10 days before the race and the beginning of a sinus infection. Off to the doctor. Seven days before the race. Back to the doctor. 3 days before the race. Sick and only 60% sure that I could start the race. 2 days. 70%. 1 day. 80%, but going to start the race regardless of wake-up. Simple nutritious food, rest, and LOTS of medicine were key.
Race morning started early with a fuzzy head, sinus problems, and willingness to toe the line to see what the day was going to hold.
The weather predictions, leading into the race, were was close to perfect as could be hoped of in an April Texas race: 70 – 84 degrees, 12 – 18mph wind, and largely overcast skies. The morning started overcast with winds that started moving the flags early. At 7:05a I stepped into the water with a 78bpm heart rate ready to start the day.
Devin Logsdon, a teammate, offered the following advice knowing that I was going into the race much less than 100% healthy: 1. Get out of the water. 2) Get off the bike. 3) Finish the race.
400 yards into the swim, I was already coughing. At 1800 yards, I my race was in question. Every bump, problem, or interruption led to a coughing fit – fellow competitors knock off goggle, removed my wedding band, and stopped my watch twice. As a veteran, I changed my swim and found open water to relax and find my own Zen swim this carried me the remainder of the swim. My sinuses, and lungs had a maximum limit below normal. A mantra of “1. Get out of the water.” repeated for the last 1/3 of the swim. While a PR swim was within fitness reach, my health put me at my close pre-race prediction of 1hr25min. I reached transition at 1 hr 24 min 05 second.
The transition was a time to rest and refuel. This meant a refill of meds, a change of clothes and a few deep breaths to help move on to the next stage. The tent walls are moving…from the wind.
I’m a cyclist, first and foremost. On race morning, I stated to my friend: “I want to hold 17mph.” After the swim, the truly felt like a silly statement. But, I hopped on the bike and started pedaling.
The bike course was designed for me. 20 miles of warm-up, 80 miles up and down the Hardy Tollway, and 12 miles back to transition. But, the wind. The wind had now grown and were at steady 20-25 directly into your face heading southbound. This meant a that once on the tollway, there was a STRONG headwind for mile 20 to 40 – this was heartbreaking hard work. This meant a eye on heart rate and a definitive redline at 155bpm (working but not burning lots of matches). Mile 40 – 60 was assisted by a STRONG wind and a urge to push past the redline – control and refueling. Rinse and repeat for the remainder of the bike ride.
Health Note: To stay healthy, I stopped at every aid station if only for a minute….Liter bottle of water on the body, ½ liter of water and ½ bottle Gatorade in the body….and a final liter bottle of water on the head and body. This provided cooling and hydration and some nutrition. Glukos gel (9) were housed in a bottle and used before bonk – salt tablet helped the cramping. This combo was greatness and proven in other races. Special needs supplemental nutrition (oatmeal cream pies x4) and a big bottle of pickle juice. Calorie deficit overall on the bike, but known and planned for
Strong winds and a solid game plan provided what I needed while maintaining and heart rate that allowed me to breath. Between health and bike condition, it meant a 17.5 average – very satisfied. Now, “2. Get off the bike”
Transition: The body is broken and the run is likely not going to happen. Full change to running clothes, rehydrated, calories, Vaseline, and sun protection. “3. Finish the race”.
Day turned hot and the sun started shining. Pre-race I planned for walking in the first two miles. I knew I was calorie deficit, and likely dehydrated. So, oatmeal pies, uncrustables, and a large bottle of pickle juice. By mile 2, I was ready to run. People were already dropping (literally) from the heat/humid/hard bike. By this time, I was assessing my own health. The lungs were done – the rest of the body felt good. To meet my “healthy” goals, I need to run….but reconciliation was needed.
The run needed to be a walk. My goal were, in order: Enjoy IMTX and finish the race. This was decision that needed to be made without ego. So, ego was set aside and I walked……for a LONNNNNG TIME.
Health: Medicine reload, salt tablet. 2:1 water:Gatorade consumption and a squeeze bottle of 6 Glukos gels.
I had 16:59:59 to finish. I could have used all of it. But this is not training, it’s a race. I put myself on racing walk pace of 15:30 – 16:00 and crossed the line and blistered feet at 15:10:18. “3. Finish the race”
This was not the race that I wanted. But it was the race the I had to have based on race condition and my personal health.
I met my goals: Enjoy IMTX and finish the race.
As much a possible, I finished the race on my terms.
Project management is difficult, and often frustrating, work that can get the better of even the most seasoned project managers! Whether we like it or not, we are all handling multiple projects at the same time every day of our lives; work, school, and personal life are three different projects that demand our attention at the same time. Juggling timelines, commitments, and workload between these projects is magic when we do it effectively and chaotic when we don’t. Ignoring these responsibilities is a recipe for disaster, and though we may feel miles away from mastery, the good news is that we all have the capacity to improve the ways we manage our various life projects.
GOAL OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The ultimate goal of project management is to effectively use time and resources to produce a quality product. Within the framework of academics, a “quality product” could be a paper that earns high marks, performing well on an exam, or delivering an articulate and well-paced presentation. In general life, however, it can be a little more difficult to define our “products,” which can include a broad range of things from getting enough sleep and preparing healthy meals at home to being fully engaged while spending time with friends or allowing ourselves to be attentive and present for a spouse, partner, or child.
“Don’t lose sight of the forest because of the trees!”
We often get lost in the day-to-day “trees” of our lives and become so busy that we forget to look ahead at the remainder of the week, month, semester, or year. For example, it’s easy to become so worried about a midnight deadline that we ignore other projects or issues that are looming two or three weeks in the future. Therefore it’s important to schedule our days to get the most out of the time and energy we are able and willing to invest, but we plan our months, semesters, and years to keep our bigger-picture goals in mind. Moreover, our longer-term approach to planning allows us to see the complete landscape of all the projects that we are managing simultaneously so we can better make decisions about our daily activities.
DAY V. SEMESTER
In a prior post, we discussed the importance of being able to prioritize specific activities in our lives:
“If we think of ourselves as juggling all these balls in the air, the trick becomes knowing which balls are rubber and which balls are glass. The rubber balls are the tasks, commitments, and goals that we can “drop” temporarily because we know they’ll bounce and we can pick them up again later; the glass balls are the ones that require our immediate attention and energy because if they drop, they’ll shatter and it will be a huge mess.”
A master juggler is able to juggle all of the balls in the air at a present moment, is able to anticipate and plan for new balls to enter the flow, and also knows not to accept any balls that are not theirs to juggle!
In this sense, project management is the planning of the juggling process. What projects and processes need your direct input and which projects are happening on their own? What requires immediate attention and what can be postponed until later? What needs to be handled directly by you and what can be delegated to other team members? What needs to be completed before a project can progress to the next step or phase?
The best tool for project management is a Gantt chart, and we’ve provided a few examples throughout the remainder of this post:
Each class (or semester) deserves a timeline/Gantt chart! The figure above provides a very simple timeline. Activities are listed down the left column and each of the major dates and steps of the project are listed in the columns across the top row.
A simple timeline like this allows us to understand how pieces of a single course fit together and how multiple activities can work together toward a common goal of completion. The course syllabus contains the basic information needed to complete a course timeline, but it does not have all the answers! We have to make decisions to fill in the “amount of time needed” and “team member involvement” as is most appropriate for the demands of each task.
The shaded in squares where the activities and dates intersect in the chart reflects the amount of time dedicated to complete a particular step of the project. Visualization of the project in this way is a strong and effective tool that helps us keep the whole forest in view rather than only focusing on the trees that are right in front of us.
LONG TERM PROJECT MANAGEMENT
It’s extremely important to be involved in personal long-term planning. Visioning is a key skill to strategically manage time and resources because it helps us understand how each of our activities interact with each other.
