Marketing to the procrastinator

The other day when I was at a café with my friend, she said something that made me have an idea for a blog entry. “Back in high school it was so much easier to get started on your homework. Especially maths, because you had these concrete tasks you could cross off your task sheet, and feel like you’d accomplished something each time you made a cross.” We continued our conversation, agreeing that being presented with these huge tasks at the university, such as “read chapter 2, 3 and 4”, or “Write an essay on subject A, B and C” can sometimes seem as an insurmountable task, and oftentimes you can end up not doing them, because they seem so intimidating.

Therefore, I thought, why not make your own task sheet, and trick your brain into thinking the task is much smaller than it actually is? I know this is a very basic idea; break tasks into smaller entities, and I have mentioned this before, but I have not mentioned to what degree.

To give you an example, these last few weeks have been this year’s midterms at my university. As a part of these midterms, I had to write one essay, take one qualification exam and do one obligatory assignment. Although these tasks are hardly the most difficult midterm evaluations one could imagine, they did require some work, and they definitely required some willpower. My goal was to hand them in at least three days before they were due, therefore I could not rely on that last-minute panic that sets in just before the hand-in folder closes.

As I had a bit of a backlog to deal with in the subject I had the qualification exam in, I felt quite overwhelmed by the curriculum. I decided to face the backlog head on, and make new study habits for this class, as a lot of the required coursework is reading, and not task based. I think this is the case for many university courses, which is why I think this example is the most applicable for you guys.

So instead of telling myself “read 5 chapters”, I wrote this in my planner:

  1. Write down key words from chapter 3
  2. Explain the key words you found in chapter 3
  3. Give examples of the key words you found in chapter 3

I repeated this for all five chapters, and ended up with five word documents that looked like this:

Eksempel fra exfac

In the end, I had done all the required reading, albeit not in the chronological order, and I had managed to take comprehensive notes on every chapter we were being tested on. How you perceive the difficulty of the task lies in the presentation. I do not mind sifting through the text, jumping back and forth trying to find out what is the essence of the chapter. I do however mind sitting for hours and hours without jotting down a few words, trying to gather my thoughts. The idea here is to present the task to yourself in the way you know will be most “palatable” for you, and will make it easier to start the task. If you are a perfectionist, as I’ve been called many times, you know the feeling of not wanting to start, because you do not want to hand in something that is less that “perfect”. As my father always says, sometimes good is good enough, everything does not need to be perfect in order for you to have accomplished something.

That is why I like this method so much. Not only do I think it makes the “barrier of entry” easier for most procrastinators, I think dissecting tasks in this way also makes you find your preferred way of learning. If you’re enjoying yourself while learning, I think you retain so much more of what you’ve read, so make the most of your study sessions. Make it fun, and remember to enjoy yourself! Hopefully, you were the one who chose the program you are currently enrolled in, so try to appreciate the chance you’ve been given!

In the end, I’ll just add a little “morsel of wisdom” for my fellow procrastinators out there;

Do not wait until the clock turns a round number, or until the next hour starts, just DO IT NOW. make your dreams come true If only the planning stage of the task, you’ll feel so much better if you do just five minutes of work. Or you could always do it next week, eh?

Have a good weekend!

– Benedicte

Marketing to the procrastinator

How to get organized for the new semester!

Hi guys!

Just a quick blog entry on my next project. I’ve read up on new types of study-habit structuring, and have come across a project I really liked called “4 weeks to a 4.0”. It’s a “four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student,” where each week tackles a typical problem area for students, such as time management, note taking, organization etc.

I’ll link to each weeks article at the beginning of the related paragraph, and I highly recommend visiting Cal Newport’s site, as it’s been a huge inspiration for me. I also recommend his book “How to Become a Straight-A Student”, where he explains many of the concepts from the articles in further detail.

