Master Your Final School Semester With Hip Tips And Cool Tools

When you are in the home stretch of your student career, you cannot help but think about being done. Whether you are preparing to graduate or just finish up for summer break, it is exciting. But, you are not done yet and those last few semesters can be tough.

Here are some terrific tips and tools to get you to the finish line.

Stay Focused

If your mind begins to wander to what comes when school is over, there are handy ways to stay focused. When you are studying, researching, or writing an essay, keeping your mind on the task at hand is essential.

Forest

One way to focus on your activity is to put down your mobile device. Avoid calls, texts, and social media so that you can complete your task. Check out the cross-platform Forest app. This interesting way to focus begins with a seed that will grow into a tree. But, if you leave the app to play a game or check a social network, your tree will wither.

forest web app

Forest offers rewards for additional tree species, focused time tracking, and friendly competition with other users. So, turn your focus time into a flourishing forest with this cool tool. It is available on both Android and iOS and has Chrome and Firefox extensions as well.

Download — Forest for Android (Free) | iOS ($1.99)

Brain.fm

If putting your cell phone down isn’t the problem, but eliminating distractions is, then check out Brain.fm. This nifty website offers music for your mind. You can sign up for a free account, select Focus from the options, pop in your earphones, and just listen.

brain fm web app

You can choose to listen for 30 minutes, one hour, or two hours, and pause the music if needed. You might also enjoy exploring the collection of specific sounds like Beach Focus or Underwater Focus. As a bonus, Brain.fm can not only help you focus, but provides sounds to relax and sleep as well.

Brain.fm offers several free sessions to get you started. If you like it, you can upgrade to the paid version which provides unlimited sessions and offline access.

Download — Brain.fm for iOS (Free)

Remain Positive

When you begin to worry about final exams, writing your thesis, or just making it to the end, remain positive. Remember, there is no room for negativity in success. If you struggle a bit with this and need help, there are wonderful tools you can try.

Positivity Toolbox

The Positivity Toolbox is a website that provides positive affirmations. From confidence to motivation to self-reflection, you will find a nice selection of affirmations. Simply choose a volume from the five options and read through the PDF displayed.

positivity toolbox web app

You might also enjoy the blog section of the site which provides posts in many helpful categories. You can check out tips for staying positive, reducing stress, building momentum, and much more.

Positivity On-the-Go

If you want those positive affirmations when you are out and about, you can check out handy apps for your mobile device.

On Android, take a look at Positive Thinking and for iOS, check out Unique Daily Affirmations Free. Each app provides motivational and inspirational quotes selected to uplift you. In addition, you can add your own affirmations and receive notifications and reminders too.

unique daily affirmations iphone app

Download — Positive Thinking for Android (Free)

Download — Unique Daily Affirmations Free for iOS (Free)

Get Organized

You already know that keeping yourself organized throughout the school year is important. So, do not let that slip now that the end is near. Use the tools that help you the most, whether it is for notes, documents, or planning.

For Notes: Evernote

Evernote is a popular tool for capturing notes, but offers many additional, useful features. You can create projects and to-do lists, share notebooks and notes, and search for items. Along with notes, you can quickly organize images and documents that you save, capture web pages and articles, and create tags for items. Evernote can be accessed via the web, desktop applications, mobile apps, and browser extensions.

Download — Evernote for Android (Free) | iOS (Free)

For Documents: Google Drive

Google Drive needs no introduction. It is a convenient collaborative cloud application for storing documents, emails, and photos. It works with Gmail and Google Photos, connects with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, and allows you to work offline. You receive 15 GB of storage for free and can purchase more with monthly plans. Google Drive is also available via the web, desktop applications, mobile apps, and browser extensions.

Download — Google Drive for Android (Free) | iOS (Free)

For Planning: myHomework

Keep track of assignments, tests, and projects easily with myHomework. You can use reminders for items that are due, view your class schedules, and sync across your devices. If you join your teacher’s Teachers.io class, you can download class details, assignments, and files automatically. You can also use myHomework on your mobile device, Windows or Mac computer, and Kindle Fire.

myhomework iphone app

Download — myHomework Student Planner for Android (Free) | iOS (Free)

Seek Guidance

If the time comes when you need or want a little extra help, take advantage of the resources available. You might want homework assistance, study tools, flashcards, or even tutoring. Don’t wait until it is too late, get the guidance you seek with useful web sources.

Course Hero

Course Hero provides homework assistance seven days a week, 24 hours per day. If you are just looking for helpful study resources, you can browse by subject, book, or school. In addition, there are searchable flashcards and you can create your own.

course hero web app

Just create a free account to get started and get answers to your questions within minutes. Along with web access, you can use Course Hero on your mobile device. So help with your classes is never more than a tap away.

Download — Course Hero for Android (Free) | iOS (Free)

StudyBlue

Another great option for assistance is StudyBlue. You can receive homework help, create and store study materials, and also check out flashcards. StudyBlue offers over 250 million study material pieces in most any subject imaginable. Additionally, you can review test preparation flashcards for the ACT, SAT, LSAT, and GMAT exams.

studyblue web app

With StudyBlue on your mobile device, you have quick access to all your notes, images, progress tracking, and study reminders. So, whether you access the tool on the web or your device, you will have what you need when you need it.

Download — StudyBlue for Android (Free) | iOS (Free)

Hang in There

While finishing school is a lot of hard work, it does not have to be a struggle. There are tools and resources that can help you. Stay focused, organized, positive, and get assistance when you need it and you will complete the term with flying colors. Do you have tips or tools of your own to assist current students?

Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below.

Image Credit: ImageFlow via Shutterstock

How To Build Perfect Meals With The Iifym Calculator And Excel

Tracking the nutrition in your food has been pretty easy for some time now. But being able to design meals that meet your nutrition intake targets has always been a little tougher.

In this article you’ll quickly learn exactly how you can do this using a pre-made Excel spreadsheet and a free online calculator.

Macronutrients are types of food that provide calories. Carbs, proteins, fats, fiber. Each food item you eat is a mixture of these types. And each diet, whether proven or fad, recommends different ratios of these macronutrients. As one example, the Atkins Diet requires that you eat very few carbs, and to replace the calories you lose with certain proteins and fats.

To succeed with these diets, you obviously need to be able to do three things.

  1. Calculate the macronutrients you’re allowed to eat.
  2. Track the macronutrients you consume.
  3. Design meals that meet those macronutrient quotas.

To tackle the first of these requirements, the IIFYM Calculator is a fantastic tool. IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros. It’s a flexible fitness tool, that calculates the macronutrients you are able to consume based on your inputs, including your body composition and the type of diet you want to follow.

Discover Your BME and TDEE

IIFYM

First head to the online IIFYM calculator, and enter the details required. This is information about your sex, age, height, weight, activity, and exercise. At the bottom of the form click “Calculate Your TDEE”. Based on your entries, you’ll be shown your BME and your TDEE.

BME is your Base Metabolic Rate. This is the number of calories your body burns every 24 hours while at rest.

TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is the approximate calories your body burns, taking into account the amount of activity and exercise you do, each day.