The image above is Jeff’s annual project management plan that is displayed in his office. This plan includes individual activities, partnered activities, and team activities. In this case, Jeff has 18 ongoing projects and there is simply not enough bandwidth in his life to handle everything at the same time! Therefore, Jeff has taken a very strategic approach to meeting his goals. All of the projects have different start times, different deadlines, different resources, and different people to manage.
Visualization in project management does not need to be complicated but it is required. In Jeff’s example, projects #1-5 are individual projects with movable start and finish dates. Projects #6-11 are partnered publications that involve anywhere from 2-8 individuals with overlapping activities and some specific deadlines. Projects #12-15 involve a specific research time, and projects #17-18 are international conference planning activities.
The idea of a long-term project board is not to include all of the details, but rather, the purpose is to get a handle on time and resources. We need to know when our schedule is full and when we can onboard new activities!
PROJECTS BY BUCKET
Our final example in this post is exemplified by the other whiteboard in Jeff’s office, which includes a bucket list:
As you can see, Jeff’s bucket list is divided into three categories: immediate, short-term, and long-term. This categorization is important for many reasons, but mainly, it’s quite easy to worry about what’s getting done, what’s not getting done, and what may never be done! In project management, we need to be able to sort out the items that need our immediate attention, items that can get our attention when we can fit the, in, and items that we will want to make time for in the future. Categorization in this way is the first step toward that big-picture vision that will allow us to manage all of our concurrent projects to the best of our abilities! This approach is ideal for beginners, and we also recommend color-coding when you can.
Project management is not about handling your daily activities, nor is it about how you’re handling each of the balls you’re juggling. Instead, project management is about planning your future activities so that you can handle multiple activities with grace, confidence, and effectiveness when it’s needed.
As you progress on your academic journey, the need to read, interpret, and cite published research to support your own arguments and ideas grows exponentially. Much of what we have written for school is our own opinions based on what we have read or experienced; exam questions aim to assess what we know. Similarly, group discussions ask us to present and explain our opinion on a particular topic and then respond to the opinions of others. However, the rules change when we begin writing research papers; our personal thoughts and opinions lose value and we now must present an argument or stance based on research that has already been published. In this sense, we must to provide evidence to supports our statements.
Our approach to research and writing goes through three distinct phases that are important to recognize:
Undergraduate research: The university trains students to consume research, meaning they are able read and interpret research in their chosen field. The goal at this level is to gain a broader understanding of a topic or field of study.
Masters research:The university trains consumer-scholars who can read and interpret research, but who can also apply theories and research models to their specific field of study. The goal at this level is to change your field through the application of valid and reliable research.
Doctoral research: The university trains scholars that will guide their field through original research. The goal is to conduct valid and reliable research that create or contribute to theories and models that can be applied by consumer-scholars.
Why do we need to know the difference between these phases? As a student, we are better able to meet the requirements of our research assignments if we know the expectations of our instructors. For undergraduate students, summarizing research is adequate. In contrast, master’s students are required to synthesize research ideas and communicate the practical relevance of the findings presented in published studies. At the highest level, doctoral students must be experts on existing research in their field or specific area of interest, be able to develop their own research theories, and successfully conduct research to contribute to the ongoing development of their field.
WHAT AND HOW
At every level, we rely on the research of others to help support the ideas that we present in our papers, and citations are how we refer to other researcher’s work. When we use others’ work without proper reference citations, we are plagiarizing. There are no disadvantages to attributing authors for their previous research and findings; in fact, your ability to cite effectively adds to your own credibility and professionalism.
In the small space of a blog, we are unable to provide a true “how-to” of reference citations in each of the main styles (i.e., APA, MLA, Chicago). Instead, we encourage you to visit the Bowdion Dean of Student web page, which has an excellent overview of plagiarism and citation usage with a lot of university-based examples. What they present is applicable to most university settings. Take a few minutes to review these links to understand more about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it in your writing:
Additionally, you may want to visit the website for the specific writing style to which your professional field subscribes. In general, APA style is used by education, psychology, and the social and physical sciences, MLA style is used by the humanities (e.g., language, literature, cultural studies), and Chicago style is generally used by business, history, and the fine arts:
A citation is an indication to the reader that a sentence or statement is attributed to another person or group of people. It’s really our research shorthand as writers to let the reader know where to find more information that substantiates the point we have written in our paper. The following is from a published paper:
Rowley (2007) does well in comparing different interpretations of the DIKWhierarchy definitions, presented by Ackoff (1989). Zeleny defines the hierarchyin the following terms: with data, you know nothing; with information, you know“what”; with knowledge, you know “how”; and with wisdom, you know “why.” (Allen et al., 2020)
In these two sentences, Allen and colleagues (2020) cite three additional research papers (Ackoff, 1989; Rowley, 2007; Zeleny 1987) that each contain about 25 pages of research on the subject referred to by the authors. As a result, Allen et al. (2020) synthesized more than 75 pages of prior research into two sentences. Because the authors (Allen et al., 2020) provided in-text citations, readers know to visit Ackoff’s paper published in 1989 to learn more about the DIKW model, Rowley’s paper from 2007 for different interpretations of the DIKW hierarchy, and Zeleny’s past works to gain a better understanding of related terminology.
DO I HAVE TO CITE EVERYTHING?
No! There are two circumstances that do not require citations. First, common knowledge does not need to be cited, but it’s important to know what common knowledge actually is! MIT defines common knowledge as “information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up” but warns that common knowledge may not translate across cultures, nationalities, academic disciplines, or even peer groups (Academic Integrity at MIT, 2020). With this in mind, if there is any doubt about whether the information is common knowledge, it’s better to cite your source.
Second, knowledge unique to the writer — meaning, we are the author of the original idea — does not need a citation. This type of knowledge generation is most common when reporting and interpreting the findings of original research at the doctoral level. For the rest of us, the trouble with identifying unique knowledge is that there is very little that is truly unique when we are writing about broad research topics. Always ask yourself where the idea came from or what knowledge you have used to come to that conclusion. Citations simply indicates, “I know this because of…”.
WHEN DO I QUOTE? WHEN DO I PARAPHRASE?
Only default to direct quotes when the original author said it ”just right” and there is no need for any interpretation or rewriting by you. Quotes are powerful and can lend tremendous credibility to our documents, but too many quotes can have the opposite effect. Your papers and opportunity for you to communicate your knowledge and understanding of a topic; too many quotes become a copy and paste mess and your instructors know the difference! It’s quite common for lazy, rushed, and/or overwhelmed students to string together quotes from various sources to meet a word-count or page requirement, but this practice is considered mosaic plagiarism. In general, paraphrasing is a better practice whenever possible, but if you do choose to include a direct quotation from another work, be sure to do so with intention and also provide a full citation.
Paraphrasing is when we use another author’s ideas and interpret those ideas for our readers; it is the perfect place for a citation because we want the reader to know the source of our statement and where they can read the original research for themselves, if they choose. This allows the reader to verify your interpretation as it applies to the topic and purpose of your paper. MIT provides sound guidance on using citation and provides helpful examples that distinguish direct quotations and paraphrasing (Academic Integrity at MIT, 2020). Take a few minutes to review the information provided on these webpages to better understand what and when to quote, when to paraphrase, and the difference between the two:
Before you start your research, spend a significant amount of time in the library studying your topic and reading relevant research to help you best understand the subject of your paper. As you read more about your area of interest, you’ll likely find that your investigation brings you back to 5-10 key documents on the subject. These core documents will be the key references to cite throughout your paper. However, this doesn’t mean that you are limited to ONLY these 5-10 articles, but they will be the cornerstone of your argument and frequently referenced. In academic research, a tough rule of thumb is that a 10-page research paper will have between 20 – 30 citations.
WHY ARE CITATIONS IMPORTANT?
