General Study Advice

Guilt and the Simplicity of Scheduling

What do I feel most guilty about in my day-to-day tasks?

The saved items in my feed reader.

As I write, there are 8 saved items, ranging from 16 hours to 13 days old. When those links are hanging around, it means I haven’t done something with them.

I have usually read the items in question, but the saved area is a hold for links I want to use somewhere. That’s why 13 days is too long. It’s not quite two weeks, but I should have actioned it by now.

This isn’t the same as procrastination. It’s more a missed opportunity. I haven’t even considered working through the links, which means they’re pointless hanging around indefinitely.

There are two easy ways to deal with these links:

1. Delete them. The ruthless option;
2. Deal with them RIGHT NOW. The active option.

For me it’s roughly 80% dealing, 20% deleting. I tend not to delete unless the moment has well and truly passed.

All I need to do is sort everything out where they need to go. There’s never anything saved that will take up too much of my time.

I’ll clear through the 8 items that are still hanging and use a stopwatch to see how long it takes me to sort everything out.

Stopwatch (photo by purplemattfish)

I could have used one of these, but went for my phone’s stopwatch instead. (photo by purplemattfish) (CC BY-NC-ND)

Go…

[Time Passes...Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock...]

And relax.

6 minutes 37 seconds to deal with 7 of the 8 items. The only article I didn’t move was a piece I hadn’t read yet (the 16 hour old piece). Of the 7 items, I deleted one and actioned the others.

I can feel less guilty again. In six and a half minutes, I have taken care of a fortnight worth of stuff that was making me feel guilty.

From now on, all I need to do is schedule a fortnightly task. 20 minutes set to one side and I should have it clear in less time than that. Much better than getting an occasional pang of guilt and rushing through the list, annoyed with myself.

[Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and performed the task again today, before publishing. It worked brilliantly again. 20 items down to 2 in 18 minutes. The oldest item was 8 days old. In the time I spent, I did around 80% dealing and 20% deleting again. From the two trial runs, I've spent roughly one minute per item.]

When you’re faced with ultimately forgettable or picky little tasks, try setting aside a bit of time every now and then. It needn’t be a huge commitment, but it should be enough to stop those moments where you suddenly remember something and feel guilty that you didn’t do it sooner.

Not only can I now breathe a sigh of relief, but also celebrate that I have an ongoing plan to deal with any backlog I may get each fortnight.

I even managed to get this post written in the process. Win.

What is making you feel guilty and how will you deal with it?

A Star No Starter: Why You Are Worth More Than Your Grades

When you leave school with 7 A* grades at A-level, it’s pretty impressive.

When you fail to get a place at the University of Oxford on those grades, people start talking. That’s what happened to Alastair Herron this year.

Oxford (photo by Max-Design)

Oxford (photo by Max-Design) – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite the talking, not enough is known about the full application made. If we did have more information, would the application have fallen at a single point, or at several?

There isn’t a big story here, because Herron received offers from American universities and he has happily accepted a place at Stanford.

Whether you’re still looking for a uni place or you’ve graduated with full honours, there are some key takeaways from this news:

Keep your options open

Herron had offers from other universities that he was intent on going to. Regardless of an offer from Oxford, he had his sights set elsewhere. Interviewed on BBC Radio Belfast, Herron said, “I would never stay at Oxford with offers from America so I am not in any way disappointed”.

Whatever you do, have a number of routes open to you and prioritise. That way, you won’t flounder when one route comes crashing down. Herron took the news with a shrug. He was surprised, but he considered it Oxford’s loss. He already had other options at hand.

Grades are not the whole picture

University (and life) is about much more than exam results. Whatever you end up with, life goes on. Many things you set your sights on can still be achieved, albeit a little later and with further work. There are alternative routes in to some fields too.

When you’re put to the test, you waste your own time if you don’t put in any real effort. And when you do spend the time, don’t feel disheartened if you end up with less than straight As. Herron’s story shows that grades aren’t the whole picture.

Your situation wouldn’t necessarily be different with 100% in everything. You can’t read the future and it’s not worth playing ‘What if…?’ when you haven’t a clue how things would have turned out. Focus on here and now, not on an alternative reality.

Success doesn’t rely on one particular thing

It’s easy to fixate on a small part of the picture and building it up more than it needs. Spend enough time and effort on something and it’s not surprising that you can do great things in that area.

However, you need to demonstrate many qualities as a person. Personal traits, interests outside academia, social activities, and all sorts of elements comprise your unique makeup.

By all means boast a thousand A* A-levels, but be prepared to offer more than one sole quality.