Select a Goal

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The goal you select alters how many calories you will be able to consume each day. You can select between fat loss, maintaining your current weight, increasing your weight (bulking), or adding a custom calorific intake. If you choose to reduce or increase your weight, select how aggressively you’re prepared to do this.

Select Your Nutritional Plan

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Since this is the IIFYM site, their suggested plan is naturally IIFYM. But you can usefully choose from several others. Select the plan you would like to live by for the next few months.

Once selected, you’ll be shown the macronutrient ratios you should be aiming for. If needed, you can alter these yourself. For example, on the Low Carb diet, it suggested I consume 25% carbs. If I wanted to, I could manually override this and change it to something different.

For the sake of this article, I will continue with the IIFYM diet.

Scroll down, and you’ll be shown your results. Take note of these numbers, else you’ll have to complete the form again to access them.

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These are the macronutrients you’ll be aiming to hit, as close as possible, each day. You’ll achieve this by designing meals that meet these macronutrient quotas in the spreadsheet mentioned below.

Preparing Your Spreadsheet

After scouring the web, we found the best pre-made Excel spreadsheet that can be used with the IIFYM calculator is the Excel Calorie Counter With Recipe Calculator which can be found on this page (direct download).  This is for three main reasons:

  • It’s pre-populated with the nutritional information of over 1000 food items.
  • All relevant macronutrients for each food item are stored: calories, protein, fat, carbs, and fiber.
  • It’s extremely easy to use

Once you’ve opened the spreadsheet, you’ll be asked to give permission for the spreadsheet to run Macros. Agree with this, and it’ll help your spreadsheet run a few more advanced functions such as archiving data about your past meals. You can still use the main functions if you don’t allow the macros.

Within the spreadsheet, there are eight tabs. The two necessary for designing perfect meals based on macronutrients are FoodEntry, and FoodList. The others could come in handy, but these two are the most important for our purposes of designing meals.

Preparing the FoodEntry Tab (2 mins)

The FoodEntry tab is where you can log what you’ve eaten during an entire day. If you’re simply looking to design meals, this is the best place to do it.

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Underneath the Daily Total section on this tab, enter your daily targets, and individual meal targets. The daily targets are the recommendations you were given by the IIFYM calculator. For the meal targets, you can either enter this manually, or keep things simple with a basic formula to divide the daily target by three, showing you the macronutrients you want to achieve in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Finally, you should also add a row showing your “remaining” macronutrients so you can see how your data is looking. To calculate the “remaining” figures, you should subtract the Daily Total from the Daily Target. This shows you how many macronutrients you have left for the day.

If you’re using the spreadsheet to its full potential, be sure to enter the date and target calories at the top of the tab. At the end of each day (of after each meal), click Save Daily Data and Clear, and the data will be saved to the DailyRecord tab for you to look back on.

After these simple edits. We’re ready to begin.

Planning Your Meals

Let’s take the example of designing a simple cooked breakfast Add the constituent parts of the breakfast to the FoodEntry tab. For each item of food, you’re now able to play around with the portion sizes to try to match your target macronutrients as closely as possible.

In the example below, I selected different kinds of bread to see which would give me the highest fiber, and figured that 2.5 slices would enable me to reach my Meal Target as closely as possible. As you can see, I got pretty close

IIFYM7

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You can use this tab to design meals as complex as you like, entering the exact weights of carrots in a pie, or the type and weight of beef in your hotpot.

The point is that as you do this, you can alter the weights of each ingredient to ensure you’re achieving the macronutrients you need. If you’re struggling to reach your fiber targets, simply look out for ingredients with a higher fiber content, and add more of these to your recipe.

Once you’ve finished with planning a meal, you can either clear the data manually, or, if you would like to save the data to the meal log that’s included in the spreadsheet, click the Save Daily Data And Clear, either after each meal or at the end of the day, depending on how you would like to use the spreadsheet. If you do decide to save your meals to the MealLog, you should read about the importance of Smart Feedback, and how the data you save can be used to help you more efficiently reach your health goals.

Other Points Of Interest

  • You can design and save a recipe for a later date so you can select it again in the future. To do this, add all of the ingredients to the RecipeCalc tab (not the FoodEntry tab), and copy the highlighted cells in that tab (B6-J6 by default) into the FoodList tab. Save the spreadsheet. You can now easily retrieve that recipe for future meals.
  • If an item of food is not in the food list, use a site like Nutritional Data to find the information, then add it manually to the FoodList tab

Planning The Perfect Meal Every Time

Using the IIFYM Calculator in conjunction with this Excel spreadsheet, you’ll be able to design meals that provide you with the right amount of macronutrients each time. If designing three healthy meals each day is too much, however, you could always create your own daily smoothie, which promises to contain everything you need.

Using Excel for this purpose allows you to keep full ownership of your data, and you can manipulate that data any way you like. Some people may prefer to use another alternatives, however. In this case, you could check out Eat This Much (our review), or MyFitnessPal (our review).

Would you go to the effort of measuring and tracking the macronutrients in each of your meals? Have you found another spreadsheet that does the job just as well (or better)? And do you have any other tips for designing healthy meals?

Image Credits:vegetables and kitchen scales by Evgenyi via Shutterstock

The Internet’s Best Job Hunt Advice To Improve Your Resume

Your resume is the first impression you make on a recruiter. This is your doorway into getting a good job. You need to make an impact. But how do you get past applicant tracking systems and jaded HR professionals? The internet has some valuable advice for you.

Over the years, job seekers, hiring experts, and research surveys have shared intelligent tips and tricks. The vastness of the internet makes it difficult to track down everything. We rounded up the cream of the crop so you have one place for the web’s best advice on how to improve your CV.

Start With a Strong Summary

Jane Heifetz, the founder of Right Resumes, knows a thing or two about CVs. And she says that every resume needs to start with a strong summary. A survey by The Ladder found that recruiters spend only six seconds on a CV. That’s 20–30 words to catch their attention. Make it good!

Best Internet Resume Advice Strong CV

This summary is where you tailor your CV to the job you are applying for, making sure you are addressing that position specifically. Highlight your area of expertise, include your years of experience, note what type of industries or organizations you’ve worked at. And avoid all generic terms.

Basics: Check the Resume Writing Checklist

If you’re starting from scratch and building a new resume, Essay Mama put together a checklist for you. If you already have a resume, then make sure you have hit every point on the checklist.

Best Internet Resume Advice Checklist

Essay Mama’s checklist doesn’t have any startling insight. But it is perhaps the best summary of all the resume-writing tips shared on the internet over the years. Starting with your contact info and headline to simple formatting tips, it covers everything that your CV needs to have. If any of the points is missing or different in your existing CV, add that in.

The Ideal Length: One Page for Every 10 Years

Don’t toot your own horn for too long. Since the average recruiter will scan your resume for six seconds, you need to fit in more information in a limited space. Laszlo Bock, the HR boss at Google, has a simple thumb rule to work by: for every ten years, use one page.

Best Internet Resume Advice Laszlo Bock

Yes, it seems impossible to fit all that information in such a tiny space. But it’s important because the resume’s purpose is to get you an interview. You can then expand on any topic in the interview:

A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you.