Citations are a style of shorthand with three main benefits: (a) they credit past researchers and authors where appropriate, (b) they bolster your own credibility by substantiating your claims, and (c) they demonstrate your dedication to understanding a particular topic or field of study. In most areas of research, a single citation refers to a 20- to 30-page document or article that provides background information or explains past research that has helped you form your own argument. According to this math, your 10-page research paper with 25 citations has more than 600 pages of background research to support the statements and/or claims that you have presented. To take things one step further, each of those 25 citations refers to a document with 25 of its own references that account for an additional 600 pages of background information per document! Collectively, we now have more than 15,000 pages of information to support our 10 pages of writing. For most scholarly research articles, there may be more than 30,000 pages containing primary and secondary citation documents that support an author’s arguments.
Consider that the author could have used NO citation and presented it as their unique opinion. This means that they have disregarded a huge amount of research that could have been used to support their argument. Remember that citations are not a punishment! Instead, they are used to substantiate your argument in shorthand. At first, it may be difficult to learn, but the power of citations in scholarly writing cannot be refuted!
Learning how to properly cite within research papers is a milestone for any upper level undergraduate student or beginning master’s student and is a non-negotiable requirement for beginning doctoral students. We learn proper citations techniques by first reading LOTS of research papers that utilize proper citations. Just as we learn any new language, we become familiar with the when, how, and why of citations by seeing it done correctly in other research papers and then mimic what we see until we achieve mastery. Yes, this can be arduous. However, the pain of learning must be weighed against the power that citations bring to our arguments. What we know and what we can substantiate are two very different things. Your intuition and experience matter and have value, but your ability to provide evidence to support your statements is the true currency of academia.
Major papers, also called term papers, are common assignments in upper-level undergraduate courses and are a cornerstone of graduate education. Whether it’s your first time writing a term paper as a college senior or you’re a seasoned veteran preparing your master’s thesis, the process can be very stressful! Understanding the why, what, and how of structuring a paper can help you deliver a clear, concise, and comprehensive message to the reader (a.k.a. your professor or research committee). Importantly, the content of any term paper will vary widely depending on the focus of the course, the specifications of the teacher, and the interest of the study. Therefore, this post will focus on the structural and organizational components of a major paper to help set you up for success.
Before you start your paper, be sure to do your research! Interest alone does not always equate to a good term paper. In order to determine if a topic is appropriate for your assignment, you may want to reflect on the following questions:
Relevance: How does this topic relate to our field or the specific subject matter covered in this class?
Rationale: Why is this topic important to the field, and why does it deserve our immediate attention?
Existing Knowledge: What do others already know or understand about this topic?
Contribution: What will someone gain from reading this paper? How will the paper confirm or refute what we already know, help explain a complicated or complex theory/issue, or provide new insight on this topic?
In addition to answering the questions listed above, you may want to consider the following guidance as you prepare to write your paper:
CHOOSE THE TOPIC CAREFULLY
If possible, choose a topic that truly interests you; we tend to invest more time and effort on tasks and pursuits that are of personal interest, which will likely translate to a quality paper and higher grade. Find a reason for writing about the topic you have chosen! It will be hard to convince your audience of the topic’s importance if you do not believe it yourself. We do not always love the course content or the general subject areas we are assigned to write about, but there are usually ways to approach a topic to make it relevant and interesting.
KNOW THE PURPOSE OF YOUR PAPER
Writing a paper to convince an audience (subjective) is much different than writing a paper that synthesizes existing research or to better define a complex topic (objective). One of the main difficulties in grading term papers is when writers does not achieve the stated purpose of the assignment. Be sure to check the rubric and reach out to your instructor for clarification if you are unsure about what type of paper you are meant to be writing! This can be the difference between an A paper and a B or C paper.
WRITE FOR THE READER
Putting our thoughts and ideas into words is one of the great challenges of communication, even when we aren’t being graded! Writing for the reader means that you are communicating clearly and concisely in words that the reader can easily understand. Consider your audience and tailor your writing style appropriately; writing for peers, the public, or fictional readers is very different than writing scholarly papers for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate class.
UNDERSTAND YOUR PAPER LIMITATIONS
Be aware of how much space you have (i.e., page numbers, word count) to complete the assignment. A two-page argument will be drastically different from a 20-page argument. The shorter or more limited the paper, the more important it is that you are able to prioritize information, include relevant details, and communicate clearly and concisely. Longer papers also require you to do these same tasks, but you are gifted with more space to provide details and support for your arguments or statements, hypotheses, and conclusions. Additionally, your topic outline becomes much more important as the paper grows in length and complexity!
Grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and style guides are all tools that help your reader understand the content of your paper. More importantly, it demonstrates the care and skill of the writer! Why should the reader care about your paper if the writer doesn’t take the most basic steps to present quality work that is communicated professionally? Be sure to check the style guide for your field (APA, MLA, or Chicago) for guidance on overall formatting, in-text citations, and reference lists. These style rules may seem restrictive or even pointless, but they communicate your commitment to the minimum standards of your profession!
WRITING YOUR PAPER
Most movies and books use a predictable script or sequence to guide the story from beginning to end. First, characters are introduced, and relationships are established. Then, our characters face a challenge before finally finding their happily ever after. Similarly, a term paper follows a standard format guides the reader through your content in a logical order. Moreover, this structure helps the reader follow the arguments and/or key points made by the writer. Keep reading to learn about some of the major structural considerations that help the reader follow and better understand your paper:
The title needs to describe what the paper is about. Of course, the title doesn’t tell the whole story, but you want it to intrigue the reader enough to open the paper and commit to reading. Consider this like you would the headline to a clickbait social media story. As a reader, we want to know the topic of the paper and get a general sense of what will be covered. Choose to be direct, rather than fancy or creative:
“Pros and Cons of Distance Learning in College”
This simple title communicates to the reader that the we will present the positives and negatives of distance learning in college. In addition, it tells the reader that we are not talking about distance learning in secondary or elementary classrooms or distance learning training in a corporate setting. Finally, the reader knows that we aren’t going to try to convince them that distance learning is definitively good or bad. In this sense, our title provides the reader a preview of our paper and its content.
INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, & RATIONALE
There is a golden rule in academic writing: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” If this sounds repetitive, it’s because it is! As researchers and writers, we get to be creative in our approach to addressing a problem or explaining a theory. However, when it comes to actually writing, the more clear and direct we can be, the better.
Paper introductions may vary slightly depending on the type of paper you are writing, but the intent remains the same. In an introduction, you are telling the reader what you are going to tell them.
In the fall of 2018, there were 6,932,074 students enrolled in some type of distance education course (NCES, 2020) compared to the 2,642,158 students enrolled in 2014 (NCES, 2015). This change represents a 300% increase in just four years… This paper presents arguments for and against the use of distance learning for college students in a global business environment. Factors considered in these arguments include consumer preference, changing global marketplace, student learning preferences,…
An introduction is fairly short (½ page to 1 page) and sets up the reader for all the details that are going to follow in the body of the paper. In the foreshortened example above, the writer argues that there is a “need” for this topic and we have given them a preview of the structure of our remaining paper.
Once we have introduced the topics to the reader, we structure our paper following a developed topic outline. Here’s an example:
The body of the paper accounts for about 80% of your total paper and it tells the reader what you want to tell them. The most powerful tool used to organize the body paper is a topical outline, which serves as your script. Notice that the outline moves through each of the topics in a logical order. Additionally, we are following the same structure to discuss the pros of each topic as we use to discuss the cons. The reason for this structure is to help the reader to understand where we are going next in our writing. This outline becomes the blueprint for building our paper. We can make changes as we write, but any change will impact the overall flow.