For week one I found it hard to create an autopilot schedule at first, not knowing whether I’d have recurring tasks. Therefore, for this tip I recommend attending class for a week without scheduling any work when the new semester starts, and looking at your lecture schedule to map out which tasks repeat week after week. After I’d mapped out what tasks needed to get done on a regular basis, I created this activity planner, which I just hung on the fridge. That way, I knew I’d see it every day.

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I’ve also added in volunteer work and work-outs, as these are also recurring on my calendar. Really, anything you want to do on a regular basis, whether it’s learning how to play the guitar, or practise jiu jitsu, or even setting aside some time for relaxation or meditation, put it on the calendar. That way, you know you’ll have time for it.

I also have a system for mapping out my week which I’ve created myself. I use these three books:

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The pink is for mapping out the entire week; what’s the required reading? Which assignments will take up most of my time? This book is all about the finer details that the autopilot schedule does not mention.

The black moleskine is my day planner. I bring this with me to university every day, in case the professor says something about the work that is not mentioned in the lecture notes or schedule, or if I get an idea for an assignment (or a blog post). That way I can write it down as soon as I get the idea or message, and not have to struggle with remembering it all day.

The gold notebook I usually only use on very busy days, or when I’m in an exam period. I use it to plan individual days, hour by hour. It makes the workload seem more manageable, as I get to rip out the page or cross off things on the list when I’m done.

Week two is all about taking smarter notes. This I’m just going to link to Cal Newport’s blog post on, and again, I highly recommend just clicking through the links he’s included, such as “Why Most Students Don’t Understand the Real Goal of Note-Taking”.

Week three builds on week two in its mastery of assignments. One tip I’ll add for reading assignments, is that if the professor has added some questions about the text, read these before doing the reading assignment. I usually keep the questions next to me while reading, and try to answer them as I progress through the text. Remember, you can always alter or edit your answer later, if something you’ve written contradicts what is mention later in the text.

Week four is something that I’ve prepared for, but have yet to utilise, namely “The Project Folder Method”. I have purchased four project folders, as I’m taking three university courses on English grammar and literature, and one math subject which I’m reading independently. My plan is to use the entire folder for both the coursework and the essays and assignments. I’ve marked the outside of the folders with important dates, such as the exam dates and when important obligatory assignments are due. I’m planning on using plastic sleeves or other inserts for essays, and marking the front of these “sub-folders” in the same way, with important dates and plans for research and writing.

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I think this is a cool project, and I hope it will inspire some of you to try something similar! I may write a follow-up after a few weeks, letting you know whether the system has worked for me or not, but as of today, it seems like a clever way of structuring your work.

I hope your semester is off to a great start!

– Benedicte

How to get organized for the new semester!

Finding YOUR best way to study!

I’ve had this entry in the works for a long time, so I’m really happy about finally being able to write it. I felt like I had to have some sort of proof of my learning technique hypothesis’, that figuring out how you retain information best, is the best way to achieving your grade goals. This year, I feel like I finally cracked some sort of code, learning-wise. I did not have to cram until the night before the exam, I could allow myself to take breaks without feeling guilty about not studying, and I still reached all my academic goals for 2015 on my impossible list.

The way I did this was mapping out under what conditions, and with what tools I work best. This is a very individual process, which I personally think everyone ought to go through to learn about themselves. You can save yourself so much hassle if you figure out your “path of least resistance” to the grade you want. I started out by taking a couple of tests, helping me get a general idea about what kind of learner I am. The results I got most often were read-and-write learner and visual learner. Even though most of the results pointed to those learning techniques, I still wanted to be open to the possibility that my answers were coloured by my experience with the Norwegian school system, where read-and-write learning is heavily favoured, therefore I could be missing out on some really good kinaesthetic learning tips for example.

Auditory learning:

Pros: Made me focus more during lectures, made me ask more questions, made me better at explaining what I’d learned to other people, works really well in social sciences.

Cons: While I remembered the broader strokes, I forgot the details. Although it worked in biology, it did not work as well in physics and maths.