Now, don’t cheat on your font size and other aspects to make it fit. Block is saying one page after you have used at least a 10-point font size and half-inch margins. The thumb rule is much more useful and debunks the old CV myth that a resume can be only one page.

Format Your Resume for the Mobile Screen

The biggest mistake you are making with your resume in 2016 is using free Microsoft Word CV templates shared by people over the years. Those templates almost always adhered to the idea of someone printing out your CV and reading it on their desk. That’s not what happens in 2016.

Donna Svei, an executive resume writer, found in a simple survey of her recruiter friends that 88 percent of hiring professionals read CVs on their phone. News flash: your resume needs to look great on a mobile screen!

Best Internet Resume Advice Mobile Resume
Image Credit: Sorba Media via Flickr.com

Svei’s full post on LinkedIn has some fantastic insights into formatting your CV to make it more mobile friendly. Here are her three biggest takeaways:

  1. Strive for two or three-line blocks of text. Never go over four.
  2. Use six points of space (Format > Paragraph > Line Spacing > Exactly > 6 pt) between bullet points and a full space between resume sections and jobs.
  3. Avoid tiny font. It’s impossible to read on a phone. Go with at least 11-point Calibri.

One other point that Svei consistently focuses on is to go with simple black text on a white background. Don’t use colors. Mobile screens differ, people use varying levels of brightness, and the end result is that your colors won’t look good at all. Just go with black on white, since it offers the best contrast.

Google’s Secret Formula to Resume Writing

So you have limited space. How do you fit in everything? Google’s Bock shared one more piece of advice that went viral on the internet.

Best Internet Resume Advice Laszlo Bock Google
Image Credit: Google for Work Official Blog

You will consistently hear the advice to “be specific” or “quantify your achievements” in your CV. So far, Bock is the only one to have offered a formula explaining how to do that. In an interview with The New York Times, he shared the formula:

I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z

In this, the X is the number or quantity you managed. The Y is what the industry average or your competitors achieved. And Z is what you did differently to get those higher numbers.

So if your achievement is improving sales, you would write it as, “Sold 15 product calls per month, compared to company average of 9, by grouping clients based on time availability.”

The Worst and Best Words for Your Resume

You’d be surprised how many people use the same set of words in their CVs. You’d be even more surprised to see how annoying these are for recruiters. Hiring agency CareerBuilder conducted a survey to find out the words that recruiters found most off-putting, as well as the words they like to see. Here’s the full list:

Best Internet Resume Advice Best and Worst Words

Recently, LinkedIn also released the 10 most overused words in resumes on the professional social network. Some of them overlap with this list, but remember that LinkedIn is talking about being repetitive, while CareerBuilder is talking about how recruiters receive these words.

Write a “CV of Failures”

The last piece of advice is the internet’s latest viral success based on resumes. Johannes Haushofer is an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton University. And he set Twitter on fire recently when he shared a “CV of Failures” on the social network.

Haushofer’s inspiration to write this was to provide a sobering reality of one’s career. But as the Harvard Business Review puts it, writing such a CV also gives you perspective on your successes. You will only truly realize what you did right and how you did it right once you compare it to your failures. You can’t use the best resume-building apps for this, of course, so stick to a simple Word document.

Best Internet Resume Advice CV of Failures

So let that be your final takeaway from the internet. Every failure is a stepping stone to success, as the old adage goes, and you need to write a resume of those failures to realize what you did right later.

Share Your Favorite Resume Advice

This is the place to pick up the internet’s best tips and tricks on how to improve your resume. But we’re part of the internet!

So go on, readers, tell us the best piece of advice you have read or seen so far.

Image Credits: Neomaster/Shutterstock

How To Be More Decisive And Get More Done

We’ve all been there. What should you eat for dinner? Which laptop are you going to buy? Are you going to accept the new job offer or stay where you’re at? Or maybe the toughest decision of all, which Linux distro is right for you?

The story is always the same. You think about it for a while, but pretty soon your brain locks up and you come out looking like this:

be-more-decisive-trouble

At best you end up wasting a lot of time and settling for the most neutral option, which often isn’t very satisfying or enjoyable. At worst you postpone the decision for so long that wonderful opportunities pass you by and disappear.

So what can you do? How do you muster up the resolve to stop freezing and actually make decisions? Let’s find out.

The Psychology of Indecision

Indecision might be a common problem, but it’s certainly not a simple one to solve. There’s a lot of human complexity behind the wheel of this issue and it’s going to take more than a few motivational words from the Internet if you’re really going to overcome it for good.

Don’t get me wrong: victory is possible. It just won’t be easy. But before we dive into that, we need to understand why we freeze up when decisions are before us.

How-To-Choose

To start, let’s distinguish between problem analysis and decision making. The former involves figuring out which decisions you have available to you while the latter involves actually picking one of those many decisions. The difference is subtle but important because we’re focusing on the latter right now.

Problem solving, or problem analysis, consists of using generic methods in an orderly manner for finding solutions to problems.

Problem analysis is when you think about the problem at hand (e.g. “Which tablet should I buy?”) and explore all of the necessary factors that will influence the solution (e.g. price, specifications, aesthetics, etc). Through that process, you arrive at more than one potential answer (e.g. this Samsung model, that iPad model, or…)

In some cases the actual winner is a clear choice, but not always. Maybe each answer has pros and cons (e.g. the Samsung is cheaper but the iPad is more chic) and no perfect answer exists. Now you have to drill down and figure out what really matters to you, and that’s not easy.

Analysis paralysis, or paralysis by analysis, is the state of over-thinking a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.

This inability to just pick one is a psychological phenomenon called analysis paralysis. You’re faced with a number of sub-optimal choices and now you need to analyze each option and figure out which one is “the least imperfect” — but you end up over-analyzing to the point where you end up afraid of making the wrong choice.

And that’s really what it comes down to: fear is the real root of indecision.

Fear of what? Well, that differs from person to person. It could be a fear of failure, change, unhappiness, insecurity, responsibility, social pressure, etc. But it’s still fear all the same.

The good news is that fear can be overcome.

4 Secrets to Overcoming Indecision

Over the years, a lot of people have tried to solve indecision. Run a quick search on Google and you’ll find tons of advice on how to eschew fear and make decisions with confidence. Some of the advice is good, but a lot of it is ineffective at best.

Here’s what has worked for me.

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Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. More than anything, indecisiveness is a mindset. It’s a distilled, concentrated form of discomfort that can drown you if you allow it to spiral out of control. So before you go making decisions, you must make peace with the fact that discomfort is not a bad thing.

What do successful entrepreneurs have in common? They embrace hardship. For most people, difficult decisions are stressful because they worry about what hardships might follow from a “wrong” decision. But really, such hardships are just opportunities for you to grow.

How many bad decisions have you made in your life up to this point? If I’m being honest, I’ve made millions of “incorrect” decisions, yet I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for those choices. They’ve helped to shape me, and the same is true for you. Personal growth comes in unexpected ways.