CONCLUSION & FINDINGS
The conclusion of our paper completes our golden rule when we tell the reader what we already told them. It’s easy, as a reader, to get lost in all of the details of the paper. As a writer, we want to make sure that the readers understand our position, and the conclusion helps us wrap up our paper with a set of closing arguments or final remarks.
Distance learning is a growing consumer market in higher education. Student enrollment in distance learning courses continues to rise, and higher education must continue to change to meet employers demand for educated workers in a changing global economy. Higher education must meet the needs of consumers while developing strategies to overcome the inherent problems of changing learning platforms…
We don’t want to assume that the reader understood all of the details. Therefore, we need to provide a brief summary of what the paper discussed and include our informed opinions of what could or should be done in the future based on what was presented in the paper.
AFTER YOU FINISH YOUR PAPER
Check your sources. A well-written major paper is based on existing literature. Do not plagiarize or steal from others. Appropriately cite your sources in your paper to support your arguments or statements.
Spelling and grammar. It can be difficult to proofread your own work, especially if you have spent considerable time writing and editing the same paper. Use friends, family members, or classmates to help catch any mistakes. Another approach is to read your paper out loud to yourself, as it is written, to help you find writing errors.
Final edits. We edit our paper to improve clarity, which means we take out words that are unnecessary or cloud our main points. Only add words to improve your argument or add clarity to your statements.
Let others read your paper. Ask someone else to read your paper for clarity and simply see if they can follow the logic of your paper. This is good at any stage of the writing process!
Check your style guide: Again, most major papers require that you use a style guide (APA, MLA, or Chicago) which is in place to help the reader understand the structure and content of your paper.
Today, we introduced a strategic approach to writing your term papers. Taking some time to consider the relevance and importance of your topic, as well as existing literature on the subject, will help you make a meaningful contribution with the time and energy you are dedicating to your work. Next, providing an informative title and clear structure to your paper will help to improve clarity and comprehension for the reader. Finally, taking an extra few moments to proofread, edit, and properly cite your work will go a long way in helping you achieve the highest grade possible for your efforts!
For the last few weeks, we’ve discussed figuring out when is best for you to study, and now we’ll be tackling the bigger question of, “How?” A dedicated study space is one of the most valuable assets you can create to boost your productivity, and we each have our own definition of what an ideal study space looks, sounds, and feels like. Moreover, this is largely determined by our personal preferences in combination with the demands of a particular task. This week, we’ll be discussing some key considerations for creating a study space in your home to maximize learning and productivity.
HOW DO YOU STUDY?
Though there may be new challenges if we are also now homeschooling our children or spouses/roommates are not leaving home for work due to COVID-19, we can still benefit from knowing our studying preferences and trying to match them as best we can. To help you figure out the environmental conditions that might work best for you, reflect on the following questions:
When studying has felt easy and productive, what was happening in your immediate environment?
When studying has felt frustrating and unproductive, what was happening in your immediate environment?
As you reflect on these questions, consider the following aspects of your immediate environment:
Location – Home, library, bedroom, kitchen, etc.
Lighting – Bright, fluorescent, natural, dim, etc.
Clothing – Are you more productive when you’re dressed for the “real world” or are your more comfortable in sweatpants?
Noise – Silence, music, conversation, etc.
Space – Do you prefer to spread out or do you prefer keeping study materials stacked?
Posture – Seated upright at a desk vs. lounging on a couch, etc.
Exercises like this help you identify your ideal study space! Importantly, we usually have a considerable degree of control over our study space at home. Remember, our brains are wired to avoid discomfort, so the more appealing we can make our study space, the less resistance we will encounter when it comes time to hit the books!
WHERE NOT TO CHOOSE
The golden rule of study spaces is that we do NOT study where we relax, rest, or sleep. Why? The neural networks that we want to fire when it’s time to fully engage in studying are diametrically opposed to the neural networks that we want to fire when it’s time to disengage, relax, and sleep.
Our physical environments can actually signal certain neural networks and prime them for action. In this way, we actively sabotage our productivity when we mix our study and relaxation spaces. If we want our environment to better cue enhanced focus, comprehension, and productivity, we can make this easier by having a specific area of our home that is only for studying (and/or other tasks that require the same level of stimulation and engagement). Similarly, if we find it hard to unwind at the end of the night, we can make it easier to fall asleep if we have a specific area of our home that is only for sleeping.
CLAIMING YOUR NOOK
Even if you live alone, there are likely some “really good reasons” keeping you from claiming a dedicated study area in your living space. Here are some common challenges that can get in the way of creating an appealing and effective study space in the home, along with some possible solutions:
We’re using this as a catchall for anyone who physically lives in your home with you, including kids, spouses, other family members, and/or friends. This is the most common challenge faced when sharing space with others, and it can be most easily addressed by including everyone in your household in establishing set “quiet times,” “study times,” and, “work areas.” Having clear and consistent boundaries and allowing everyone to have a voice – even the kids – can go a long way in helping to create productive pockets of time in the day or night. Setting timers, creating signs (visual aids), and providing frequent reminders can be especially helpful for children!
Yes, we mean social media, other apps, email inboxes, phone calls, and the internet, in general. All of these electronic distractions can be detrimental to your productivity because it’s so easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole and suddenly it’s 2 hours later. Turn OFF your notifications, put your phone on silent, and if the internet is required for an assignment you are completing, ONLY go to relevant websites and frequently check-in to see if you are staying on-task.
Some of us might work really well with background noise, but we must always be prepared for outside noises that are distracting. For example, you might be able to focus quite well with your partner watching a show in the other room, but someone speaking on the phone in the same room could be overwhelming. Having a good pair of headphones handy at all times will ensure that you can adapt to any unexpected conditions! Moreover, we recommend over-ear headphones because they are typically better at cancelling out background noise and they also signal to others that you are focused and in “study mode.”
Lighting has a tremendous impact on our ability to focus and inadequate lighting can cause considerable strain on our eyes. Therefore, lighting should fit your personal needs, and this might include blocking windows, switching lightbulbs, or adding an extra lamp at your workspace.
Choosing between a laptop and a desktop computer is a personal choice. Having access to both can be great but is often not feasible. When choosing which computer will best meet your needs, remember that a desktops can be reasonably priced and also anchor you to a specific study space. Alternatively, laptop computers might be more expensive but offer maximum flexibility and adaptability; this may be a benefit if you travel often but it can also be a detriment if you blur the boundaries between study areas and rest areas of your home.
Carve out time in your day that is specifically dedicated to studying and keep these appointments with yourself! This will help you fully engage when you need to focus and increase your productivity. For more tips on how to manage your schedule, check out our last three blog posts that cover different strategies for effective scheduling!
Set up your study space to mirror an actual workspace as best you can; there is a good reason that couches and reclining chairs are not often seen in the workplace! If it’s in your budget, you may want to consider a standing desk (or standing desk addition) if you prefer to not be seated for long periods of time; alternatively, you can intentionally schedule shorter blocks of study time to ensure you are getting up and moving around frequently! If you’re shopping on a budget, garage sales, Craigslist, and apps like NextDoor can be a great place to find “new to you” furniture that will take your study space to the next level.
A study space is the first step you can take toward professionalizing your education. You have made a tremendous investment in time and money to go to school and improve your life and have a greater impact on the lives of others. In order to maximize your return on this investment, you will be required to shift your thinking and also be willing to reorganize your space and time at home. These changes aren’t always easy to do but will greatly enhance your productivity, learning, and ultimately, your success.
Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the importance of accepting full responsibility for your time and energy by taking ownership of your schedule. First, we discussed the importance of full engagement and strategic disengagement as tools to better manage our energy and increase productivity. Next, we introduced various tactics for managing our time, including prioritizing our various commitments, setting clear goals that guide action, and maintaining boundaries with ourselves and others. This week, we will be sharing some specific and practical guidance to help you successfully manage your schedule.