Tips for testing yourself: Listen to podcasts, listen to taped lectures, try to teach someone what you’ve learned using only words, discuss at a colloquium.

I started out by doing something I usually never do – not taking any notes in class. Don’t get me wrong, I did pay attention. Instead of writing down almost everything the professor said, having to sift through what is actually relevant later, I tried listening intently. In addition to this, I also raised my hand a lot more than usual, asking clarifying questions. My theory was that by asking questions, I’d remember the discussion later, therefore solidifying the learning experience. However, what I noticed was that while I could remember the broader strokes, perhaps even better than usual, I’d lost most of the detail. For me this was problematic, as it’s the details, in my opinion, that makes for the most interesting exam answers or essay subjects.

Kinaesthetic learning:

Pros: Works really well in courses where lab-work is required, is great for understanding physics. Is a great tool for motivating students, and spurring further curiosity.

Cons: I did not feel like I understood technical details at a micro-level as well by just observing and having concepts explained to me, as I would have by reading about them.

Tips for testing yourself: attend a lab-class, draw or build a model of what you are learning about

While trying to create some sort of hybrid between my usual note taking and keywords, inspired by my auditory learning experience, I also tried to incorporate some kinaesthetic work into the process. This included going to the lab, trying out different experiments, and “thinking aloud” with my lab partner. Things like handling a microscope properly, or doing experiments with lights and lasers were really motivating, and helped spark a desire to work more when I got home, trying to figure out precisely what I saw through the microscope, or why some sort of physical phenomenon occurred. However, if it hadn’t been for the consecutive work I put in after I got home, I wouldn’t have learned as much as if I had just gone to the lab and looked at, or touched things. It did help me familiarize myself with the lab, making me more comfortable doing things on my own, and in an exam setting.

Visual learning:

Pros: You can learn at your own pace, you can comply your notes into small diagrams, making larger concepts easier to remember.

Cons: Some might get easily distracted by using tools such as YouTube for learning, it can be difficult to find reliable and complete resources.

Tips for testing yourself: Watch videos, draw mind maps or diagrams, and make overview-posters to revise

This might have been my absolute favourite way of studying, and I will definitely blog about some aspects of this learning technique in further detail another time. I think the reason I liked this technique so much is that it combined so well with the read-and-write learning style I was previously familiar with. I modelled my visual learning experience after the “flipped classroom” concept, watching videos on YouTube (mostly CrashCourse and SciShow videos, and some Norwegian resources), and Khan Academy. After teaching myself the main concepts, I went to my lecturers’ office hours and asked them about topics that needed additional explanation, such as exam-specific topics, or what I should focus more or less on. I highly recommend checking out these links and infographics on flipped classroom learning, as they made it easier for me to learn at my own pace, which I know is a problem for many students. Either the teacher could be going on about the same topic for far too long or jumping ahead way to fast to get through the curriculum in the allotted time.

Read-and-write learning:

Pros: Writing down what you’ve read can help you retain more of the information, easy to go back in your notes to revise what you might have forgot.

Cons: Some might write too much, therefore confusing themselves as to what is actually important.

Tips for testing yourself: rewrite notes, create lists and make analogies to explain difficult concepts, write synopses

I think this is the learning style most students are familiar with, as was the case in my experience. My best tips for this technique is after taking notes in class, set aside some time afterwards to rewrite your notes, using new words and sentences. This is not an original idea at all, as it has been recommended by many other “study-bloggers”, (if I can call myself that). However, one thing I will add, that I haven’t heard anywhere else, is that when studying STEM-sciences, try to use words to explain equations and rules. By forcing yourself to create an explanation using only words and analogies, for a concept explained best with numbers or other figures, you learn the concept so well, you can apply it to a number of different problems, as well as giving yourself another way to remember it.

Before I end this post, I want to add that these are my pros and cons, therefore they are not as objective as they should be. You should try this learning experiment out for yourself! Learning how to learn is one of the most valuable tools in life, as one continues learning throughout all of it. How you retain or use the information you pick up along the way is entirely up to you.