No matter which choice you end up making, you’re strong enough to adapt and roll with the punches. After all, you’re still here right now, aren’t you? So instead of running from tough decisions, embrace them.

One way to do that is to start a digital journal. Whenever you come across a moment of indecision, log it. Record your feelings and your thought process so that you can refer back to it later on. See what worked for you and what didn’t, then use that to help the next time you’re stuck. We have a great guide to digital journaling to get you started.

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Forget the problem and relax. Try meditating. Meditation doesn’t have to be spiritual, although if you want to incorporate a spiritual element (such as prayer), feel free to do that. The important thing here is that you take a moment to unburden yourself from even thinking about the decision.

Take a break and revisit the problem later. How long of a break? As long as you can afford, whether that’s an hour, a day, a week, or longer. Often, you’ll have a fresher perspective and clearer priorities.

Never meditated before? That’s okay! We’ve covered learning how to meditate before so that should get you started in the right direction. If you find it hard to concentrate in silence, consider playing these relaxing sounds and music in the background.

Here’s a quick rundown of all the useful apps above:

One added benefit of meditation is that you might just find that you’re happier overall than you were before. Meditation can have that effect on many people, which can lead to increased productivity as well.

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Use an app to help you decide. Indecision is such a prevalent problem that several apps exist to help you make those decisions with as little fuss as possible. These apps can be as mundane as deciding where to eat, but others are quite serious.

Mainly, I want to highlight some apps for indecisive people.

Choicemap and Decision Buddy are great for people who are stuck on either problem analysis or decision making, while apps like Ultimate Decision Maker will randomly pick one for you when you absolutely cannot.

For more complex situations, decisions can be made easier with the use of flowcharts. We’ve shown you how to create flowcharts in Microsoft Word before, but you can also turn to a web-based app like Draw.IO instead. Once you start using flowcharts, you’ll really streamline your everyday life.

But when you’re still early in the decision-making process, sometimes the most helpful tool is a simple mindmap.

Apps like SimpleMind on Android and MindNode on iOS are fantastic for navigating through potential solutions. Or if you prefer a web-based app, MindMup is free and simple without being too basic.

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Set a deadline with a default choice. Deadlines are great. Not only do they prevent distraction-induced procrastination, they also ramp up the pressure and force you to consider what really matters in the grand scheme because now you’re under a time crunch.

But when it comes to indecisiveness, the right way to set a deadline is to say, “If I don’t have a decision by (whenever), then I’m just going to go with Y.” You need to have a default or fallback decision in case you hit the deadline and you still have nothing to show for it.

Obviously, this could present a recursive problem. What if you’re indecisive about picking a default choice? In that case, just pick one at random. Flip a coin, roll a die, or ask someone else to pick for you.

As for setting the deadline itself, you could try using Numerous (available on Android and iOS) which imports events straight from Google Calendar and generates countdown timers for you. If you’re more of a browser-based worker, try the Calendar and Countdown extension for Chrome which does something similar.

Decisiveness Requires Practice

Overcoming indecision is all about managing the fear of making wrong choices. Half of it involves changes in mindset, the other half involves picking one and commiting to that choice. But remember, it’s not a skill that develops overnight.

You have to practice. The tips outlined above will help you to make those tough decisions, and with each decision that you make, you’ll find it easier and easier to make future decisions. Keep at it and the stress will melt away in time.

What was the worst decision you ever had to make? What kind of tools and techniques do you use to help you make hard decisions? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Depressed businessman by ra2studio via Shutterstock, Winding Paths by Lightspring via Shutterstock, Meditation by Andrei Mayatnik via Shutterstock, Mobile Devices by Valeri Potapova via Shutterstock, Sand Hourglass by 5 Second Studio via Shutterstock, Cartoonresource via Shutterstock

How To Stop Procrastinating: The Only New Year Resolution You Should Set

Why do we need a new year resolution? Because we have put off some desired behaviour for so long that we need a trigger to finally act. However, if you kick the habit of procrastination and start taking action without waiting for the right time, you won’t need to wait till the end of the year for more changes. Yup, stopping procrastination is the only new year resolution you need.

Just to clarify, we aren’t talking about the odd task that you push till later. That doesn’t make you a procrastinator. If you procrastinate often, in all areas of your life, then that is what makes you a procrastinator. Procrastination is a “maladaptive lifestyle”, not just a time management issue, says Dr. Joseph Ferrari, one of the leading researchers on the subject and the author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide To Getting Things Done.

Some of us reckon procrastination can’t be cured by task management apps. Dr. Ferrari has a different opinion, as he tells the American Psychological Association:

Today’s technology can help us not procrastinate if we use it wisely. We don’t have to surf the Web for hours on irrelevant tasks. We can get systems that time us out after 10 minutes. We don’t have to have a Blackberry with us at all times. Use technology as a tool, not as a means of delay.

Helpful words, but how do you actually put this advice into action?

Keep A Journal Of Your Feelings Towards A Task

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In his book, Dr. Ferrari says that we usually avoid a task because of how we feel about it or about the outcome of that task. It’s healthy to maintain a journal of your thoughts and feelings, strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if I finish this task?”

Similarly, Entrepreneur magazine recommends writing down the negative side effects of procrastination every day: how it impacts you, your family and friends, your work and your stress levels. This daily reality check can force a change in behaviour.

You can start a digital journaling habit in 30 days, so there is little excuse not to get on this bandwagon. Depending on your desired platform and whether you want to pay or not, try apps like Day One (Mac, iOS/Paid), Journey (Chrome, Android/Free) or Dairo (Web, iOS, Android/Free).

Stop Tasks Midway To Make It Easy To Start

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If it’s good enough for Ernest Hemingway, it’s good enough for you. Lifehacker wrote that stopping mid-sentence wards off writer’s block, because you know where to pick up from when you want to resume. Your mind already has the sentence — probably the next few — in place, so you aren’t really “starting” a new task as much as “resuming” one midway.

The same philosophy can be applied to any task. For example, before finishing the day, I start a new document, write the headline of the article I need to finish the next day, and write the first few thoughts as bullet points. The next day, I know my work has already begun, so the barrier of entry is lowered. Similarly, I stop 5 minutes short of my regular workout and pause the song — the next day, I play the song and complete those five minutes, starting off the next workout. It sounds stupid, but our brains are stupid enough for this to actually work.

Start A Love-Hate Task Chain

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This idea is a modification of James Clear’s 2-minute rule and the philosophy of “eat the live frog first”. With any job, you have some tasks you enjoy and some that you don’t. List all those enjoyable tasks (make sure you choose the right to-do list app).

When you are procrastinating, start doing one of these enjoyable tasks and finish it. As soon as you’re done, start a difficult task immediately — no break in between, that’s critical. A break will get you out of “work mode” and we want to avoid that. If you want to leave the hard task midway to take a break, that’s fine, but you have to start it and accomplish a bit.

This love-hate task chain will ensure you get into work mode, and carry that momentum into finishing a task you would normally procrastinate. It’s a form of productive procrastination, but perhaps easier than most others.

Keep A Procrastination Pad

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This one is an oldie but a goodie. The Procrastination Pad idea has been talked about by several people, but eventually given a name by the Dumb Little Man blog. And it couldn’t be simpler.