Unless, of course, that quality is the solution to a huge problem or the answer to a long-standing question that has baffled generations of people. When you hold the key to something special, that’s great. Just be warned, this is rare. And even when you do hold the key, you may not realise it. In other words, don’t go searching for it blindly.

No regrets

When something doesn’t work out, however big or small, try not to dwell on it too much. My A-level adventure could have been much better if I had been mentored better and given more solid information, advice and guidance in certain places.

I didn’t let that bother me. For all the facepalm moments that I know could have been far better for me in hindsight, I’ve had many wonderful experiences that have taken me to places I wanted to be anyway.

If I regretted my actions and, once again, played the ‘What if…?’ game in my mind, I could have spent forever thinking I had missed my one and only chance.

There are other chances. It’s okay to kick yourself, or throw your head to the air and wish you’d spotted things sooner, but move on as soon as you can. Instead of regretting what has passed, concentrate on what could be. Seek out new ways to get to where you would like to be and use your new insights to help get you there this time.

Whatever the future holds, you can’t see it until it’s happened. And then it’s the past. Attempt to secure the best future for you, but don’t hold on to it if it doesn’t work out. Look forward, look for alternatives, and look out world…You’re on a mission!

We will never know precisely why a university turns a straight-A student down. That’s why it’s not worth focusing on.

You are worth more than your grades. You are better than that.

Habits, Emotions & Locations

Not all habits are equal. The harder the task, the longer it’s going to take to form into a habit.

A simple act, such as drinking a glass of water, doesn’t take long to turn into a habit. It doesn’t take long for emotion to drain away from the action. But exercise and anything that requires a bit more effort and preparation will likely bring more emotional issues with them too. No wonder, then, it takes longer to form some habits than others.

Every teardrop is a waterfall (photo by dollen - CC BY-ND 2.0)

Make yoga a habit? Not as easy as drinking a glass of water each morning! (dollen – CC BY-ND 2.0)

Jeremy Dean sums it up nicely in his book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits“:

“…the act of performing a habit is curiously emotionless.” – p.9

This also explains why too much of a good thing can become boring. The more it becomes a habit, the less you attach any sentiment to it.

I was fascinated by another thing Dean had to say:

“…new surroundings don’t have all the familiar cues to our old habits.” – p.12

This could help reignite a drive for old habits in different places, as well as bringing new habits into play.

I have long believed that you shouldn’t limit yourself to a single place of study. Use all sorts of places. Your room, the library (changing seats and rooms too), the canteen, a campus bar, parks and uni seating areas, coffee shops, a quiet public space, a loud public space…

Moving around means you’re not in any ‘usual’ grounds. Your focus is on study and your mind is open to new things. Simply by altering your situation on a regular basis, you can gain mentally.

There’s more! As a bonus, your recall may develop as you build memories with each different setting in place. When you try to remember something, your first recollection may be sitting in the middle of a field when you covered the precise thing you need right now. Because you weren’t fixed to a single place of study, the concepts have another opportunity to come to the forefront of your mind.

While performing a habit dulls the emotions, a choice of different locations could help give a new lease of life to learning methods you thought had gone stale.

Learning Leads to Changed Perspective

We change more dramatically over time than we expect.

Look back five or ten years. How different were you back then? Probably a lot.

glasses (photo by hotblack)

Perspective changes

It’s no wonder that we look back on our past work and flinch at some of the stuff we did and said. Especially in public forum, like online, changes in opinion look more like contradictions if you’re not careful. Old blog posts or tweets where you make one argument will look strange–weak, even–when you write something new and argue the opposite thing.

But this is natural. Perspective changes.

“A major challenge for me is that, in spending a lot of time learning, my opinions grow with time. Hopefully my minor reversals and shifts in emphasis don’t irk or confuse longtime readers too much.” – Scott Young

I would be more worried if I didn’t feel challenged and if I didn’t sense any kind of development as time passed.

Plus, I like to consider other people’s perspective. Don’t live in a bubble. Explore views that aren’t your own.

For instance, I have offered advice in the past that I wouldn’t use myself, but that I knew would be useful to others. The type of information that I’ve seen others thrive off, despite it leaving me cold.

Why? Because I don’t assume that only my choices bear fruit. Especially when giving subjective advice. One size does not fit all.

That’s why, if I give two opposing pieces of advice, it could look misleading at first glance. On further reflection, the contradiction may highlight two perfectly valid options that require a choice (or exploration) on your part.

As with my previous post on planning your day, I suggested options to play with. And I regularly ask questions like, “What works best for you?” so the discussion can continue. The more we join in with offering and exploring new solutions, the greater the chance that we uncover even more treasures.

Don’t sweat the change. We all do it, though we don’t always notice it.

What has been your biggest change so far?