Who’s in Charge Here? Budgeting Your Time

Students face a number of unique circumstances that create stress in their lives. Typically, effort in any one class comes in peaks and waves. Overlay 5 classes, and you find yourself with a fire to put out every week. It doesn’t take long before you’re fighting to survive, no longer exploring and digging into the material because you want to learn it.

Three of the most hated words in the English language

Continue reading “Who’s in Charge Here? Budgeting Your Time”

Why Time Management Doesn’t Work for Students and Teachers

The promise of most classic productivity books is: “follow my steps and you’ll be able to get more done, faster.”

The promise of most recent productivity books is: “follow my steps and you’ll be able to get the right things done, largely by saying ‘no’ to the wrong things.”

I’ve read them all. I’ve tried them all. I bought the best apps. None of them worked for me. Why? Because the world of academics is unlike any other. Continue reading “Why Time Management Doesn’t Work for Students and Teachers”

Course Coordination and Control

Weeks 1-5 of the semester: lectures, reading assignments, homework (some of which is collected and graded). Maybe a quiz or two.

Week 6 of the semester: TESTS!

Every semester is the same thing. Each class arrives at big assignments at the same time: tests always seem to land in the same week. As do project assignments and due dates. Of course, Finals Week is designed that way intentionally.

How can we stay on top of it all? Continue reading “Course Coordination and Control”

Unconscious Self-Sabotage

It’s 10:00 PM, you’ve got 2 assignments due tomorrow, a quiz the next day, and an exam the day after that. You haven’t eaten dinner yet, and you haven’t started either assignment. You think to yourself, “if I could just clear this to-do list, I would manage my time better. I wouldn’t get behind again.” You knuckle down to work the assignments, but the quiz and the exam continue to eat your attention.

And the biggest problem of all: you were in the same place yesterday, with different work against different deadlines. Continue reading “Unconscious Self-Sabotage”

Too Much Coverage

As we gear up for a new semester, teachers and students alike hope that this will be the best semester ever. We’ve got some work to do, or we will find ourselves in the same place as last semester: busy working without learning, stressed, firefighting, just trying to survive.

In my last post I discussed 6 sources of burnout: three for teachers to work on, and three for students. Here I’ll address one for teachers. Students: you should know this too.

Continue reading “Too Much Coverage”

New Semester Resolutions

Think back to the end of last semester. How did that go for you? How much sleep did you lose preparing for exams? Were you overwhelmed with coursework and study that needed doing? Did you simultaneously have several projects and several exams to prep for? How many assignments did you complete/turn in minutes before the deadline? Did you cope by picking up any bad habits? Did you feel in control of your world?

Now, think ahead to this semester. Did you read the course descriptions? Are you excited? Have you made any “New Semester Resolutions” to study more, start your homework earlier, manage your time better?

Last question: did you make these same resolutions at the start of last semester?

Is this what it feels like to learn?

Continue reading “New Semester Resolutions”

5 Painful Mistakes New Bloggers Make

Blogging can feel like a chore. Writing is heavy mental labor, and we want to see a reward for our efforts. Unfortunately, most new bloggers begin with the same five engagement-limiting mistakes.

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I’m a long blogger. My friends are long bloggers. My older posts were l-o-n-g. 2,579 words. A 4-part series with each post at least 1,500 words. As a result I wrote a measly 17 posts over 3 years.

I had a hard time getting started, as I pictured the gargantuan task of finishing. My posts were highly irregular and so was my number of readers. The problem with writing this way is that it leads to monologues instead of conversations. Monologues that are few and far between.

We’ve all read a long post. There is so much content that it makes it hard to respond. I’ve been drafting a follow up to a friend’s long post for 6 months! Almost every new blogger makes 5 mistakes that add work and cause lower engagement from their readers. Bloggers should eliminate these mistakes immediately.

Mistake 1: Writing posts that are too long. Solution: aim for 500-700 words.

Long posts are interesting because they can deeply explore a topic. But they are harder to read. They include so much material that readers can’t figure out which nugget they want to respond to. Think firehose.

We tend to feel the need to cover every aspect of our thinking about a topic in a single post. The fear of leaving something out can cause people to never publish. Instead, write small posts with one central idea that people can discuss easier. Then publish more frequently. You’ll find more people reading more of your ideas.

Things like blogging have an interesting property: the more regularly you post the more traffic you see. A short post several days each week is better than one long post every few weeks. Don’t believe me? Check out Seth Godin.

Now for the fun part for you “long bloggers”: write one long post and break it into several stand alone pieces that link to each other. Then, instead of publishing right away, use a service like WordPress to schedule your posts to release on a regular basis. You can publish one every day, or every other day, with no extra input on your part. You’ll see more people engage.

Mistake 2: Too much text. Solution: Make your posts more scannable.

Everyone is turned off by a wall of text. Use short paragraphs, simple sentences, bullet points and lists. Think white space. The more the better.

Mistake 3: No invitation for the reader to participate. Solution: End your posts with an italicized question inviting comments.

Something open-ended that grabs people and makes them want to share.

Mistake 4: No invitation for the reader to share. Solution: Add social media share buttons.

Not in an obnoxious place, but certainly prominent.

Mistake 5: Not sharing your own posts. Solution: Advertise a little.

People shrink away from this one. We feel egotistical when we self-promote. Here’s an attitude shift that may help: Write things that you truly believe matter to someone. If you’re producing content that is meaningful or helpful, then the selfish thing would be NOT to share it.

Share links to new posts with a snippet or picture on social media. Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and such. Even if only your family reads it, a liked link invites the network effect to begin. Who knows what friend of a friend works at your dream company and clicks to read.