Does your mind wander while working? It’s okay, everyone’s does. So grab a simple, cross-platform note-taking app and start a new note called “Procrastination Pad”. Every time your mind wanders, open this note, write down your thoughts, close it. That alone feels cathartic enough to dump the distraction from your brain and get back to your task. It works wonders.

Un-Schedule Your Work

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Perhaps the most-cited book on the subject, The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore introduced the world to the idea of “Un-Scheduling” your life. Fiore believes that procrastination is an effect of being told all our lives that playing is bad, working is good. That’s why we don’t make enough time for play, and our mind is unable to cope with that lack of play time so it procrastinates during our productive time. To deal with this, Fiore introduced a time-management technique called “Un-Scheduling.”

To Un-Schedule your calendar, wipe it clean. No work tasks at all. Use something like Google Calendar so it’s synced everywhere. Here are the non-work activities and things you can list on your calendar:

  • Previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings
  • Free time, recreation, leisure reading
  • Socializing, lunches, and dinners with friends
  • Health activities like going to the gym
  • Routine events such as commuting, classes, appointments

Once you have filled this bit out, step back and take a look at your life away from work. In fact, you are never going to plan a work activity with this calendar. The only time a work activity goes on this calendar is after you finish it. The thing is, procrastinators are notoriously inept at estimating time availability for tasks, says Fiore. Not time required, mind you, but the time available to do the task. So when you have spent 30 minutes or more on a task, you can add it to your Un-Schedule calendar. In a way, this is a done list to achieve your goals, but one with better time management built into it.

It’s pretty easy to figure out, honestly, but you can check out Dr. Fiore’s examples of an Un-Scheduled Calendar to help get started.

Your Worst Procrastination Story

Procrastinating about going to a doctor actually resulted in a serious back injury for me, and to this day, I have to be careful about how long I sit in one place, my posture, and about lifting heavy weights. It sucks. What’s the worst thing that has happened to you because of procrastinating?

Image Credit: edar, Unsplash

Which Of These Morning Routines Is Best For You?

A good morning routine can be the key to a happier and more productive life. If you’re still trying to figure out the perfect morning routine for you, the website My Morning Routine might help you figure out what works for you.

A new update is posted to the website every Wednesday with details on the morning routines of well-known entrepreneurs, writers, scientists, athletes, photographers, and more. A wide variety of successful people from all over the world give insight into how they start their mornings.

Some people lay their clothes out for the day the night before for a swift start to their day. Some start the day with yoga and a quick walk with the dog. Others avoid looking at a screen 30 minute to an hour before bed. Reading through most of the updates, you can find recurring positive habits that most of these people engage in. Exercise is a popular choice, as is sleeping in on the weekends.

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Reading these weekly updates can also give you inspiration for less common ideas you can incorporate into your own daily routine.

Every person interviewed on My Morning Routine shares their routine, explains how long they’ve been doing it, how the routine has changed over time, what time they hit the sack, and a question that is overwhelmingly answered in the negative: do they use the snooze button? (Only 37 percent of those interviewed said they do.)

What is your morning routine? Do you think a morning routine is key to a successful day? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock.com

Get Things Done: 10 Inspiring Videos To Boost Your Productivity

The more you read about productivity and how successful people get things done, the better you get at handling your own tasks. The good news is that the Internet is full of inspirational videos to pump your motivation 8 Inspirational Videos That Will Instantly Pump Up Your Motivation How do you feel about motivational videos? You may think that they’re nothing more than glorified, digital pep rallies where overly optimistic people preach empty words of success, victory, and ultimately happiness. And to some… Read More . The bad news is that the Internet is FULL of inspirational videos to pump your motivation.

So instead of you going through each video channel on YouTube to figure out what you should watch, we thought we’d ease the burden and recommend a few choice clips that will tell you how to boost your productivity.

The Science Of Productivity

Let’s start off by learning what productivity truly is. We’ve all read a few work hacks and productivity tricks before, but ASAP Science explains what effect these methods have on our brains and the way we do work. More importantly, it raises a pertinent point: productivity isn’t about doing more things, it’s about learning to prioritize and say no. The short bit on energy management is a wake-up call for many. In fact, it’s a worthy productivity habit to hack your life in the new year 12 Productivity Habits To Finally Hack Your Life In The New Year A common resolution for most working people is to be more productive. In this article, we’ll explore twelve bad habits that you can change — one per month — to drastically improve your workload productivity. Read More .

David Allen: How To Hack Your To-Do List

David Allen is among the leading productivity experts in the world, and his Getting Things Done method is often cited in any conversation about the topic. Epipheo interviewed the man himself and animated the whole talk for an entertaining video. It serves as a primer to the GTD philosophy, along with getting into more details about how to manage your to-do list; a worthy lesson in an age where your to-do app is making you less productive 5 Reasons Your To-Do App Is Making You Less Productive Giving up on your to-do lists? Your problem isn’t your ambition or the task planning app you use. The problem is in how you are using your to-do list in general. Read More .

The Pomodoro Technique

Author Francesco Cirillo’s simple method of using a tomato timer has caught the web’s fancy, and how. The pomodoro technique’s basic idea is to work in short, focussed bursts (usually of 25 minutes) on one thing at a time, with small breaks in between, so that your mind is always concentrating. This video does a great job of explaining the method and how to put it into action. And we have you covered if you’re looking for apps and software to implement the Pomodoro technique Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people… Read More .

Forget Multitasking, Try Monotasking

Most of us are doing too many things at a time, like listening to music while working, or chatting while watching one of these videos. Designer Paolo Cardini says multi-tasking actually makes us less productive. We’ve previously written about how there is research to back up these claims and why you should stop multitasking and stay focused. If you’re a multi-tasker, Cardini’s TED talk is worth watching to learn the merits of monotasking.

Robin Sharma: How I Beat Procrastination

Robin Sharma, author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, is one of the leading motivational speakers on the planet. In the video above, he explains how he beats the tendency to procrastinate and deals with distractions, the books and thought leaders whose advice he has found useful, and a few tips of his own. Pay attention, some reckon that procrastination can’t be cured by task management apps Why Procrastination Can’t Be Cured By Task Management Apps [Opinion] For the longest time I’ve struggled with time management, and in some aspects I still do. One of my many methods in “overcoming” my lack of time management was to use task management applications. I… Read More , so you need a solid philosophical foundation to beat it.

The Happiness Advantage

Author and speaker Shawn Anchor firmly believes that the trick to productivity is being happy. It’s not as simple as it sounds though. In his video on The Happiness Advantage, Anchor explains how most people think our brain works hard to be happy; except it’s the other way around. Happiness is what fuels productivity and success, he says. Anchor also has a longer TEDx talk on the topic if you’re interested. Of course, happiness itself is a difficult topic, but you can find out a bit more about it in one of these six mind-blowing TED talks about psychology and human behaviour 6 Mind-Blowing TED Talks About Psychology & Human Behavior The human brain is complex and confusing, which explains why human behavior is so complex and confusing. People have a tendency to act one way when they feel something completely different. Here are a few… Read More .