Before we dive in to the “nitty gritty” of scheduling, we want to revisit two key points that were addressed in previous posts:
OUR ENERGY IS RENEWABLE, BUT OUR TIME IS LIMITED.
No matter how hard we wish and pray, there are only 24 hours in the day, there are only seven days in the week, and there are only 52 weeks in the year. The good news is that, for the most part, we get to choose how to spend our time. Therefore, our ability to make the most out of the time we are gifted each day is wholly dependent on our ability to prioritize, plan, and take action in alignment with our values.
THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY.
There are general tools and tactics that can help you be more effective, efficient, and productive with the schedule you set for yourself, but your schedule only needs to make sense to you. Our schedules and planning strategies are unique because WE are unique, and the truth is that nobody else cares what your planner or calendar looks like if you are showing up on time, completing tasks, honoring commitments, and meeting deadlines. Ultimately, the most impressive schedule is the one that works.
A TALE OF TWO SCHEDULES
Sometimes, the easiest way to make a point is with a visual aid! We have shared a glimpse of our own weekly schedules to demonstrate that there is more than one way to carve a pumpkin.
JEFF’S ELECTRONIC CALENDAR
Reminders, goals, and to-do lists are maintained on an iPhone.
Some advantages of using an electronic calendar include ease of portability, various sharing functions, and automatic reminders and alerts. The ability to switch between multiple calendar views instantaneously can also help to keep longer-term goals and future deadlines in perspective. The downside to e-calendars is that there are few options to add goals and to-do lists in the same application.
AMANDA’S PAPER CALENDAR
Reminders, goals, and to-do lists are tracked in “free spaces” and on sticky notes.
Some benefits to paper calendars are they provide more space for creativity and serve as an anchor document for long-term and short-term planning. Lists, notes, stickies, and bonus areas for brainstorming helps to keep everything in one place and in the user’s direct line of sight. Disadvantages include the need to manually flip through pages to see a layout of a full month and that paper calendars are not easily shared with others.
No one method is perfect; there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Keep in mind, too, that a hybrid strategy that utilizes both paper and electronic calendars can be beneficial even if it requires a little extra work to keep both updated.
Though maintained on different platforms, our methods for scheduling are VERY similar! Both examples include designating color-coded blocks of time to general categories of tasks, activities, and commitments (e.g., teaching, writing/research, full-time job, training/exercise, personal). Of note, each block includes a general, shorthand description of the specific tasks that need to be prioritized during that stretch of time.
Blocking time is a highly effective scheduling strategy that allows you a degree of flexibility within a given block to modify as needed. Each block of time is focused on a single activity and does not conflict with other activities; though both “grading” and “student advising” might fall under the broader category of “teaching,” each has their own block of time during which we can complete a specific set of tasks. For example…
Grading might include time focused on grading papers and might also include talking to students, returning student emails, updating or revising assignments for future semesters, or collaborating with teaching assistants.
Student advising time might be filled with back-to-back Zoom conferences or include pockets of downtime that can be used to catch up on paperwork.
A homework block might include completing a specific assignment, studying for an exam, organizing course materials, contacting your instructor, collaborating with group members, and more.
Therefore, the execution of activities within a time block may change, but the purpose and intention for how that time is being spent remains consistent. Importantly, others may request our time during our scheduled activity blocks, and when this happens, we have a few options. If the demand is quick or minor (e.g., your boss calls in the middle of a block intended to complete a work project), we are usually able to accommodate and then re-engage with our task. If the demand will require more time or effort (e.g., your best friend wants to grab a coffee to get your opinion on career options during your designated homework time), we can either shift our scheduled block or we find another time to accommodate the new activity. As always, “No,” and, “Now is not a good time,” are both valid responses!
THE PRACTICE OF SCHEDULING
Block scheduling takes time, practice, reflection, and modification before we reach any level of mastery. It also demands a tremendous amount of honest self-reflection to differentiate between fantasy and reality or between what sounds sexy and what actually works.
Does our homework really only require nine hours of time per week to deliver quality work that meets the assignment criteria and deadlines, or do we need to accept that we must dedicate 15-hours per week to coursework to achieve the GPA we want?
Does that 30-minute run really take only 30 minutes? Heck no! We need to get dressed, find our watch and headphones, cue up our music, tie our shoes, and use the restroom before we even head out the door. Once we return, we need to stretch, shower, change, and eat. With this in mind, a 30-minute run will likely require at least a 60-minute block of time.
Will it really only take an afternoon to write that paper due the next day? Telling our friends that we ended up pulling an all-nighter to complete a task usually gets more attention than saying we consistently worked on a paper for 90 minutes per day for two weeks, but it comes at a steep physiological, psychological, and emotional cost.
Remember, time for personal improvement, time with family and friends, and time of self-renewal are often last to be planned and first to be lost to a poorly planned schedule. If we can accept that we are generally not that good at estimating how much time, energy, and effort any given task will take to complete and it is a skill we need to practice, we are able to create space for continued improvement, growth, and development.
At the start of the week, add all of your known appointments to your calendar; everything else gets scheduled around these blocks of non-negotiable time. Next, create a running list of everything that you hope to accomplish that week; divide this list into “needs” and “wants” to help you prioritize your time.
At the start of each day, decide which tasks from your list need to be addressed in each block of time; review your time allocation for the day and revise as needed. Be sure to include some time for strategic disengagement, too! Color coding your blocks will give you a visual representation of which tasks are getting the biggest investment of time and energy.
At the end of each day, assess your overall engagement. Were you panicked and rushed or calm and cruising? Where did you feel most productive and when did you notice you were procrastinating? Adjust your plan for the next day, if appropriate, and update your to-do list. Keep track of how much time it actually took you to complete tasks to help you gradually improve your ability to estimate.
At the end of each week, evaluate your successes and failures from the week. Was it easier to complete certain tasks at a specific time of day? Were you satisfied with your ability to balance your overall priorities (e.g., work, school, exercise, self-care) or did one category monopolize your energy for the week? Keep track of what worked and what flopped; repeat what was effective and make adjustments to the areas that need improvement. We value progress and continuous improvement than we do about perfection.
Like most skills, there is a substantial gap between intellectually knowing and practical doing. What we have shared today about scheduling is not rocket science, and we can guess that you have also probably heard it before! Regardless of the skill, the key to get from knowing well to doing well is simply to start imperfectly doing. It’s okay to be a beginner and it is okay to experience failures because that is how we learn. Planning, scheduling, and time management are investments that pay dividends in the future. We must be proactive and intentional when engaging in productive activities and disengaging from others to achieve optimal functioning, happiness, and health.
We all know that time management is important but few of us know how to do it effectively! This is the second post of a three-part series dedicated to equipping you with knowledge and strategies that will help you claim ownership of your schedule and feel like you are back in the driver’s seat of your life. The focus on this week’s blog is to help you structure your schedule to achieve the goals you set for yourself in the important domains of your life. The ability to prioritize commitments, set clear goals, and maintain appropriate boundaries with your energy will help you better leverage your time and orient your efforts toward goal achievement.
THE TIME DILEMMA
Our energy may be a renewable resource but our time is finite. Whether it’s coming from our own mouths or from someone we know, we hear the statement, “I don’t have enough time,” or “I wish there were more than 24-hours in the day.” However, the ugly truth is that if you don’t have time in a 24-hour day, you will not have time in a longer one.