Good luck with the next semester, (and remember to check out the links)!

– Benedicte

Finding YOUR best way to study!

I finally beat procrastination

The entries on kinaesthetic, visual, auditory and read-and-write learning are coming along great, but while I finish my research on those topics I just wanted to share what I think is my first real finding on this blog. When you do a lot of research, it becomes easy to just regurgitate other peoples’ ideas. But this time, I’ve finally figured out a method to beat my own procrastination, in a way that I think can be of use to a lot of you.

I really enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Some people are more into listening to music, so I suggest doing what you like, whether it is listening to the radio or your favourite playlist, as long as it leaves you able to move about freely while being able to use your hands. Many people struggle to leave their houses or apartments to go for a jog. However, when they are out on the track in their trainers, they have no option but to run, so actually doing the exercise becomes a lot less overwhelming than when you were inside, contemplating putting on those jogging shorts.

When you’ve figured out what your preferred entertainment is, you can put your brain into “robot-mode”. This is what I call it when I am doing things that demand nothing of me mentally, but still needs to be done, like doing dishes or laundry. Setting up a home studying area is yet another one of these activities. You can do this in public as well, but this process will likely require less time when you’re at a library or in school, as you’ve already packed your bags with the books and school supplies you need. Ironically, to beat procrastination, I’ve found that I need to trick my brain with some “pretend-procrastinating” for just a few minutes, before I get into the real course work. Therefore, after I’ve set up my study station, with as few items as possible, I continue robot-mode for just a couple more minutes, while I gather my thoughts and draw an overly elaborate header or write on a separate piece of paper how I want to portion out my work. Preferably, you could set aside some time before you work to plan what you would like to do, but I often times use this as an excuse to procrastinate even more, and plan my workloads for weeks ahead, justifying it by telling myself that it’s school related. I find that as long as I have some overarching ideas on what I would like to accomplish, those few minutes in robot-mode is enough to figure out how I would like to organize my tasks.

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Then comes the crucial part, where you have to exit robot-mode, turn off your audiobook, and actually do the work. Usually, I’m not up for studying even after all that prepping. I have to trick my brain again, by telling myself, “Okay, if you just work for five minutes, you can have a break.” Then I set the timer, work intensively for five minutes, and get the same feeling that the aforementioned jogger got, and think to myself “this isn’t so bad,” and turn the timer to the full 25 minutes of a pomorodo. Usually the “runners high”, or in this case “studying high”, is enough to keep me going until the tasks or my revision is completed.

Many times, I’ve asked some of my more studious friends, “how do you force yourself to start working?” and “how do you beat procrastination?” hoping to figure out a magic fix to solve my own problems. Usually they reply that they do just that, force themselves. It seems as if procrastination isn’t as big of an issue as it is for me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people are different, and while some people need simple tricks to wake themselves up in the morning, like apps with equations to solve before the alarm turns off, others just bounce out of bed, bright and early every morning at 7 AM. We each have our own struggles, which is why we need to find our own best working conditions. Next week’s blog entry will might help some of you to do just that, and I will make sure to include links and other resources so you can figure out your own methods.

Best of luck beating your procrastination monster!

– Benedicte

I finally beat procrastination

Gamification of habits

I’m working on a proper blog entry, but in the meanwhile I thought I’d share some tips about habit formation. Some tools I’ve been using is the app HabitRPG, and a simple excel spreadsheet.