How To Break Bad Habits And Form New Ones

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit, put together a simple video explaining the concept of a Habit Loop. In essence, you continue with your bad habits because you have a trigger-routine-reward-trigger loop. The idea is to change the routine to get to the same reward, after identifying your trigger and your reward. An app like HabitRPG can help you gamify your life change successfully Points For Everything: How I Tried to Win At Life With Gamification My brain is stupid. It thinks I can get done tomorrow what I need to do today, and that I can do this afternoon what I need to do this morning. It puts everything off…. Read More .

How To Make Stress Your Friend

Through a regular work week, there are bound to be stressful situations. And sure, there are ways to take stress out of productivity 4 Ways To Take The Stress Out Of Productivity With a few well-targeted changes, you can boost your productivity by leaps and bounds. Apply these simple methods to your life and the result is what you would expect — better work with lesser effort. Read More , but instead, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests you should change your perspective and see stress as a positive phenomenon. Her TED talk touches upon how stress only really affects our mind when we empower it, and she has a few neat tricks to counter it too.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

There is something about an animated video that can get concepts through far better than a face talking to you. RSA’s video, based on Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, is a prime example of this. The video explains Pink’s concepts of the three factors of motivation (mastery, autonomy and purpose) and how you can harness these in your life to boost your output.

Stop Wasting Time Being Productive

After all these productivity videos, Lifehacker creator Gina Trapani and GTD guru David Allen’s little chat takes us back to the basics. This short video is a quick reminder that what matters is finishing your tasks, not whether you are doing them as taught by a productivity guru or a super-useful app. Don’t get caught up in “productivity porn”.

What’s Your Favourite Productivity Video Here Or Elsewhere?

Among the videos above, which one spoke to you the most? Why? And if your favourite productivity video wasn’t shared here, we want to know! The comments, they await…

Image Credit: edar

Working On A Small Screen? Use These 6 Tips To Improve Your Productivity

Computers are essential for productivity in almost every profession — we use them to write, send email, work on spreadsheets, do our banking, and just about everything else. Which is why it can be really beneficial to have a large screen — or even multiple monitors — to work with.

But not everyone has the luxury to use a ton of monitor space. What can you do to stay productive on a small screen?

Get Good at Switching Apps and Windows

Generally, when you’re working on a small screen, you’ll only have enough room to view one application at a time, so using alt+tab (or command+tab on a Mac) to switch applications is an important one. Although command+tab doesn’t let you cycle through individual windows of the same app, you can use command+` (that’s the tilde button, in the top-left corner of the MacBook keyboard) to do the same thing.

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You can also use a number of third-party applications that will help you manage your windows: Witch, for example, is a Mac app that quickly shows you a list of open windows in each app and lets you use keyboard shortcuts to quickly get to the one you want. An app called Switcher lets you customize your app-switching views in Windows 8.1.

Use Window Space Efficiently

We’ve covered a number of tools in the past that help you manage the windows in your Windows workspace before: KDE Window Resizer and Power Resizer for resizing your windows, DeskTopMost to get at the desktop without losing your application windows, Window Hider to hide windows, and WindowTabs for creating stacks of tabbed windows all help you get your apps set up so that they’re easily accessible when you need them.

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A similar application for OS X is Moom, an app we’ve reviewed before, which gives you a number of keyboard shortcuts for moving and resizing windows; with just a few taps you can have your desktop set up as you like it.

Set Up Workspaces

Having all of your open apps in the same place can make for a very crowded screen, which is why setting up multiple workspaces can be so useful. You can keep all of your work-related windows in one workspace, your music and video in another, and your social media in a third. Or you could use one for browsers, one for the text editors, and one for other apps. There are many possible ways to put workspaces to use.

Macs have a built-in function for using multiple workspaces called, fittingly, Spaces. You can create up to sixteen different workspaces by zooming to Mission Control (F3 on a MacBook keyboard) and clicking the plus sign in the top-right corner of the screen. To switch between spaces, slide left or right with four fingers on the track pad or use control+[arrow key].

Dexpot, which we’ve covered before, is an app that lets you get the same functionality in Windows. It creates a number of virtual desktops, allowing you to move windows between those desktops and quickly switch between them. BetterDesktopTool does the same thing.

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Some apps have their own ability to create workspaces as well. Some Adobe products, including Photoshop and Illustrator, allow you to save and move between workspaces that are best set up for accomplishing certain tasks. I’m sure there are other apps that allow you to do this — if you know one, leave it in the comments!

Distraction Free with Full-Screen Apps

In contrast to app switchers and learning to move between your windows as quickly as possible, using full-screen apps will help you stay focused on the task at hand. Scrivener and its composition mode is one of my favorite ways to write, as it allows me to set a background image that I find conducive to writing, and that’s all that I can see — and don’t forget about the other ways Scrivener can improve your writing workflow.

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Most email apps, including Airmail, the best email app for OS X, have full-screen modes available that will keep you focused on dealing with email and keep you from getting distracted on Twitter. Windows’ OmmWriter creates a distraction-free writing environment, and the NextGen RSS feed reader helps you focus on your feeds.

Again, there are plenty of apps that go full-screen to keep you focused; let us know what your favorites are in the comments!

Hide Menu Bars and Docks

When you’re working on a small screen, especially if you have to work with more than one app visible, you need all the room you can get. Windows’ taskbar has an auto-hide feature that you can turn on through the Control Panel (go to Appearance and Personalization > Taskbar and Start Menu > Taskbar appearance, and check on Auto-hide the taskbar). Now when you don’t need it, it’s not there taking up space.

The same thing can be done with the OS X dock by going into System Preferences / Dock > then selecting Automatically hide and show the Dock.

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You can also use an app called Menu Eclipse to make the menu bar less intrusive, though because it takes up less space and can house a lot of useful things, it might not be as useful. If you get distracted by all clean everything up and minimize distractions.

Launch with The Keyboard

On a desktop computer, you can have a window or two open and still have room to see some commonly launched apps or files on your desktop. On a small screen, you’re more limited, and you’ll probably be using the file browser more often to find what you’re looking for. Instead of navigating your way through folders, however, you can use apps that find and launch programs and files from the keyboard.

OS X has Spotlight built in, which can be launched with command+space. Just type in what you’re looking for —once you’ve found it, pressing enter will launch it (you can use the arrow keys to navigate search results). The Alfred app does the same and can help you be more productive with Mac workflows. It is the go-to choice for many.

Launchbar 6 is another great option as an alternative for Spotlight. The video above compares the two.

Similar functionality on Windows comes with Launchy, a free app that will allow you to launch programs and files from the keyboard. It can be customized with a number of plug-ins, making it even more useful.

Executor and Keybreeze will give you a lot of the same functionality with a few tweaks in performance.

How Do You Stay Productive on Small Screens?

Laptops are great for getting things done on the go, but the small screens can be limiting. Fortunately, with a few shortcuts, a couple apps, and some proper organization, you can make your small screen just as useful as a large one. Nothing will get you quite as much space as a good dual monitor setup, but these strategies are a good start!