The issue isn’t the amount of time, it’s how we choose to use it. There are many possible reasons why we don’t feel like there is enough time in the day or we find ourselves constantly playing catch-up when it comes to our assignments and deadlines:
We prioritize what is easy or enjoyable over what is unpleasant or requires more effort
We have poor boundaries with ourselves and with others
We are not realistic about how long it will take us to complete a task
We default to the story that we “work better under pressure”
We have unclear values and, therefore, have difficulty making value-based decisions
We let perfectionism drive and strive to be excellent at everything
Instead of stating, “I don’t have time,” try saying, “It’s not a priority for me right now,” and see how that feels. We all have the same 24-hours in a day, and it’s up to you how you choose to use it. Our daily, weekly, monthly, and annual schedules serve as important roadmaps for achievement, satisfaction, and enjoyment in our daily lives. However, like the GPS on our phones need to calibrate our current location before it tells us where to go, we need to engage in an honest self-assessment of our priorities and our willingness to invest and sacrifice in our own success.
What comes to mind when you are asked, “What goals or commitments in your life are most important to you right now?” Maybe it’s finishing your degree, continuing your exercise routine, homeschooling your kids, getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night, going to work so you can pay rent, or something else entirely. Most of us have more goals, commitments, and tasks on our list than we could even begin to count, and that’s okay!
If we think of ourselves as juggling all these balls in the air, the trick becomes knowing which balls are rubber and which balls are glass. The rubber balls are the tasks, commitments, and goals that we can “drop” temporarily because we know they’ll bounce and we can pick them up again later; the glass balls are the ones that require our immediate attention and energy because if they drop, they’ll shatter and it will be a huge mess.
What’s neat is that some of the balls can change from rubber to glass and back again, so we must pay attention in order to know when something has shifted. School, for example, is a glass ball during the semester but will turn to rubber over the holidays and the summer. Work might be a glass ball if you need to pay your bills, but it might become rubber if you are sick or need to care for a loved one who is injured. Things like rest, recovery, and sleep will be rubber until they are not, and that transformation can happen quickly and with a detrimental effect! It’s fairly easy to sacrifice sleep, nutrition, and hydration when we have a looming deadline, but as we learned last week, we must make time to recover and renew our physical energy or the self-care ball becomes glass.
Our daily tasks and obligations deplete us at different rates, much like how different apps will drain our phone battery more quickly than others. Similarly, other activities fill us with energy and also do so at different rates, similar to how some charging cables recharge our phones faster than the car adapter we’ve had since 2009. Evaluate which of your commitments charge your battery and which ones drain it. If an energy-draining commitment is not a glass ball, it’s okay to let it drop (which is kind of like closing down an app on your phone to conserve battery). We have activities that demand our energies; therefore, we must also plan to commit time to the activities that supply our energy. It’s important to find an energy-task balance to sustain our health and well-being.
Setting clear goals for our schedule remind us of what we want to accomplish and/or disengage from, and they also give us a platform from which we can evaluate our progress. However, clear goals are not enough! We may set a goal that we want to focus more on our homework for the week, but something so general does not provide an adequate or effective benchmark for progress. Instead, we need to “de-blob” our goals by creating specific and measurable parameters.
Focus more on homework → Commit at least 45 minutes per day per class to coursework.
Read more → Spend at least 15 minutes each morning reading a book for fun.
Eat better → Cook dinner at home at least five nights a week (instead of take-out).
Drink more water → Drink 70oz of water per day.
Spend less time scrolling → Only spend 3 hours on social media per day (and set up time limits in your phone settings).
Save more money → Track my daily expenses.
Remember, you may have a goal to prioritize the big paper that is due at the end of the week, but this doesn’t diminish the need to go to work, your need for sleep and exercise, or the desire to spend time with friends and family. That said, it does mean that you need to prioritize your homework as non-negotiable appointments with yourself. The best part is that when we follow through with our commitments to complete tasks, we are able to fully engage with the more fun activities (e.g., dinner with friends, weekend hiking, movie nights) that help to recharge our batteries!
There is no one “right way” to own your schedule; only you know the best, most effective way to organize your responsibilities and hobbies. However, as we mentioned last week, we all need to defend our priorities as if our lives and successes depend on it… Because they do! Saying no and setting (and maintaining) boundaries can feel overwhelmingly hard at times, but there are ways to kindly and clearly communicate that your time and priorities are valuable:
I have another appointment during that time! May I suggest another time that we schedule it? Whether it’s a job interview, dentist appointment, or time you have set aside for your workout, you do not need to explain what else you have going on. Use this as an opportunity to proactively plan a time that works well for all who are involved, including you!
I am interested but wouldn’t be able to get involved for another three weeks. Would that work with your timeline or would you prefer that I make a referral to someone else who might be available now? Communicating your interest while acknowledging your current commitments is usually seen as a strength, rather than a limiter, because it means that you want to be able to dedicate the energy and attention that the task demands. Be realistic with your own schedule; the ability to say “no,” or, “not now,” is powerful for both you and the person requesting your time.
I don’t think I’m the best fit for this project, but I’d love to introduce you to someone else who might be! Not being interested in a project means that you are not a good fit! Similar to the first example, you don’t have to provide any explanation. Offering to connect them with someone else demonstrates that you recognize that their project is a priority for them and you want to see them achieve success, even if you are not an active player.
Thank you for your waiting! I really appreciate your patience. We are sometimes late due to scheduling errors or unexpected roadblocks. Acknowledge that you are late and thank whoever you are meeting. Opening with, “I’m sorry for being late,” is often followed by a story about our own problems; instead, turn your focus to their willingness to wait!
This is the second of a three-part series addressing strategies to better manage our schedules and structure our daily lives. Building off last week’s topic of embracing the responsibility for creating, managing, and maintaining a schedule, we discussed the importance of honestly identifying our priorities, setting clear goals to guide our behaviors, and setting and maintaining effective boundaries with our time and energy. At the start, this process might feel restrictive and limiting, but, ultimately, the ability to set goals and then efficiently and effectively accomplish tasks will gift us more freedom and time to invest in the people and pursuits we value the most!
The disruption of our familiar routines and loss of structure over the last several months has added a tremendous strain to the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of individuals across the globe. However, we do not need to rely on external guidance and obligations for the structure many of us are desperately seeking; we have the power to create new routines for ourselves that will help us successfully navigate through our days and effectively use our time.
This is the first post of a three-part series dedicated to equipping you with knowledge and strategies that will help you claim ownership of your schedule and feel like you are back in the driver’s seat of your life. The focus on this week’s blog is to help you better recognize the natural ebbs and flows of your energy throughout the day and week to better match your personal energy capacity with the demands of specific tasks. Mastering this balance will result in increased productivity as well as improved rest and recovery.
STOPPING THE CYCLE OF GUILT
Too often, we feel shame or guilt over what we think we “should” be doing but still lack the motivation needed to actually approach the tasks on our growing “to do” lists. Let’s pause for a moment to better understand what is happening in these moments…
Our brains are wired to avoid discomfort! As long as passively marinating in a bowl of guilt and shame is perceived to be less uncomfortable than actually taking the steps needed to complete our work, we’ll continue to procrastinate and mentally berate ourselves for not taking action.
Our beliefs about our own abilities will determine if we approach or avoid a task. For example, if we believe that we don’t have the knowledge, skills, or energy needed to complete a task, we are more likely to perceive it as a threat and procrastinate to avoid failure. Conversely, if we believe we have the ability to complete a task, we are more likely to approach those situations as opportunities to be successful.
Our preferences have a huge impact on our motivation. Whether it is in academia, sport, work, chores, or something else entirely, we will naturally gravitate toward tasks that we actually enjoy or believe we do well! That said, we must remember that these pleasant or enjoyable tasks are not always the ones that need our immediate attention and can distract us from more urgent deadlines.
Looking back at what we just discussed, one thing we can do to make tasks appear less threatening (#2) and less unpleasant (#3) is to put a time limit on how long we need to expend energy to engage in that activity (#1). In this sense, owning our schedule means we are creating specific periods of time to be “off” and other blocks of time to be “on.” This idea is easy to understand, but it can be much more difficult to implement in real life. Moreover, it’s a key step to alleviating the guilt and shame of, “I should be doing X, Y, and Z.”
