How to Fight Distractions: 4 Mindful Ways to Stay on Task

Its easy to get distracted especially when youre juggling a lot of projects.

The secret to staying productive is recognizing the moments of distraction and immediately getting back on track.

Theres always an email to read, a text message to send, a Facebook stream to read, etc.

You see, there are distractions all around us and there are plenty of excuses on why were not finishing up a project that has been sitting on our to do list.

So how do we fight distractions and stay on task?

Here are four ways:

1. Know what distracts you.
What keeps you distracted? Keep a list of items that trigger distractions for you (e.g. clicking a web browser, visiting Huffington Post, reading email, etc.). Keep this list top of mind so you recognize the trigger that is leading you to distraction. Identifying distractions is key to stopping them.

2. Set daily goals for yourself.
If you want to stay focused on your projects, you need to set goals for yourself with specific time-frames. Not setting specific goals within a certain time-frame is the reason why we end up with items on our to do list that we never accomplish. And not having concrete goals makes it easier to get distracted. So set your goals and accomplish them. No excuses.

3. Zone out everything else.
Once you know what distracts you and have your set goals its time to get hyper-focused to accomplish your projects. For me, this means putting on ear phones and listening to sounds of the ocean or rain (to block out all external noises). Second, it means turning Outlook off and closing down all windows except for the one program or window I need. Third, it means putting my phone in a drawer so that I dont see any text messages or know that anyone is calling. The only way to get in the zone to accomplish your goals is to zone out everything else.

4. Recognize the moments you get distracted and get back on task.
Look, youre going to get distracted no matter how hard you try to stay on task especially if you work in an office. Your office phone can ring, employees can drop by, etc. Even while writing this article, my Outlook program alerted me to an email that looked interesting enough to start reading it. Within 15 seconds of reading it, I realized the distraction and got back to this article. The key is recognizing the distraction and getting back to work.

How do you fight distractions? How are you staying hyper-focused to finish your work? Let me know.

5 Effortless Steps to Seminar Success

Wouldnt it be great to shine as the top student in all your seminars – winning attention from professors (who might well be writing a reference for you in the future) and getting a high grade?

And wouldnt it be even greater to manage this without doing a ton of extra work?

Heres how to succeed in seminars – effortlessly:

1. Read intelligently beforehand

Of course, youre already doing all the assigned reading for your classes. (If not, thats a good place to start!) But rather than just skimming over the chapter youve been given, read intelligently. Pick out a couple of points in the chapter that you could disagree with, or that relate to something the class has already studied.

When it comes to the seminar itself, going beyond the usual bland points will really make you stand out as someone whos not just read the material for the class, but who has thought about it too. Professors like to see students using their brains – its what youre at college for!

2. Volunteer to go first in the semester

Will you need to give a presentation as part of this seminar? If so, volunteer to be the first one in the running order for the semester. Your professor will be impressed that youve got the courage to go first, plus youll get an easy time of it because you wont have had so long to prepare as other students.

Youll also find that its easier to work on producing a great presentation at the beginning of the semester, when you dont have any other deadlines, instead of towards the end when assignments are piling up.

3. Speak in the first 10 minutes

If you can speak up in the first ten minutes of your seminar, itll be much easier to remain an active participant throughout. Its so easy to sit there silently, trying to work up the courage to speak – but the longer you wait, the harder itll be.

Its also a good idea to answer any easy, introductory questions that come up at the start of the seminar; that way, your professor wont be picking on you for the difficult questions later on. Whenever youre confident of an answer, put your hand up; youll reduce the risk of having to stumble through a response when the professor decides its about time you spoke up.

4. Keep the conversation going

One thing most professors hate is a long silence during a seminar. If you can, do your best to keep the conversation going. That doesnt just mean answering questions when no-one else is volunteering, it also means listening carefully to the points that other people are making, and then chiming in with something that offers a new angle on what theyve said, or that takes their point further.

Dont be afraid to disagree or offer an alternative point of view – but dont ever suggest that fellow students are being stupid. A seminar is a safe environment for you and your classmates to learn and explore ideas, and your professor will appreciate it if you help foster that supportive atmosphere.

5. Thank your professor

It might seem a bit like sucking up, but why not thank your professor at the end of the semester? Yes, youll look weird if you send a hand-written missive after every class saying how grateful you are for their seminars but a short, sincere thank you email after the last class is a nice way to put a smile on your professors face.

You might be surprised how few students ever bother to thank their professors – taking ten minutes to do so could make all the difference when it comes to asking for a reference, or negotiating an extension to your essay deadline.

Are you a seminar super-star? What are your top tips on being a great member of the class?