Do you find working on a small screen to be limiting? What do you do to make sure you can access all of the things you need quickly and easily? Which apps do you like to use on your laptop to make things easier? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Woman working on laptop (edited) via Shutterstock.

How To Read Non-fiction Books In Record Time

If you’re like the rest of us, your ‘to read’ list outstrips what you can ever hope to go through.

Fortunately, there is a method (other than speed reading) that will enable you to sail through that reading list at a pace you never thought possible.

This article will attempt to show how you can understand the main premise, arc and arguments of a non-fiction book without actually having to read it. As I explain, the reading tips are not about avoiding the reading habit.

The techniques mentioned are a form of inspectional reading that can help you understand what a book is all about in the shortest time possible, talk about it with some clarity, and understand if it deserves a deeper read.

Why Would You Want to Skip Reading a Book?

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First of all, why doesn’t this apply to fiction?

I prefer to read fiction books in their entirety to absorb the voice, subtleties and eloquence that make up the piece. These characteristics are alive and well in many non-fiction books too, but they often are superfluous to getting to the heart of the main arguments of the book (while being necessary for fiction).

With non-fiction, there are some books out there that are massively popular, influential, ‘game-changing’, and crop up in conversations. Conversations which, having not read the book itself, you would have to sit by idly on the side-lines for, waiting for a change in topic. The amount of knowledge retained after reading a non-fiction book is surprisingly low. The blame here isn’t on our inability to focus. It was a problem even Ralph Waldo Emerson suffered from, once saying,

“I can’t remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I’ve eaten…”.

If you want to understand more about why this is the case, this article from Brevedy is a great explanation. Connect this to Pareto’s principle (also known as the 80-20 principle). This general ‘rule’ proposes that 80% of the important stuff can be achieved with just 20% of the material. The other 80% is likely to be fluff, stories to make the data more compelling, smaller points that you’ll likely forget, and a whole host of other irrelevant information. And yes, I am aware of the irony — this article could have been shorter!

Along with this is the issue of continuity —

The average adult reads at a rate of 300 words per minute. With the average non-fiction book containing between 80,000-100,000 words, it takes approximately five hours to read. These five hours are generally spread over one or two weeks sacrificing context and continuity resulting in decreased retention. (Brevedy)

So, why not skip that 80% and focus on finding the important 20%, and devouring it all in one go? By doing this, you’ll have as much knowledge (if not more) of the book that’s up for discussion than those who’ve read it (especially if they read it a while ago).

Of course, how well this method works depends on the type of non-fiction book you’re reading.

If you’re trying to work through a selection of essays, a book which deals with a large number of separate issues, or which is incredibly dense, then tackling the book head-on may be best. But for the rest (especially popular science, politics etc), this method works well.

Understand the Overview

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Select the non-fiction book you want to read. As an example, I’ve chosen Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, a book I’ve heard mentioned in conversations many times. Head over to Amazon, and read the book description so you can get a very general overview of what it’s about. (In this case, this took less than 2 minutes)

Understand the Premise and Arc

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Next, you’ll want to dive a little deeper, figuring out exactly what the main arguments are within the book, and hopefully the overall arc of how those arguments play out. Wikipedia is the best option for this, but if you find the Wikipedia article is almost as long as the book itself, you’ll have to use your discretion about which sections to read.

Total time spent on the Blink Wikipedia page: 7 minutes

I would, however, always recommend the ‘Summary’ and also the ‘Reception’ sections — it’s good to know what other experts/reviewers thought — so we don’t fall victim to choosing a book at face value. If you want an even quicker way to read an overview of a book, check out the Blinkist library

Understanding the Style

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It may be tempting now to think you’ve got the gist of what the book’s about and leave it at that, but with this scanty amount of information, you’ll likely forget all about it by tomorrow. Plus, there’s still plenty about the book you don’t know. One of the most important points which you should understand is the actual style of writing that’s used.

One option (it can be time consuming and also requires you to read some of the unnecessary 80%) is to click the ‘Look Inside’ button on the Amazon page, and read 5-10 pages of the book so you can understand a little more about how the author thinks and writes.

The other option is to search for, and read, some of the highlighted sections of the book over on the Kindle Store. With the more popular books, these are usually sections of text that are crucial to the argument, or which show the kind of rhetoric that’s being used — whether it’s technical, preachy, aimed at the layperson etc. (In the case of Blink, there weren’t many highlighted quotes on the Kindle site, so I also spent a few minutes skim reading a couple of pages on the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon).

Total time spent: 8 minutes

Expanding Your Critical Knowledge

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Up to this point, we only understand the book on a basic level. To get to know the book in far more detail, you should head over to its Goodreads page, scroll down to the reader reviews (these are of higher quality than Amazon reviews), and spend 10-15 minutes reading reviews that are two, three or four star.

Newbies can look into our unofficial guide to Goodreads.

One star reviews tend to be overly negative, giving an unfair assessment. Five star reviews are the opposite, often written by dedicated followers or disciples that are less likely to give you any valuable insight into the book itself. This should help you to see which issues people keep having with the text, what they liked about it, and what was missing.

Total time spent: I spent 13 minutes reading reviews, at which point many of the issues were starting to be repeated

Sum Everything Up

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To make sure you’ve grasped the main points and arguments from within, for, and against the book, head over to a more literary video or written review (i.e. New York Times). When reading this review (feel free to read more than one), you should be able to pick up on a lot of what the reviewer is saying. You should understand the negatives and positives that are addressed, while also looking at further references that were unlikely to have come up in the previous steps.

Total time spent: I spent 15 minutes reading the New York Times review on Blink.

To give you an idea of the time saved, Blink is a 300 page book. At the rate I currently read, it would  have taken me a few sittings over three or four days to get through. During this time, I would have absorbed only a fraction of the information consumed. By using the method above, I spent exactly 45 minutes learning about this book. This includes what it’s about, the arguments it presents, style, the pros and cons, and what other experts and readers thought. In some sense, I will likely know more than someone who read only the book, and stopped there.

As a counter, I will of course have missed some points along the way. But for a saving of at least 6 hours or so? That’s a sacrifice that’s not too difficult to swallow.

What do you think? Is this a method you think you would use to understand non-fiction books much faster than reading them, or would you rather set aside the time to read them in their entirety? Let me know in the comments!

Image Credit: Sunny Reading by Pedro Simoes, via Flickr

8 Super Simple To-Do List Tools To Keep You Focused

We often get carried away with productivity systems and the promising features of to-do list apps. When this happens, task management becomes an excessive activity and an excuse to procrastinate some more.

For long-term task planning and scheduling, you need a robust system of tools to get a bird’s eye view of all your projects. But, on a day-to-day basis, a piece of paper works best as a catch-all for your most important tasks. It brings back your focus where it belongs: to your work.

Apps that insist on a similar basic approach work just as well. In this article, we’ll look at eight such minimalist tools for tracking your daily tasks.

1. Minimalist (Web)

Minimalist lives on the web. You don’t need to sign up for it to create a to-do list, but you can connect the app to your Google account.

Head to getminimalist.com and start creating your main to-do list. You’ll get a dedicated link for it that you can share with someone if you want to.