Work this exercise for a couple of minutes: When you get up and start your day, what do you feel that you need to spend time doing? What are your top five priorities that are “non-negotiable” for you? This might include things like school, work, exercise, spirituality, family, and/or friends.
The first step to creating an effective schedule is to honestly identify our priorities whether we like them or not. Schedule these priorities into your week as non-negotiable appointments, such as meeting with your boss, seeing the dentist, or going on a hot date. By holding yourself accountable to these appointments or schedule blocks, you effectively create boundaries for yourself to stay on task and increase productivity. In turn, you’ll likely find you have more space in your life for guilt-free rest and play.
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement (2003), Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe energy as the currency of high performance. However, before we can leverage the ebbs and flows of our energy to maximize productivity and complete the tasks that require our immediate attention, we must first understand the various types of energy we have at our disposal. Loehr and Schwartz describe four sources of energy that need to be tended to in order to fully engage with the various delights and demands that we encounter in all areas of life:
Physical energy is the foundation of engagement and includes our physical health, nutrition, hydration, recovery, and sleep. Successful management of our physical energy, or our ability to balance activity, nourishment, and rest, leads to increased productivity.
Emotional energy feeds our sense of security and allows us to react to a broad set of circumstances that impact our emotion and mood states, and it includes feeling competent, autonomous, and valued for who you are and what you do.
Mental energy is what fuels our attention span and focus. Overcoming mental stressors and challenges, such as learning new information or skills, helps to expand our capabilities and resiliency. However, we must also be careful to avoid overuse, such as marathon study sessions, which can have a detrimental effect on our long-term productivity.
Spiritual energy is not about religion, but rather, it refers to our sense of peace, purpose, connectedness, and belonging. Building our value systems and understanding the impact of our actions beyond our own personal needs helps to replenish this energy source, which fuels our passions, perseverance, commitment, and motivation to act.
Our routines, or energy rituals, create important boundaries that allow us to move from one activity to another with intention. In short, it is our process of full engagement or strategic disengagement. For example, let’s say you’ve created a schedule to be fully engaged in homework for 90 minutes followed by 30 minutes of strategic disengagement, which can involve any activity that helps to replenish one of your four primary energy sources. This might include a walk, run, or workout (physical), a mindfulness meditation (emotional), cooking a meal (mental), or connecting with a friend (spiritual). Once your time for strategic disengagement is complete, you can then choose to re-engage with your homework or move on to the next task. These rituals of change provide scheduled structure to cycle between performance and recovery. If an activity is not helping you achieve peak performance or replenish your energy, it might be worth considering if it is really worth doing!
MASTERING THE ENERGY-TASK BALANCE
Tune in to your flow of energy throughout the day and make your schedule work for you! If you are more focused and creative first thing in the morning, set aside a block of time to work on writing projects with a hot pot of coffee. If it is easier for you to read and comprehend textbook material in the afternoons or you are a late-night statistics wizard, play to your strengths! Reflecting back on what we have learned about energy, we know that smaller blocks of work that are completed consistently (each day) can often be more productive than a single, massive chunk of time once or twice a week. However, the best combination will depend on your unique personality and preferences.
Remember that we are working in two modes when it comes to our “non-negotiable” priorities, commitments, or obligations: intentional engagement or strategic disengagement.
The purpose of planning is to benefit YOU and hold you accountable to the commitments you have identified as most important. For example, if you had a doctor’s appointment on your calendar, you would not hesitate to tell a friend that you can’t grab coffee during that appointment. Similarly, you wouldn’t call a potential employer to reschedule an interview for your dream job because Netflix just released the newest season of Schitt’s Creek. With this in mind, protect the priorities on your personal calendar with the same care and intensity that you would commit to external obligations. Your workout or yoga class, study time, or even a tea party with your child is just as important as anything else; the difference is that we tend to value others’ time more than we value our own and, frankly, we don’t have time for that!
For school, it is critically important that we defend our time. We need to be able to tell others, “This is my time for school,” or, “I’m in class,” for about 6-9 hours per week, per class. Schedule your class and study time and guard it with ferocity. Most undergraduate and graduate courses require about 80-100 hours of work outside of any time spent in class. Whether we are participating in face-to-face instruction or are attending lectures over Zoom, these additional hours don’t just magically appear! Completing your education is like having another part-time or full-time job, depending on your course load. Believe it or not, family and friends are more accommodating than you think when you have a consistently scheduled time to do your homework and attend classes. If it is clear that you respect your time and your commitments, it is much easier for others to do the same.
This is the first of a three-part series addressing strategies to better manage our schedules and structure our daily lives. As we learned today, creating, managing, and maintaining a schedule is our responsibility. Identifying our priorities, approaching tasks in manageable blocks, managing our energy, and creating appropriate boundaries on our time can all help us to be more productive, resilient, and engaged. Strategically and consistently working toward accomplishing goals and meeting deadlines is truly the foundation of your academic success.
There is a meme floating around social media that depicts a crying, distraught adolescent with the caption, “I don’t want to go through things that don’t kill me but make me stronger anymore!” Considering everything that 2020 has thrown at us to date, this is a valid and relatable sentiment that many in our community are feeling deep in their bones. However, challenges only make us stronger when we choose to engage with them, and, in order to grow through what we go through, we must accept our reality and claim full responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Historians will be writing of the epic beating our collective physical, mental, emotional, economic, and relational health has sustained since March, but you get to write your legacy of resilience. As the world around us continually changes without notice, we must be proactive in order to survive and thrive. This week’s blog aims to build a foundation upon which you can reclaim control over your experiences in academia and beyond.
Acceptance involves seeing things as they are in the present moment. However, rather than leaning into reality, it’s common to find ourselves clinging to what once was in the past or what we hope will be in the future when the present reality isn’t what we had wanted or expected.
Hope and optimism have been shown to contribute to resilience in the face of challenges across various contexts and settings, but adopting an optimistic outlook is starkly different from ignoring, resisting, or denying the present reality.
“This sucks! I hate online learning, and this isn’t what I signed up for when I started my degree. I hope that things will return to ‘normal’ soon, but until then, I will do the bare minimum this semester to get by until we can return to face-to-face learning in the classroom.”
“I accept that face-to-face learning in a classroom is not an option this semester and I will embrace self-directed study and online learning in the virtual space to be successful in my program. I am optimistic that this will not last forever, and I am hopeful that there might be more of a hybrid model offered next semester.”
What most of us fail to realize is that wishing or waiting for a return to face-to-face learning is actively keeping us from being fully engaged in the present moment. When we embrace a mindset of acceptance, we can both recognize that we don’t like the cards we’ve been dealt and choose to play the cards we have to the best of our ability.
When we accept that many aspects of our lives are outside of our direct control, the next step is to claim full responsibility for the elements we can influence. In this sense, you are encouraged to take responsibility for yourself, including your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
We can control our mindset, attitude, behavior, mood, work ethic, words, thoughts, decisions, and choices; therefore, we are also responsible for all of these aspects of our lives. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat of your life experience and must take an active role in advocating for yourself.
It is not your school’s fault that you struggle with distance/online learning. It is the school’s responsibility to provide students with the tools and resources needed to succeed in their courses. It is your responsibility to use what is provided, give your honest best effort, and ask for help when you need it. Your instructor’s responsibility is to meet your needs to the best of their ability or refer you to an appropriate resource.
It is not your teacher’s fault that you earned a low grade for an assignment. The instructor’s responsibility is to clearly communicate the instructions, expectations, and grading criteria for an assignment. It is your responsibility to read what is provided and ask for clarification if there are parts that you do not understand until you have the information you need to complete the assignment successfully.