I found out about HabitRPG about a year ago, while lurking on /r/productivity on reddit. This app works the same way an RPG does, in rewarding tasks you’ve made for yourself with XP. You decide how much value each task should have, based on how difficult you find them. Some are dailies you can tick off on your list and not worry about until they are active tasks again, others are habits you can do as much as you want, and still receive rewards each time you repeat them.

habitloop

This app is free, and is accompanied by the website www.habitrpg.com, where you can join parties, guilds and do challenges. I really recommend it, because it is a fun way to create new habits, and perhaps break old ones. It uses the instant gratification of receiving XP and finding items like pets, armour etc. to feed the “habit loop”. The thing that makes it the easiest to form a new habit is instant gratification. That is why making it a habit to check your social media sites is so much easier than perhaps to do three sets of 15 push-ups every evening. You might not feel like you are getting stronger each time you do the push-ups, but with social media, you get the instant gratification and entertainment you crave, so you keep coming back. After a while, people might say “have you been working out?” but by then you’ve already been pushing yourself every night the past few weeks, without any form of reward. That is where I’ve found HabitRPG to be a great tool. I often feel as if my revising amounts to nothing, and that the study session did not pay off to the degree that I wanted it to. However, if I keep at it for many weeks straight I will see results, perhaps in how much faster I can do a task, or my being able to understand something I previously could not. This reward is far from instant, so getting potions to hatch new pets, or a new sword for my avatar right away is much more gratifying.

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The excel spreadsheet is something I’ve been working on this week, with the help of my father. He used it while working on his PhD, to break down bigger tasks into smaller ones that were less daunting than just “finish your PhD!” For me it’s a tool to spread out my workload before my upcoming exams, so that I know how much time I can use on each chapter. I also use it for my workout schedule. The great thing about formatting in excel is that you can use as many tabs as you want, colour coordinate them, mark specific dates, like labs, exams etc. You have to set aside some time to create your own formatting to suit your needs, as well as planning REALISTICALLY how much work you are able to do in one day. If you plan to do too much each day, you will burn out, and not do any of it. You need that instant gratification of marking a task as “done” on your list, because leaving them unfinished will only make you feel disappointed in yourself, which you shouldn’t be, because in my opinion, just doing one of the many tasks you’ve set for yourself is an accomplishment.

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By the way, I know I did not stick to my posting schedule over the Easter holiday, and I’m sorry! What I learned over the break is that I do not concentrate well when working with other people, which was last week’s study technique. Since I spent a lot of time goofing off, I did not want to write a huge blog entry about something so subjective. Instead, I’m making it up by finding out techniques to learn whether you are an auditory learner, visual learner, kinesthetic learner or if you learn best just by reading.

Looking forward to the results! I think I can make some interesting findings 🙂

– Benedicte

Gamification of habits

Solving one problem, discovering a new(old) one

This week has been immensely productive study wise. I’ve managed to get an average of 3,4 pomodoros done each day, with days varying from two pomodoros to eight! While I feel like I’ve made great strides in improving my study habits already, I’ve made discoveries that prove some old habits die hard…

My father used to say when my sisters and I were younger, and he took us out skiing or hiking, that “children need many, but short breaks.” I think this holds true for adults as well. I’ve noticed while I may work for longer when I sit there, three days before the big test, cramming while strung out on caffeine and adrenaline onset by stress, my work greatly deteriorates for each hour I’m working. When I finally give up and decide that I physically cannot work anymore, the notes from the first chapters I read have hand drawn illustrations, pages upon pages of notes, and definitions for all the relevant terminology. While my notes from the final chapters are mainly keywords and references to pages in the textbook. Having those short five-minute breaks improved my mental agility, so that when each new interval started, I felt like I was starting fresh.

The timer started representing focus to me. Yet, in a strange way it pandered to my procrastination, simulating the rush of only having limited time to finish a task. It meant I had to prioritize and cut back on the perfectionism. While it brought out many good things in me, it also highlighted what I already knew was one of my worst traits, putting things off for later. Five out of seven nights I started my pomodoros after eight o’clock. When I finally got to them, after hours of bargaining with my partner about doing something else, more fun, I always thought to myself, “Why didn’t I start sooner? This isn’t that difficult really!” Another problem I noticed is how hard it was to get back to work after the 45-minute break you get for completing four pomodoros. After I’d finished, I felt like “you deserve to take the rest of the day off,” which was oftentimes the only option I had, as by the time I was finished it was 10 PM, and all I wanted to do was to have a snack, go to bed and watch Netflix. (In my notes, I wrote, “this is where willpower comes into play, something I don’t have.”)