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While Minimalist has no dedicated mobile app, it supports gestures like swiping and dragging on mobile devices.

2. Google Tasks (Web, Desktop, Mobile)

With so many to-do list apps flooding the market, you might have forgotten about the task management feature that sits in your Gmail inbox throughout the day. If you have, it’s time to reconsider it as a worthy candidate for handling your daily to-dos. It even allows you to turn emails into tasks.

To bring up Google Tasks, click on Gmail above the sidebar within your Gmail inbox and select Tasks from the dropdown menu. You’ll see a tiny panel pop up at the bottom right. This is where you can list your tasks for the day and check them off one by one. Minimize the Tasks panel to keep it out of sight and yet easy to access.

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Google Tasks is especially handy if your work involves a lot of emailing back and forth and you find yourself glued to your Gmail inbox. You can also display tasks from your Google Calendar by clicking on Tasks under My calendars.

If you’d like to display Tasks in a tab of its own, follow this URL. Chrome users, how about keeping Tasks pinned to Chrome’s toolbar with the official Google Tasks Chrome extension? Android users, you can carry Google Tasks around in your pocket with Tasks.

Instead of using Google Tasks, you could list your to-dos in an email draft and star the draft for quick access. (Pin the draft to the inbox if you’re using Inbox by Gmail.) If you have enabled the Quick Links feature under Settings > Labs in Gmail, you can add a quick link to the to-do draft in the sidebar.

3. MinimaList (iOS)

MinimaList happens to be my favorite in this list. It’s gesture based, which means you can swipe, drag, and tap your way through it.

Creating, editing, and rearranging tasks is straightforward and intuitive. The default list that appears when you install the app lines up instructions on using MinimaList.

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What I loved about MinimaList is its integration of a Pomodoro timer, for users who swear by the effectiveness of the Pomodoro technique. The timer setup itself is non-intrusive, which means it won’t bother you if you don’t use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time.

MinimaList is available in the App Store for free. iOS users, keep in mind that your device already has a stock app (Reminders) that’s great for maintaining to-do lists. It works offline as does MinimaList.

4. A Text File (Desktop, Web, Mobile)

A text file is probably the simplest, most basic unit for recording information on your computer, and it’s ideal if you’re craving simplicity in your workflow. You can track everything from ideas to bills in text files, so why not your to-do list?

If you already have a “todo.txt” file on your desktop, you’ll love Todo.txt, which brings the simplicity of plaintext to-do lists to your mobile device. It’s available on Android as well as iOS.

5. Slack (Desktop, Web, Mobile)

If you spend a huge chunk of your workday in Slack, that’s where your to-do list can go as well. Bring in an automated bot to track your task list for you.

At MakeUseOf on Slack we have a to-do list bot named, uh, To-do bot. I can command it to add tasks to my personal to-do list, among other things. Here’s a snapshot of some of the commands I can throw at it.

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Integrating the To-do bot app requires admin privileges. After the app’s installation, everyone on the Slack team can make use of the /todo command.

If your team already uses a full-fledged project management app like Kyber.me, you can fall back on the to-do list feature that comes with it.

6. A Spreadsheet (Desktop, Web, Mobile)

A spreadsheet is a no-nonsense way to track any kind of data including your daily tasks. It might look complex at first glance, but it can be as simple as you want it to be. Only two columns will do: one for the name of the task and another for its status.

Even if you add columns for project names, priorities, deadlines, and so on a spreadsheet doesn’t seem as complicated as a dedicated app. That might be because you can see all your data at a glance, without having to jump from screen to screen.

spreadsheet

7. Paper and Pen

It’s more satisfying to mark things “done” on paper than on a screen, isn’t it? That’s why I still maintain a paper list for my daily tasks. I don’t check things off this list, because that doesn’t tell me much about my progress on the task. Instead, I use the Circle system, which I will outline below.

You start with a hollow circle next to each task on your list. At the end of the day, you fill in the circle based on the progress you have made on the task. For example, if you have finished a task, darken the circle next to it. If a task stands cancelled, put an “X” mark through the circle next to the task. For a task that you have delegated, darken the corresponding circle and add a right arrow next to it.

Are you interested in learning more about the Circle system? Read this blogpost by the person who came up with the system (Sigurdur Armannsson) for a detailed explanation of it. Feel free to tweak the system and add your own actions/emphases for convenience.

circle-system

To me, the Circle system feels effortless, unlike the Bullet Journal (BuJo) method. The latter is effective, but also feels like a lot of work. Keep in mind that we’re focusing on daily to-do lists here. For note taking and regular tracking of your work and life, keeping a Bullet Journal is well worth the effort it involves.

I also use the Circle system for tracking bill payments that I can’t automate. It’s easy to forget which bills you have paid and which ones you haven’t when they pop up at random all during the month. With this system, I don’t have that problem anymore.

8. Mobile Versions of Outlining and Note-Taking Apps

Of course you can create your daily to-do list in your usual note-taking app or outliner app.

If you’re working on a handful of different projects, listing their tasks in a single list can get confusing. This is where it helps if you use an outliner or note-taking app to write your list and arrange your tasks into logical sections.

The problem is that it’s easy to get side-tracked by various notes and features from the note-taking app. These act as visual reminders of the hundred and one things you still have to take care of. One way to get past this “attention hijack” is to use the mobile version of the app. Since mobile apps get designed for small screens, they often hide sidebars and other distracting elements by default. This helps keep your to-do list at the forefront of your day.

Is Your To-Do System Set Up to Fail?

If you always find your daily to-do list to be overwhelming and unmanageable, consider that it could be for two main reasons given below.

1. You have unrealistic expectations of what you can do in 24 hours.

It’s very deceptive. Twenty-four hours sounds like a lot of time, and so it feels as though we should be able to fit into the day all the things we think we have to do as well as all the things we want to do. But the fact is if you work eight hours a day and sleep eight hours a night, that leaves only eight hours for everything else.

— Elaine St. James, Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More

2. Your to-do list also functions as a bucket list, grocery list, notebook, idea list, and so on.

If you have a propensity to fall into either or both of these traps, staying aware of it can help you prioritize what goes on your to-do list and keep it both realistic and “finishable”.

Where Is Workflowy?

I have chosen to leave out apps like Workflowy, Todoist, Toodledo, and Remember the Milk from this list. They’re all excellent apps, but for this article I decided to focus on tools that are best suited for creating a basic to-do list. You know, the kind of list that you’re likely to stick on the door of your refrigerator or on the lid of your laptop.

It’s Time to Focus!

If you have a choice between signing up for a new app and making do with one you already use a lot, I’d suggest going with the latter. This will not only save you time, but also prevent a case of fragmented focus, which frequent app switching often causes.

Whenever I’m about to succumb to “fancy/shiny to-do-list app madness”, one quick look at my colleague Dave Parrack’s impressive workflow pulls me back from the brink. It reminds me that self discipline is the best productivity aid there is.

What does your daily to-do list look like? Is it a complex beast full of notes and subnotes or a basic list of your most important tasks for the day? Where do you write it down?