It is not your classmate’s fault that you are feeling angry, upset, or frustrated. Your classmate’s responsibility is to participate in the required work for a group project fully, and it is your responsibility to effectively communicate the expectations for group roles and the division of labor. It is then each person’s responsibility to fulfill their roles and contribute to the project. It is common for us to confuse another person’s behavior (their responsibility) with our interpretations of their behavior (our responsibility); however, nobody can “make” us feel anything. They simply behave, which we interpret in a way that incites an emotional response. In this way, we are fully responsible for our feelings.
We are living and learning during a global pandemic, continued socio-political conflict, and multiple environmental disasters. Though it might feel like too many aspects of our education are outside our direct, or even indirect, control, there are still many things over which we have considerable influence.
CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR MINDSET AND ATTITUDE.
Our mindset and attitude are always under our direct and complete control. We chose to pursue higher education, and in doing so, we accepted that we would be challenged intellectually, intrapersonally (within ourselves), and interpersonally (socially). The only thing that has changed is the nature of the challenges; it’s like someone finally rolled the dice in Jumanji and instead of needing to dance-fight a group of poachers, we are trying to escape from carnivorous vines. There is no version of academia that is NOT uncomfortable, and there is no growth without discomfort. Focus less on the cause of the problem and more on possible solutions to overcome it and thrive!
TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR SCHEDULE AND DEADLINES.
The disruption of routine over the last several months has had a tremendous impact on the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of individuals of all ages across the country. However, you have the power and the ability to create a new routine for yourself to provide structure and direction to your day. Most undergraduate and graduate courses will require about 80-100 hours of work outside of time spent in class; this time doesn’t magically appear; we must make space in our lives for our academic responsibilities. It can be helpful to schedule time into your day as if it were a meeting with your boss, and then actually keep those appointments with yourself. Additionally, tune in to your flow of energy throughout the day and make your schedule work for you! If you are more focused and creative first thing in the morning, set aside a block of time to work on writing projects with a hot pot of coffee. If it is easier for you to read and comprehend textbook material in the afternoons, play to your strengths! Remember, a little work each day can often be more productive than a single, massive chunk of time once or twice a week, but the best combination will be dependent on your unique personality and preferences.
COMMUNICATE INTENTIONALLY AND TO ADD VALUE TO YOUR COMMUNITY.
Our words matter, especially in an online learning environment. Not only do we use words to communicate knowledge and our understanding of concepts, but they also express concern, empathy, and compassion. Besides our needs for sustenance and safety, we also have an innate need for community, creativity, empathy, and meaning (purpose, contribution, and fulfillment). These needs can be met in the virtual space if we are willing to make an effort. By stepping into our role as class leaders, we can foster a sense of community while making a meaningful contribution to our learning and our classmates’ learning. Moreover, sharing our personal experiences and perspectives on discussion boards creates opportunities for meaningful and empathetic connections with others.
Life happens, but we don’t always like it! How we choose to handle our personal and academic lives is a personal choice. We are facing a global pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, and all we can do is accept our new reality and move forward. By letting go and unlearning what we knew to be true in the past, we are able to create space for the new model of our world and how to be successful in it. Therefore, claiming responsibility for what we can control and influence in our academic lives becomes pivotal to our ability to thrive.
The semester is already underway, but there is still time for you to begin developing a strong working alliance with your instructors! Whether by email or face-to-face, communication is the first step to establishing a relationship between student and teacher. This blog discusses four key components to establishing rapport and effectively communicating with your instructors.
READ THE SYLLABUS
The syllabus is the only semi-legal contract you have with your teacher. Key information about the course, including deadlines, contact information, course reading and assignment schedules, grading policies, and more, are all included in this document. Although the content may not appear interesting, it is critical to your success in the class and your instructor has likely spent a significant amount of time constructing the syllabus for your benefit. Therefore, take the time to read it before asking your instructor questions about the course structure, deadlines, or other similar topics. We would rather have a student email asking for clarification about what is in the syllabus than ask us for an answer we have already provided. This demonstrates respect for your instructor’s time and communicates that you are accepting responsibility for your learning.
Reach out to your instructor by email to tell them a little bit about yourself, your interests in the course (if any), and your career goals; this is important in all types of classes and especially if you are in a course that is delivered 100% online. It is much easier to work with, connect with, and empathize with people we know, and you are only a name on a course roster until you take the steps to build a relationship. Most instructors will sincerely appreciate the effort and will be more eager to provide additional support in the future, should you need it during the course.
STRUCTURING YOUR COMMUNICATION
Use every email, discussion, assignment, and conversation as an opportunity to practice effective communication, which includes proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Your writing and speaking style is one of the ways that others will evaluate your professionalism and credibility throughout your career. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable sending your email or assignment to a client or supervisor before sending it to your instructor. By doing this, your instructor will be also able to speak to your professionalism and communication skills if you request a letter of recommendation in the future.
Use your instructor’s proper title, if you can find it. Examples of proper titles include Dr. Leibovitz or Professor Allen. If you are a first-time student in one of our classes or contacting us for the first time, it would be disrespectful and unprofessional to begin an email with the salutation, “Hey Jeff,” or even, “Hi Doc.” This would be the same as addressing your commanding officer by their first name. If your instructor prefers to be addressed in a less formal manner, such as “Dr. L,” they will tell you in their reply or, sometimes, in the syllabus.
Tell the instructor who you are and your preferred name. If you go by Bob, rather than Robert, let the instructor know. Our course rosters often list legal birth names instead of common names, so we will not be aware of your preference unless you tell us. Include your name and preferred contact details in the signature line of your email, too!
State your course number and section. Instructors will often have 450 emails coming from 150 students from four different classes, and it can get confusing! Letting us know what class you’re taking will provide additional context to your question(s) and will help us reply with the information you need more quickly.
State what you have already done. Begin your message with, “I read/watched/studied/looked/perused/investigated __________ and cannot find a clear answer.” Communicating in this way conveys that you are a serious student who has exhausted all means for finding an answer on your own. As instructors, we are willing to help you understand the material, but our job is not to spoon-feed you information. Part of your role as a student is to be an active participant in your own learning, so please consult the syllabus, textbook, ancillary materials, Google, Alexa, and/or Siri before emailing your instructor with a question!
Clearly list your questions. It is difficult to pull questions out of a 1000 word email when they are hidden amongst a series of complaints, stories, and explanations. Sometimes, it can be very valuable and helpful to provide context to your questions, but taking the extra few moments to organize your email (use bullet points or numbered lists) so that your questions are easy to find can make it much easier for your instructor to provide the answers or guidance you are seeking.
Use courteous language; “please” and “thank you” go a long way. No matter how terrible your day has been or how frustrated you are with the class or instructor, please use courteous language. Consider your email communication as “open to the public” and that you cannot control who will see a particular email.
The following are two emails recently received:
I do not get it
I am not writing in the group me a lot but I have worked on the project, I am the one who finds where we will be doing the marathon”
I’m [name snip]. I’m writing this email to resolve my doubts regarding peer review and grading. First, As you mentioned in your comments saying the peer review is harsh. So, can I resubmit my assignment, by making changes mentioned in the peer review?. Second, Is peer review influence our grades? if so, how can we mitigate?
Thanks & regards,
Master’s student in Information Science
PARTICIPATE IN THE CLASS (COMMUNICATION)
If on campus for class, participate in conversations. If you are completing an online course, contribute to discussion threads and virtual (Zoom) class meetings. Add new content and ideas, and ask relevant questions. Even if your classmates do not engage, your instructor will!
Communication in the classroom isn’t any different from communication in the workforce. We must make an effort to have the other person understand, and it can be even more challenging to do this online when we can’t see facial expressions of confusion, hope, cheer, or frustration. Clear and effective communication is essential to getting your needs met as a student!