While I might not have that much willpower, I did learn I had focus. I was able, even without the kitchen timer, to do my physics course work on a crowded, 4-hour bus ride, only rewarding myself with the 5-minute breaks. No matter where I worked this week, I always made sure not to reach for what I knew was one of my major time thieves, my phone. Instead, I drank water, stretched, and socialized. I also upheld the 5-minute breaks religiously, not staying in the living room for an extra five minutes to see who wins the mystery box challenge on Master Chef.

In conclusion, I think the technique can solve some of my problems, but not all of them. I need some way to make myself accountable for not starting sooner, and to stop my procrastinating. While the technique isn’t normally used this way, I thought it worked really well in a study setting. I found that it worked best if you had a specific task, like a maths or physics assignment, but it also worked for reading and revising. I have gotten a somewhat better grasp of how much time I need in order to finish a task, but I could focus more on this. Therefore I’m planning on continuing using this technique, while applying other methods as well to improve my overall study habits.

Looking forward to next week. Might make some changes to the site as well 🙂

-Benedicte

Solving one problem, discovering a new(old) one

Week 1 – Pomodoro

Before I start this blog entry the way I’d planned it, I want to fill you guys in on a couple of ground rules I have made for myself, that I think can apply to anyone.

If this is going to work, I need to commit to these techniques wholeheartedly. That means;

  • Putting my phone on airplane mode.

This is probably the number one tip I give my friends, but never follow myself. If you’re being honest with yourself, nothing important is going to happen the 1 or 2 hours you’ve set aside for studying. No phone call or text is so important that you need to answer it right away. If you are expecting a truly important phone call, like from an employer, set up a filter, so that they can reach you, but no one else can. When you decide to take a break, then you can answer whatever text you might have gotten.

  • Work for at least an hour before giving up.

I think this applies to many people as well. A lot of times I will sit down, and just stare at the paper or my computer screen, not knowing where to start. Usually I will get up, start cooking or goofing off on my phone (i.e. what I mentioned in my previous bullet point. My phone is my Achilles heel…), and when it finally gets dark outside, or I have other plans, I will say “oh well, I tried!” when I in fact did not try at all! I just sat down on a chair and stared at a piece of paper for a few minutes! Some people say to try for somewhere between 25-30 mins, but I want to push myself with this project. It’s not the end of the world to be bored for a little while.

Other than this, I want to mention that the blog’s posting schedule will be an update on Monday, telling you what kind of study technique or method I will try out this week, and a follow up on Sunday, evaluating whether or not the technique worked, and if I’m going to continue using it the following week.

This week I’m trying out the Pomodoro technique. If I’m going to be completely honest, I have tried this method before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. In short, the technique uses a stopwatch or a timer to portion out 25 minutes where all you do is work, followed by a 5-minute break. Repeat this cycle 4 times, and give yourself a proper break of 45 minutes or more. This technique will not only help you focus for the allotted 25 minutes, it will also help you structure out your work into “pomodoro’s”, meaning, “how many intervals of 25 minutes do I need to finish this task”. The sense of urgency and stress you get from listening to the timer ticking really keeps me from checking my phone or wasting any time doing something other than my task, because I know I only have 25 minutes before my break. This also makes starting tasks easier, because you are only committing to 25 minutes of work, which isn’t a lot.

This time around, I really want to focus on learning how many pomodoro’s I need to finish a task. Having a better grasp of how much time I will need to finish a task will really help me in structuring my workload leading up to this year’s final exams. I recommend you check out the video embedded below, and visit the official Pomodoro technique website, at http://pomodorotechnique.com/.

Until next time.

– Benedicte

Week 1 – Pomodoro