Guest Writer: Ali Hale is a freelance writer and postgrad student in London, UK. She launched the blog Alpha Student – helping you get the most from your time at university.

Making Planning a Routine

You’ve probably heard that it take 21 days to form a habit. Or was it 30 days? Some are saying 66 days. However long it takes, you can’t seem to maintain a schedule where you get stuff done. This was me just a couple years ago, but after trying out different methods as an undergraduate student, I’ve finally formed a good habit: planning.

I now religiously believe that the key to success is good planning. It’s not enough to just show up. There needs to be an action plan where all the steps are clear. So how did I get started?

I forced myself to really live with this notebook. I kept it on my desk next to my alarm, I put it in my backpack whenever I left my dorm room, and tried to use it to keep little memos to get into the practice of using the notebook. Over the few months I tried out different notebooks and planning styles, these are the main tips I found were useful for all of them.

Don’t micromanage.

The first few weeks were test runs. I got a random small free notebook at a fair and wrote a literal hour-by-hour schedule. It was a total mess, since the minute I was behind because I had not finished a certain assignment by the time I thought I would, it ruined the rest of my day because it pushed all my other activities behind. I still have all my notebooks, and looking back, there are a lot of crossed out lines. Planning your day doesn’t have to mean have a rigid schedule. Now I use my notebooks as to-do lists, usually in order of importance. I draw a circle next to it if I finished it, and a red X if I didn’t.

Learn to prioritize.

It’s understandable when things don’t work out like you thought it would. Family emergencies, traffic, team member suddenly calling sick, you getting sick, etc. When certain tasks on your list haven’t gotten done by the evening, it’s time to practice your planning skills! Planning is also about learning to prioritize tasks. Can your calculus assignment be done tomorrow instead of today? Do you absolutely need to do the dishes tonight, or can your roommate tolerate it one more day? When things are written down, it’s easy to simply move it off to the next day, but also be warned. One thing I saw during a busy season was that my to-do list continued to get bigger and bigger. When you notice that your to-do list is growing, and you’ve lost the motivation to feel like you have to do it that day, you’re procrastinating. Reorganize your plans, and focus on trying to get the list down to zero.

Keep yourself accountable.

Just having your day opened out in front of you may help, but sometimes you look back at your day and realize, wow, you barely got anything done! Think- what was the reason? Write it down, and if that reason keeps popping up, figure out a way around it. For me, my most unproductive days were because I ran into a friend either while walking from class or at the cafeteria, and ended up having an extremely long lunch. After that, I consciously trained myself to never eat for over 45 minutes on days I needed to get things done.

Another important thing about developing this habit is to not give up when you realize you haven’t opened up your planner in days. It took me maybe 2 months to actually integrate it into my daily life. It takes time for a routine to be created, so don’t get discouraged!

Try different styles.

Every student is different and the type of planner and level of detail is totally up to you. It is also a good tip to schedule a specific period of time you get all your work done. Some people enjoy bullet journaling (it’s very time consuming however), and others go even more minimalistic with a simple to-do app. However you do it, take the first few weeks to test out new methods. You may even learn something new about yourself, like I did!
And with that, hopefully you’re ready to start a planning routine. Be sure to take time to find the right fit, and don’t be discouraged! If you think planning is not for you, try switching it up. There’s definitely a good match for every student.

This post was written by Shannon from www.regularlee.com, a student life blog. Regularlee shares various productivity tips, student resources, daily life hacks, and guides on starting off an internship.

How to Make Your Commute More Productive – 7 Tips

Its amazing how much time we spend commuting to school.

As an undergrad, I would walk for almost 30 minutes just to get to my classes.

And as a grad student, I had a 30 minute commute by car – and then another 10 minutes to find parking.

I would literally spend about an hour a day commuting back and forth to campus.

And thats why I tried various ways to stay productive.

Here are 7 productivity tips for your daily commute:

1. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts to expand your mind.
One easy way to stay productive while driving is to simply listen to audiobooks or podcasts that interest you. Expose yourself to new ideas and new subjects. You can also polish your foreign language skills by choosing podcasts or audiobooks in that language.

2. Review flash cards.
When I was an undergrad, my walk from my dorm room to my classes was nearly 2 miles. I spent this time reviewing flash cards for my classical Latin and Greek language courses. Here are some great websites to download flashcards:

3. Set your goals for the day.
Take a few minutes to think about your goals for the week. If youre driving, you can record your goals on a digital voice recorder, or use your phones voice mail system.

4. Critique and proof your papers.
If you take public transportation, pull out a paper youre working on and start proofing. Dont just look for grammatical mistakes, but also analyze the argumentation and structure.

