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UnTech Yourself

UnTech Yourself
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Technology can definitely make life easier. E-mail, rapid communication, RSS and the internet create vast opportunities for new information. But technology isn’t perfect. Adopting new technologies can have a sharp learning curve and many programs have unseen bugs and usability problems. Even more prevalent is this boost in information can cause overload, zapping your time in endless e-mails and feeds to read.

Breaking your paradigm of technology as a cure-all to every problem can open you up to other avenues for solving problems. Technology may be innovative and wonderful, but learning when to unplug the power cord can help simplify your life. Here are some ways you can untech yourself to simplify your life and get more done.

Internet Dieting

Internet, IM, e-mail and web-surfing can be very distracting, often without providing a lot of value. These empty calories often disguise themselves as necessary information but are just noise. Start a thirty day internet diet to reduce the total amount of time you spend connected to the net.

Notepads

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Turn off the blackberry and try using a paper organizer. It may not be as flashy, but it is amazing how effective they are for having basically two features: write and read. Keeping a notepad with you means zero learning curve, zero interruptions and only stores information not noise.

Television Blackouts

Television is full of stimulation. When television is good it can be entertaining, humorous, dramatic and a social activity. When it’s bad it is flashing lights providing distraction without value. You might want to experiment with cutting down on television, especially when you know in advance that there isn’t going to be any worthwhile programming.

Try cutting down your morning news and replace it with reading books or newspapers. The information will usually be more valuable and text is nonlinear so you can skip information that doesn’t interest you. Best of all most books don’t have commercials.

iPod Mute

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I’ll admit it, I love my mp3 player. Great for workouts and doing boring tasks it can add a bit of extra flavor to regular activities. But sometimes the constant noise and music can desensitize you to experiencing the world around you and cut you off from interacting with other people.

Try turning off the iPod periodically. Drive to work without any music. Try exercising with quiet. Try walking in silence when you are by yourself. Not only will this allow you to reconnect with what you are engaged in, it makes it easier for you to actually notice the music when it is playing instead of just having noise.

Read Books

Remember when books used to be made of paper? Cut back on your online reading and head to the library or bookstore and get something you can hold in your hands. Although some online reading is definitely better than books, if your entire library would consist of 500 word articles with flashy headlines, you probably aren’t getting a lot of depth.

Get Back to Nature

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Go out and spend a half hour in nature. If you live in a big city, at least look for a park or a relatively quiet area. Having a bit of solitude in a natural setting can often inspire ideas where everything is calm. Remember not to bring the cellphone or Blackberry!

Getting back to a natural environment can break away the endless distractions of life and give you some time to really think. I’ve had many of my best ideas on hikes and walks through nature. If you live in a highly technological world, spending a few hours or days can create even more ideas. I don’t believe that this is because nature has some mystical power but simply that it is often such a dramatic change in environment that it triggers new ideas.

Cooked from Scratch

Technology also appears in our food, even if it isn’t in the form of circuit boards. Having easy premade and tasty food can be great in a hectic lifestyle, but this kind of eating isn’t usually healthiest. Try cutting back on processed foods and making more meals from scratch. Most people say they don’t have time, but I believe it is really that they don’t know how.

Even if you aren’t going to be featured on Iron Chef anytime soon, try cooking a new meal from scratch. I’ve found that you can often modify recipes to be cooked in less time without resorting to tasteless and processed filler. You might want to set out an hour or two a week to experiment with a new recipe.

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Technology is a Tool

I’m not going to be joining the Amish anytime soon. I love the many ways that technology can make us more efficient and connect us with other people. But like any tool, you need to see where it’s limits are. If you find yourself becoming a technophile try unteching some areas of your life. You might find a little less tech can get a lot more value.

Scott Young writes about productivity, improvement and learning at his blog, here. You can subscribe to his feed here. Some of his popular posts include Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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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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