Time Management

Why being ‘involved’ is so important to learning

How much do you care about your degree?

Seriously. When you’re given an assignment, how does it make you feel? Excited? Interested? Antsy to start reading up on things?

Or do you ignore it? Dread it? Groan at another piece of work hanging around your neck?

Your degree may be in a subject you love, but the work itself may not automatically grab you.

This post will explain why you need to get more involved and how to become more involved than the average punter without breaking into a sweat.

photo by *(xava du)
photo by *(xava du)

True involvement in what you’re doing gets you feeling positive about the work you’re set. You’ll know you’re involved, because you’ll want to look beyond the task and constantly challenge your own assumptions. Not only does it feel good, but the work won’t feel such a drag either.

Interested yet?

Good. So — other than the above reasons that are awesome anyway — here’s why being involved in what you are learning is crucial to getting a grip of everything, including your grade:

  • Sparks natural interest – You go from consuming information to engaging with it. You start to do ask more questions. Greater depth brings with it greater curiosity. Without this involvement, it’s easy to give up at the sheer amount of detail covered. Once you become involved, you look forward to what’s next.
  • Natural flow, as opposed to letting off a firehose – As your involvement grows deeper, so does the constant rhythm of your work. Think for a second about the last minute essay rush that we all know too well. Days, even weeks, of nothing suddenly turn into a mad dash to meet deadline in a day. Intense pressure!
    Luckily, all that becomes a thing of the past when involvement grows. Procrastination isn’t entirely banished, but the monster is less likely to call on you.
  • Desire to query things at face value – Not satisfied with a basic answer (or perhaps ANY answer), the involved scholar isn’t satisfied without more detail. This isn’t out of spite or to trip anyone up; it’s because your personal focus on the subject is growing deeper.
  • Desire to seek out and create answers – You won’t stop at questions. The more you become involved, the more you’ll become a natural researcher for the topic. Far from being overwhelmed by it all, increased involvement makes the work a breeze. Ish. 😉
  • Opportunities present themselves more freely – You’ll look out for new things, next steps, and the latest information. It’ll feel like everything is coming to you. But you create your own luck. You just won’t have noticed your own hard work.
  • Others notice your enthusiasm and want to take things further – Take involvement all the way and you’ll get seen. Perhaps stuff *will* start coming to you before you seek it out! There’s no limit to how involved you could become. So what if you’re only an undergraduate? Who cares if you’re a Fresher? These days, you’re encouraged to start everything early for your future prospects. So jump in. Get involved. Do it right away.

How do you build up the inclination to be involved to this extent?

First off, shape what you do to reflect what you want out of life. If you have no big and bold reason staring you in the face, you won’t see the point. When you see relationships between doing and achieving, you care more convincingly.

Don’t sell yourself short. Here’s how to get more involved in whatever you like. It doesn’t have to be your degree, but that’s as good a place as any to start. Especially on this blog!

  • Write down what you want from this – Armed with this information, you have a proper idea why you need to do it. It’s not good enough to have a vague idea about the future (though a bit a vagueness can help in other ways). Note down the deeper meaning behind the work. Even the most enviable lifestyle requires moments of boredom and annoyance. Keep your eyes focused on the bigger picture to cope with these moments.
  • Frame it as a time-saving exercise – Look again at all the reasons why greater involvement is so awesome. Time and again, it’s because involvement helps everything feel natural. Increased focus doesn’t automatically require more time in the long run. Dedicated initial effort brings huge time savings. The hardest part is sometimes simply starting off.
  • Think long-term – As with the previous point, good beginnings are slightly more intense, but pay off many times over as you carry on. A short-term view means a hard slog rather than a light load. Look ahead and let your involvement grow with ease.
  • A light load still equals heavyweight commitment – You have to want to be involved for things to work out. No matter how long-term you project, and regardless of how much time you think you’ll save, you still need to be totally behind what you’re doing. Without true dedication to the subject itself, the momentum simply won’t develop.

There is an element of training yourself into an attitude here. While that might sound a bit forced, it isn’t all that frustrating. Above everything, give due importance to what is being asked of you, and recognise that the most you can get out of your experience is only ever less than or equal to what you gave in the first place. Short of giving you the answers, no amount of academic hand holding can help you if you don’t put the effort in yourself.

I don’t expect you want your hand held too much anyway.

Getting from A to B, obstructions will always litter your path. That’s why you need solid reasons why you’re travelling to point B. If it’s only in order to reach point C, you won’t give point B time of day. And when you finally reach point B, you won’t be thinking about point C because you’ll be looking forward to point D.

Life is full of pathways, but the adventure starts from the moment you set off. The more involved you are in that adventure, the more you can achieve.

Risk or Responsibility?

Do you take risks when faced with important decisions?  Do you push things to one side and let random excitement take hold and stress you out?

Perhaps you think you only take an occasional gamble. But you may be more of a risk taker than you think.

photo by anarchosyn

photo by anarchosyn

It doesn’t sound like much, but think how tempting it is to leave an essay until the last minute.  Rather than prepare in advance, there’s a want to bash everything out in the last minute.  You may not really *want* to do everything in the last minute, but the beast of procrastination rears its ugly head and that’s what happens anyway.

What of study plans?  Before the work starts, a plan can seem so structured and restricting.  Surely you’ll get the work done eventually.  You’ve done it before that way.  Much better to work when you feel like it, eh?

Keep those fingers crossed that you’ll get that feeling every time.

Of course, you will feel like it, because you’ll have no choice. Time will have run out. Panic is often a big driver of decisions.

Shame those decisions aren’t likely to be the best ones.

Many choices may not feel risky, but there’s a real chance they will make a negative impact.

Making plans straight away does involve taking responsibility.  But this is a low risk, positive action.  Responsibility sounds like a hassle, because you know you have to start.  And the end is so, so far away.  At least, it’s so far away until there’s not enough time.  Then the game changes and it’s out of your control…

The sooner you start, the sooner you can finish in your own sweet time.  No rushing, no major panic, no second rate attempt that you know could have been better.

You don’t have to jump on tasks the moment you get them, but neither should they be left to linger.

Advice like this isn’t unusual.  That doesn’t make it any easier to action.  Not until you give it a context.  As I see it, that context is risk.  The longer you leave it, the bigger the chance you’re taking.  Risks don’t have to sound risky before they become dangerous.

Are you willing to gamble with grades?

Too much advice and not enough productivity?

Simple advice can usually be taken the opposite way.

  • Want to achieve your goals?  Make them public!  No, keep them private!
  • Want to focus better on revision?  Listen to music while you work!  No, sit in silence!
  • Want to save money on your shopping bill?  Make a list!  No, shop less strictly to bag the bargains!

You may have heard me say that one person’s poison is another person’s potion.  When it comes to uncomplicated suggestions from a friend, or a blog post with some quick tips, the advice won’t necessarily work for you.


photo by RobeRt Vega

photo by RobeRt Vega

If there was a single answer, we’d all take that route and we’d all love the success it brought.  Nobody would have to worry.  But, naturally, life isn’t like that.

The same goes for if a selection of answers all produced the same, successful, result.  Suggestions are great, but you have to make them your own before they’ll work.  Even then they may not yield the fruit you were expecting.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but life isn’t simple.  That’s why so many people are hooked on finding a quick fix or an astounding life hack.

Whenever you stumble upon something great, let’s call it ‘lucky’.  Without seeking any advice, you won’t be as lucky as one who does the searching.  You do have to ‘create your own luck‘ to an extent.  However, there is a saturation point where even the one who searches is wasting their time.

After all, there are so many blogs devoted to study tips and life hacks that it’s easy to spend too much time reading themDo you really want to save time, or do you want to procrastinate? At some point, you need to act on the advice you already have.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger made some great points over Twitter about all the supposedly time-saving advice out there:

“Problem with productivity techniques: so many focus upon how we can stuff more into life – which just sets us up for heart attacks later.  Not sure what the answer is but it strikes me that a better approach to productivity would be becoming focused and doing less things better.  Or maybe thinking about all this productivity stuff is just a distraction from being productive.”

Darren was inspired to make those comments because of this video:

We do face distractions.  They won’t go away.  Neither should we be forced to rid ourselves of all disruption.

However, the idea of ‘doing less things better’ is important.  Doing more isn’t automatically more impressive.  A limited number of key pursuits can be more convincing.  You may find that, in the transition, you focus on more demanding work within the deliberately limited scope.  The good news is that hard work under these conditions is often more satisfying.

I’m not trying to suggest that general productivity hacks and tips are useless.  Far from it.  Much of the advice I give on this blog is general.

I see the difficulties of taking advice working in two ways:

  1. Specific advice is easy to action because there is little need to interpret.  Just follow step by step.  However, it is less likely to yield as much success as the person who achieved it and advised in the first place;
  2. General advice is harder to action, because you have to take responsibility for making it your own.  You may develop the approach wonderfully, you may reach a dead end and seek out different advice, or you may find it too hard to take on that responsibility at all.

Advice, no matter how specific, should be examined and considered, but at no point should you expect an automatic win.  Even if you’re persuaded it’s a no-brainer.

It’s great to take a punt and win.  It’s hell to expect the best and lose.

The advice I give is based on my own experience and those of others.  I sometimes advise stuff that doesn’t (or hasn’t yet) worked for me.  Why?  Because I know many others who have been successful using those methods.

We may not be the same, but we share many similar features and goals and thought processes.  It would be insane if nobody listened to others for advice.  It would be equally insane if you took everything they said as the truth. The only person who can find your truth is you.  And it’s not an easy road.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  Have a nice trip.  And don’t make *too* many stops on the way for advice.  You can’t refuel if you’ve not started using your own resource tank yet.

Want to hear more? Just before I went to publish this, Darren Rowse put up his own video on whether productivity systems really work.  I’ll leave you with that:

The beauty of thinking one term ahead

It’s fast approaching the end of another academic year.  Time to wave goodbye to all the work, all the fun, all the ups and downs.

As you wave goodbye, start preparing for the big hello next year.  Think about next term right now.  And when you get back, start preparing for after Christmas.

Sound a bit much?  Maybe.  But thinking ahead is sensible and time-saving.  There’s always time to relax, but never time to stop.

photo by Mariano Kamp

photo by Mariano Kamp

What do you want to achieve over summer? What’s important to you in the first months back at uni?  What goals can you work on between now and Christmas?

Thinking ahead doesn’t require a lot of work.  Just a few minutes of your time and a pen and paper will do.  A few brief thoughts and you’ll have a basic plan to work with for the near future.  This isn’t about long-term ambitions.  The exercise is to solidify your thoughts and give you greater perspective.

Compile notes, however brief you like.  No matter what you write down, you now have something to work from.  You have the scope to look back on what you achieved, see if reality turns out bearing any resemblance to the notes, understand what changed, explore what’s taking more time than you expected, consider how you might have done things differently, and so on.  Casual planning ahead is quick, it gets quicker, and it becomes easier the more you do it.

With no thoughts on your plans for the following term, all the planning ends up being done for you.  Put yourself in the driving seat with just a few minutes of planning ahead.  If you’re not used to setting targets and pushing forward with such positive waves, it can be daunting.  But it’s worth it.  Shaping your future productivity gives you a handle on your future enjoyment too.

Far from making promises that you may not be able to keep, you simply have an outline of the things you truly want to work toward.  If you do it all in a month and you expected the whole term, you’ve got plenty time to work on another project, have more fun, work ahead of your plan to free up even more time, or anything you darn well like.

That’s the beauty of planning ahead.  You’re managing your own life and saving yourself a whole lot of hassle in the process.

What’s not to like?