5. Review class notes.
Its difficult to get any serious reading done while commuting, so thats why skimming class notes is a great way to stay productive. This is only recommended if you walk to class or take public transportation.

6. Return phone calls and/or text messages.
If you owe anyone a phone call, then you could use this time to make phone calls. You could also take this time to call up classmates and set a time to study.

7. Practice breathing exercises.
An easy way to help you reduce anxiety and stress is to practice deep breathing. There are a number of other benefits like helping you feel more awake, and helping you think more clearly. Its a perfect way to spend your commute.

How do you stay productive during your commute?

Student Blogger Directory

I compiled a list of student bloggers who are focused on writing about college life and student productivity.

This list will continue to grow, so please feel free to email me if youd like to be added.

Please note that Im only listing student blogs that are updated regularly and focused on student productivity and/or life hacking tips.

Ive also linked to this directory of bloggers on my homepage (on the left-hand side).

Pimp Your USB Thumbdrive – 8 Nifty Apps

I carry around a USB thumbdrive at school because Im always using different library computers.

Over the weekend, I discovered 8 useful apps that can be added to a thumbdrive to aid in productivity.

I hope you find some of these useful as well . . .

Encrypt Your Thumbdrive
First off, make sure to encrypt your USB flash drive to protect your information. You can easily secure everything with TrueCrypt – which is a free, open source encryption software. This means nobody can access your info without a password.

OpenOffice.org Portable
If you want access to your office applications: word, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, you should download this office application.

Portable FireFox
Keep your bookmarks, favorite extensions, and passwords with you wherever you go.

HotNotes
Add sticky notes on your desktop and easily transfer them to your next computer.

Pidgin Portable
Take your IM settings and buddy lists with you. It includes support for all the IM networks like AOL, Yahoo, MSN, ICQ and Jabber.

FireFTP Extension
If you want quick access to your FTP, youll love this nifty addition to your thumbdrive.

PeaZip Portable
Compress or uncompress your ZIP files on whatever computer your on.

PortableApps
Ever wish you had your email client, web browser, favorite bookmarks, office suite, and everything else with you at all times? Well, PortableApps is a free program that you can install on your thumbdrive which will give you access to whatever programs/files you have on your personal computer wherever you go.

What do you put on your USB thumbdrive?

Can An Ergonomic Workspace Boost Your Academic Performance?

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

We all know that spending too many hours in front of a computer can result in a stiff neck and leg pain, but sitting in the wrong chair or using a desk that is the wrong height can result in musculoskeletal problems, fatigue, muscle/ligament/disc strain, and more issues that can affect your academic performance. In this post, we look into recent findings on the relationship between ergonomics and school performance and suggest ways to improve your chances of success.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics involves the study of the optimal interaction between people and the products they use. Studies have shown that it is important to harmonize furniture dimensions and the measurements of students. As noted by A. Zunjic et al in a study on the role of ergonomics in education, “School furniture is devastatingly inadequate in many cases. Reports by research groups in many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the US, also have raised awareness about the large number of pupils with spinal cord problems.”

How can ergonomics affect your grades?

Studies have shown that poorly designed furniture can negatively affect students’ behavior. It can also lead to lower back pain and scoliosis. Research has also shown that chairs and desks that are the wrong height can lead to fatigue. Around 64% of recently reviewed studies show that ergonomic furniture design improves physical responses and academic performance. The specific design features that enhanced performance included sit-stand furniture, high furniture, and tilt tables and seats (which put less stress on the spine when students lean forward to perform work). In particular, desks with a 15º inclination reduced forward head tilts and neck and trunk flexion, thus improving comfort. As noted by researchers, “In requiring a child to sit erect at an ordinary desk while reading or writing, we are demanding a physical impossibility.”

Furniture design matters to student health

Schools and colleges should take specific measurements into account when purchasing furniture, including popliteal height (the distance from the underside of the foot to the underside of the thigh at the knees), knee height, buttock-popliteal length (the horizontal distance from the rearmost part of the buttocks to the back of the lower leg) and elbow height, to encourage the proper seating posture. In general, static posture and bending forward for long period strains the muscles, ligaments, and discs.

Improving ergonomics at home

You don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of money to improve your home ergonomics with a desk of an appropriate height. Adjustable desks are key since they will allow you to work at a height recommended for your measurements; there is a bevy of free online guides that will aid with this adjustment. As noted in the above-mentioned review, “It is difficult to encourage proper posture early in life without the support of adjustable chairs, desks, and tables in the classroom.”

