Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Taking Notes, The Cornell Way

Someone writing by hand in a notebook

Taking notes is something most of us do. You might be doing that as a writer or as a student or as someone working 9 to 5. More and more more people are taking their notes digitally — in a word processor, using a text editor, online with Evernote, or using a smartphone.

Even with all the software and gadget available, taking notes with pen and paper — what some people call the analog method &mdash: is still popular with many. I count myself among them, even though my handwriting is really hard to read.

My notebook of choice is a Moleskine pocket notebook. Sometimes, though, I need a bit more space and a bit more structure when taking notes. Not just in what I’m writing notes on, but in the way I’m developing those notes.

And that means turning to the Cornell note-taking method.

The Joys of Slowing Down

A road sign saying 'Slow Down'

Life these days seems to move at quite a fast clip, doesn’t it? There’s always something happening. There’s always something to do.

It’s easy to get caught up in the blurs that are our lives. And I’m not being facetious when I call our lives blurs. Often, it seems that one moment melds into the next. One experience is a continuation of another.

Many of us don’t slow down because we fear we’ll be left behind. We fear we’ll miss something. We fear that we’ll be seen as not being able to keep up.

And that’s the problem. By not slowing down, we don’t have time to reflect or enjoy what’s in front of us or around us. By not slowing down we are missing out on experiences that can enrich our lives.

Think about everything you rush through. Maybe it’s a meal. Do you take the time to slowly eat it, to enjoy it, to enjoy the people you’re sharing that meal with? Do you read electronically, or do you grab and actual dead-trees book? Do you every take the time to write by hand instead of turning to a keyboard?

Slowing down allows you to appreciate those experiences. You learn to pay attention to each word, each morsel, each movement, each moment. You notice more. You take more in. By slowing down, you process information more thoroughly, you ponder ideas deeply.

Slowing down allows you to focus on the moment, to live in that moment. It allows you to ponder and relax and let your mind drift. Slowing down allows you to concentrate on one moment, on one space in time, on one idea or problem.

You won’t get all that much done by slowing down. You won’t have as many (often dubious) experiences when you slow down. What you do, what you experience will be more meaningful, more thoughtful, deeper, and more imporant.

Life’s not about quantity but quality. Quality of thought. Quality of your experiences. Quality of your life. And that’s the joy of slowing down: being able to savour that quality instead of letting it slip by you as you dash ahead to the next thing.

Links Roundup - August 15, 2016

On Being an Individual

A red pea among green ones in a pod

Have you ever asked yourself who you really are? Not the person that your parents, that your teachers, that your peer group, that society expects you to be. I’m talking about the person deep down inside of you. The person you’re supposed to be. Not just another face in the crowd.

We started life as individuals. People who, while probably not special, were unique. One of a kind. But as we grew older, we began to conform to the shapes and thoughts and personalities of others. We acted a certain way. We dressed a certain way. We listened to and watched and thought what others around us listened to and watched and thought.

Many of us, in many ways, stopped being individuals a long time ago. We became part of a somewhat cohesive mass. Even if we weren’t always entirely comfortable being part of that mass.

How did we wind up that way? Conformity. Conformity was, and is, the easy way out.

And society places a high value on conformity. If you deviate from the supposed norm, you’re branded weird or strange. You’re only an eccentric if you have a lot of money. Anyone who doesn’t conform faces constant pressure to do so. If they don’t, they’re nudged to the margins and the peripheries.

I know. I’ve been there. From the time I was 11 years old, I refused to play by the rules that others put in place, that others tried to apply to me. I didn’t act or think or dress or do what my so-called peers did. I never followed prevailing fashions or fads. I walked my own path, often alone.

It definitely wasn’t easy. But after all the resentment and frustration faded, I realized that being an individual takes more strength, more strength of character than going with the crowd. There are a number of lessons you can learn from embracing yourself and being the individual you know you are.

Being an individual teaches you who your friends truly are. Those are the people who stick by you, who accept you for who you are and not because you’re just like them.

Being an individual teaches you not to care about the opinions of others, about what they think of you. If you worry or stress about that, you’re giving someone a degree of control over you and your life. A degree of control they should never, ever have.

Being an individual teaches you to rely on yourself. You don’t always need a group of people around you to have fun or to do something. You don’t need to constantly seek acceptance or advice or affirmation from someone or someones else. You can, when you need to, go it alone. You can trust your judgement and instincts.

There’s an individual in all of us. Embracing and becoming that individual can be liberating, but it can also be one of the toughest things you can do. But who would you rather be? The person you’re meant to be or someone who’s just like everyone else? The choice is yours.

3 recommended books

An open book and a notebook

You are what you read. That’s especially true about the books you read. Those books, the words on those pages, shape you. They influence your thinking. They challenge you. They make you think.

I’ve read a number of books over the last year or so. Three of those books gave me pause and compelled me examine the way I do certain things and the way I look at certain aspects of my life.

Let’s take a quick look at those books.

Essential Zen Habits — I’ve been a fan of Leo Babauta’s writing for a number of years. What he has to say about productivity and simple living meshes well with my own thoughts in those areas. It’s Babauta’s ideas around changing habits that have gotten my attention as of late. In Essential Zen Habits, Babauta offers a six-week course that can help you change bad habits and develop good ones. He also also explains how to get over the bumps and overcome the struggles that come with trying to change your habits. Best of all, the book isn’t all theory. It’s very direct, very how to. It gets you involved in the process from page one.

The Joy of Missing Out — In The Joy of Missing Out, Christina Crook explains that constant connectivity isn’t the be all, end all of life. She describes, both from her experience and extensive research and interviews, how stepping back and disconnecting, how taking things slower and at a more relaxed pace can increase our mindfulness and our presentness, and improve our lives. Crook doesn’t advocate completely disconnecting yourself from the digital world. Instead, she advocates stepping back. What will you be missing out on? Probably not much.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You — You’ve probably heard the advice that you need to follow your passion to find the career or work that will define you. Cal Newport thinks that’s wrong, and presents a solid case against following your passion in So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Instead of doing what you think you love, Newport argues, you need to excel at work that matters. Once you do that, you’ll find your passion. And that passion can come from an unexpected corner. So Good They Can’t Ignore You is part manifesto and part blueprint that can help you find what you’re passionate about.