The Bottom Line

The large majority of bloggers give up after a few months. The main reason is that they make it too much work and they reap little reward in the form of engagement. I know you’re excited about that idea that leads to a 2000-word post. But hold some back. Most of your initial posts will probably become entire categories of posts in the future.

What blogging habits have you unintentionally picked up that are sabotaging your ability to consistently produce quality content? Share in a comment below.

Success Tactic: Finding Freedom In Routines

In my last post, I commented on a strategy that highly successful people use to free up mental energy for the things that matter. This post continues on that theme, offering up specific tactics that have worked for me.

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As a full-time academic, my schedule can be quite hectic. And I only control certain parts of it. The timetable of my courses each semester are assigned, not chosen. I end up with gaps and complexity in my day that I can’t renegotiate. In addition, I value being available to my students. This means keeping as much of my day open to “invited interruptions” that otherwise hamstring my creativity.

Find Freedom in Routines

Routines offer a simple way to save mental energy and accomplish the tasks that mean the most to us. You should establish at least three routines, and a set of life-simplifying habits to support them.

An Evening Routine: set yourself up for a productive day tomorrow.

Make low-value decisions at the end of the day, while you’re too tired to add significant value anyhow. Many of the decisions that people put off for the morning can be made in about 5 minutes each evening.

Select your outfit for the next day. Match your clothes hang them in a separate part of the closet. I could dress myself in complete darkness each morning!

Other key decisions to make at night include:
*Choosing and making your lunch
*Selecting the to-do items that you intend on completing tomorrow and ranking them in order of priority.
*Closing all programs on your laptop except for those you need open for your first task of the day (which I intentionally choose as the most important one).

The clarity this gives in the morning is incredible!

A Morning Routine: set yourself up each day to make productivity default.

According to Dan Miller, 44% of high income earners wake up at least 3 hours before work each day. Compare that to the 3% of low income earners who do the same. Its no accident. Waking up early is key to engaging your brain for the day’s work.

What are they doing with that time? Investing in themselves. Jon Acuff says in Start.

Be selfish at 5:00 am.

Take your mornings to focus on five key areas of personal development.

  1. Wake up, water, and quiet time. I start each morning at 5:00 am by drinking a large glass of cool water while reading and meditating about spiritual growth for 30 minutes.

  2. Coffee and non-fiction reading. Next, I spend 30 minutes reading a non-fiction book while drinking a cup of coffee. Just imagine if you read a book each month on a single topic that is important to you. In 2 years you will undoubtedly be an expert: how many people do you know who have read 24 books on any single topic?

  3. Platform development. I spend 30 minutes each morning reading blog posts, sharing thoughts on social media, engaging with my tribe. We live in a time when anyone can speak to a large audience. But it takes daily effort. In social media, Inconsistent is Invisible.

  4. Exercise. In our busy world, it is way too easy to put this off. Spend a half hour maintaining your body, or risk finding yourself in the hospital wishing you had.

  5. Wash, eat and dress. I spend the last half hour of my morning routine washing, eating, and dressing. This flows like clockwork: I take the same toiletries out of the same travel bag, and put them back. That way, when I travel I feel at home standing in front of a hotel mirror. I eat a bowl of cereal (selected from just two options in my pantry) and a cup of greek yogurt (selected at random from the few flavors I enjoy). Lastly, I put on the outfit that I chose last night in about 3 minutes.

When I get to my office, my goal is to have made no new decisions this morning. I sit down, open my computer, and dive in to the first task which is already keyed up from last night.

As a final note here, I can’t overemphasize the importance of starting each morning by completing your most important task. This is the best chance you have of making meaningful progress before something (or someone) completely derails your day.

A Weekly Routine: Keep it all running.

Unfortunately, everything falls off the rails if certain things don’t happen each week. We need groceries. We need clean clothes. I have a weekly routine to decide what I’ll eat for breakfast and lunch (again once, rather than 5 times), wash my clothes, and lay out the outfits I’ll wear to work. Lastly, I perform my weekly review.

A weekly review is so important that I’ll save the details for another post. For now, I’ll just say that its crucial once a week to spend 30 minutes:

(adopted from David Allen’s Getting Things Done)

  • Collecting loose papers and materials
  • Emptying your head
  • Emptying all inboxes
  • Reviewing action lists
  • Reviewing previous and future calendar data
  • Reviewing your “waiting for” lists
  • Reviewing your project lists
  • Reviewing your goals

Life-Simplifying Habits

This is simple, but crucial. I always put my credit cards in the same place in my wallet. Always. I always put my wallet, keys, work badge in the same place in the house. Always. I spend zero energy looking for my things each day, because they have a place and its just as easy to put them there as anywhere.

Make a habit out of things like this. Don’t set yourself up for frantic searching as you’re trying to leave the house. If there is something you have to do every day (such as feeding the dog), you shouldn’t have to figure out every day how and when you’re going to do it.

Freedom in Routines?

It may sound drab, but I have never felt more free. Every day I wake up at the same time, do the same things, in the same order. The only thing that’s different: what I am thinking about.

When you have no routine, everything is different. You wake up at different times, do different things, in a different order. The only thing that’s the same: what you’re thinking about.

You’re thinking about what you should eat, what you should wear, what time you should leave, if you have time to do this or that before catching the train. Rather than spend time engaging with something meaningful you’re stuck on the merry go round: making the same decisions again and again, day after day.

Are you burning mental energy each day on low-value repetitive decisions? What could you use that energy for if you didn’t have to make those decisions every day? Leave a comment below.