Consider a standing desk

Sitting for various hours a day is considered an occupational health hazard. It is also related to psychological symptoms which can interfere with academic performance since it is linked to anxiety and depression. To reduce sitting time, consider a standing desk. Several studies have shown that this type of desk produces powerful cardiovascular benefits. Some studies have also shown improved productivity and enhanced engagement, attention, and absorption when using a standing desk.

Poorly designed furniture can not only result in pain, but also in fatigue, anxiety, and other conditions that can interfere with a student’s ability to concentrate and complete the tasks at hand. Ergonomics should be a major priority at schools and colleges, but they should also be an aim for individual students who study or work at home. Adjustable furniture, standing desks, and a greater awareness of the importance of measurement can go a long way towards reducing the devastating effects of poorly designed chairs and desks.

Group Projects: How to Deal with Different Personality Types

In this guest post, GreekForMe.com provides tips to help students deal with different personality types in your school group projects.

High school teachers and college professors just seem to adore group projects, don’t you think? After all, there’s nothing like teamwork!

Well, if you’ve been part of a group project, you know they’re a lot harder than they look. Working as team is a challenge, and not just for the work involved – the hardest part is juggling all the different personalities.

We have a hunch that learning to work well with our peers might just be the real reason why teachers on insist on group projects. Long before we found ourselves pursuing our dream jobs in the Greek Clothing industry, we were high school and college students just like you, and our experience taught us a thing or two about those faces you’re seeing around the library table.

Larry The Leader
Every group has a Larry. He’s that guy that just seems to take control from the start, saying hello to everyone, reading the project directions, and starting to divvy assignments. Let Larry do his thing, but understand that most Larry’s have a details problem. He’ll happily work out the big picture and be the spokesperson of your project, but you need to help him out by laying out specific roles, deadlines, and the small details of the projects. He (or she!)’s natural habitat is the head seat at your gathering spot.

Introverted Isabella
Isabella is a major asset to the group, so don’t take her quiet demeanor as lacking any group qualities. Sure, she may not want to be the one presenting the project or speaking up during group meetings, but assign her a role and task, and she’ll run with it and get it done. Make it a point to specifically ask her for her opinion and ideas, rather than expecting her to pipe up. She might blush, but she’ll be thankful you sought her opinion – and so will you!

Cooperative Chris and Carrie
You’ll usually have a few of this type, which is great, as they’ll make up the backbone of your group and are the easiest personality type to deal with in a group setting. Chris and Carrie will share their ideas and understand your vision, and although they may not always create new ideas, they will certainly carry out the group’s plan and get it done on time. These two do need to be challenged, so give them the rough plan, and allow them to run with it and put their own stamp on it.

Free Riding Randy
Uh oh. Randy is that guy or girl in your group who either really doesn’t care, or has so much going on that they just don’t have that much time to invest in the group. If he or she is of the not caring type, take the (often frustrating) time to continually remind him or her of meeting times, speak directly to Randy at meetings, and specifically ask for task updates. It’s never fun to have to be someone’s source of structure, but Larry the Leader will need to be just that for Randy. If Randy simply has too much going on to do much for the project, instead of overwhelming Randy will large tasks, give him a series of small tasks. This presents itself as more doable in light of his busy schedule, but still equals out to someone with a more extended task.

These are just a handful of group personality types what kind of group project personalities have you had the opportunity to get to know? How did you deal with them and make that personality type work for your group? Share the nitty gritty with us!

5 ways how nutrition unexpectedly influences your productivity

You might think your productivity is down to being disciplined and following the advice in self-help
books. The thing is, there are a lot more things that can influence your productivity than that. For
example, our environment can play a huge role in how productive we are, with certain
environmental cues either pushing us to do more or less, depending on what they are.

Similarly, what we eat can have a huge impact on our productivity, with it influencing energy levels,
concentration and a whole slew of other things. And that makes sense. After all, you literally are
what you eat (okay and drink and breathe). Nothing else can be used to build you and nothing else
can be used to keep you (or distract you) from the task at hand.

So then the big question is, what foods actually affect our productivity and how do they do it?

Sugar

It always amazes me how many students guzzle and gorge sugar as they study. Don’t they realize
what they’re doing to themselves? For if you want to undermine your productivity then there really
is very little else you can do than have a sugary drink.

Why? Because of how the body reacts to it, of course. Sugar, or carbohydrates is energy (sugar is
known as ‘empty calories’). But it’s not energy in the way that putting fuel in a car is energy. Fuel can
just sit there and wait. When we eat and drink, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, with us the fuel
immediately gets processed.

