn’t look promising. There are two problems with this:
    • Lots of bloggers are better headline writers than they are post writers. They know “10 Ways to Be Sexier” will attract readers, but only know 3 good ways to be sexier.
    • Lots of other bloggers are better post writers than headline writers. Their incredibly insightful posts are given useless headlines like “I hadn’t thought of it like that…” and “Another Story I Like”.

      Developing a Blog Reading System

      One way to deal with some of these blog-reading downsides would be to change how I organize my RSS feeds. Currently, they’re organized by topic — I have a set of feeds for “productivity”, another on “writing”, a third on “education”, and so on.There are a few topics I try to read at least partially every day, and some I only read when I get around to it. But maybe I should adopt a system I’ve seen some others use, categorizing by priority?

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      Like this:

      1. Daily reads: Top authorities in their niche; the top 10 or so blogs worth looking at every day.
      2. Weekly reads: Strong blogs that post less frequently or post stuff I really want to spend some time on, so I could review them on my day off and not worry about rushing through them.
      3. Occasional reads: Blogs on topics I enjoy reading about but which aren’t essential to my day-to-day life. To read whenever I have free time.
      4. Probation: For new subscribes while I figure out a) whether I really want to give them my attention, and b) how high a priority I should make them.

      I’m not especially thrilled at the prospect of re-tagging all my feeds in Google Reader, but maybe that’s what it takes to make sure that I’m not wasting my time on unessential reading when I could be doing something more important.

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      What about you?

      I’d be interested in knowing how other people handle their blog-reading. Are Arrington and the others mentioned above anomalies? Do you read a lot of blogs? How many? Do you have a system for limiting the time you spend reading blogs? Do you not have one and feel like you do? And while we’re on the topic, what blogs do you consider “essential reading”?

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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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