That causes an excess of calories in our body. In order to process these calories the body will
produce a large amount of insulin. These will process and shred the extra energy. The only problem?
They go too far and pull too much sugar out of our systems. This leads you to then have a sugar
crash.

Fiber, protein and quality fats

So no carbohydrates, you’re thinking. Please don’t think that. We do need energy. We just have to
make sure that it’s the right kind of energy. We want carbohydrates that instead of quickly release,
like sugar (and white flour and similar processed products), release more slowly.

The good news is they exist. Some examples are eggs, quinoa, sweet potatoes and whole grains.
These take time to digest and release energy slowly as they do so. In this way, eating these for
breakfast or having a go at them several times through the day can really up your energy levels for
many of hours afterwards. And that, in turn raised productivity and improves writing and creativity.

You shouldn’t just worry about energy

You see, food doesn’t just affect our energy levels. It also affects our mood. Some foods have a
generally positive affect on how we feel. Others do not. How do you tell the difference? Well,
generally if people say you shouldn’t eat a certain food because it’s junk food or candy, then
unsurprisingly it isn’t just bad for your waistline, but also for how you’re feeling in your head.

And as how you’re feeling in your head also decides how you’re going to feel about doing what
you’re supposed to do, that matters.

A varied and healthy diet is the first step to a productive and happy life

Yes, I know that you’re busy and yes I know that eating well is something that takes time and effort.
At the same time, as it directly and effectively stretches out the amount of time you can dedicate to
being productive and focused, it is most certainly worth investing that time and energy.

To help yourself do that, don’t wait too long with eating. This is what a lot of people do. They are so
busy being productive, they only realize they’re hungry when there is already an energy crisis in the
body. They then have a desperate urge for the types of food which quickly restore their energy
levels – which are things like junk food.

A much better solution is to start your day by preparing a whole bunch of foods that have slow-
release properties, like fruit, nuts and wholegrain snacks. Then, during the day, graze on these. This
will make sure that you have the energy you need to keep going and will make sure you avoid the
crisis whereby you suddenly have an urge for the food that undermines your productivity.

About The Author

Amanda Sparks, pro writer and head of content at Essay Supply, lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. Analogue at birth, digital by design.

Follow me on LinkedIn.

How to Stop Procrastinating: 4 Steps to Finally Getting That Project Done

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We all have items on our list that we dont want to do.

And some projects end up staying on our to do list for weeks or even months.

Here are four ways to help you get that research paper or project done in a timely fashion:

1. Assign a realistic deadline for yourself.
The first step to stop procrastinating is to set a realistic deadline for yourself. Research has shown that our performance to complete a task increases as deadlines shorten, but performance declines if the deadline is too brief (Journal of Management).

So write down a realistic date next to your projects and visualize yourself completing it. Make sure the date you assigned is realistic otherwise youre setting yourself up for failure, which can just drive anxiety up and lessen the likelihood youll actually accomplish it.

Once youve set your deadline, create calendar alerts for yourself and reminders to stay on track. I like to set alerts for myself with Google Calendar to keep my momentum going.

2. Break-up big projects into tiny ones.
One reason we dont work on a project is because some are too big (and so we keep pushing it away hoping it will go away). However, just by breaking a big project into small projects can help you build momentum and motivation for finishing.

For example, if I set a goal to write a book in 6 months, it can seem like a difficult project to achieve. However, if I plan on writing just one page a day, I could have a 180 page book done in 6 months easily. Thinking about accomplishing a small task each day is a better way to think about finishing a large project.

3. Ask others to get involved.
One way to spur you further and to ensure youll accomplish your goal is to get another person involved. Have someone check with you to see how youre project is going.

The idea that you need to report on your progress can give you just the right amount of motivation to keep moving on your project. So bring another person in if youre very serious about accomplishing a big goal on time.

4. Reward yourself for accomplishing projects.
One key to helping you complete a task that has been stuck on your to do list is to motivate yourself to get it done. Reward yourself in some way for accomplishing the goal and consider even writing the reward next to the due date. Giving yourself a reward can provide just the push you need to help you achieve your goal and stop procrastinating.

According to Harvard Business Review, Regina Conti, an associate professor of psychology at Colgate University and an expert in motivation, provides the example of doing your taxes. A person may want to complete their taxes to avoid the legal penalties of not doing so, but because those penalties are far in the future and the task is a boring one, they will not have much incentive to get started with the project, she says.

To make a task feel more immediate, focus on short-term rewards, such as getting a refund. Or if there arent any, insert your own. Treat yourself to a coffee break, or a quick chat with a co-worker once youve finished a task.

So what about you? How do you fight procrastination and achieve your goals?

Let me know what works for you.

Further Research on Procrastination: