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.

Why there are no shortcuts to examination preparation

This is a contribution by Lucy Wyndham.

Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

The college test season is upon us with the first ACT tests in the bag and the next set of papers available to take on April 14th. After years of dominance the numbers of students taking the SAT has fallen behind the ACT, and now more than two million students take the tests. With the rise in numbers, the need to do better than your peers is greater than ever.

Why cramming means nothing

Revision is, for many, a misnomer. To revise means to revisit what is already known. If you are having to do late-night cramming sessions before a test don’t kid yourself that you are revising. Cramming is the stuffing of facts into the short-term memory in the hope that they will be the right things needed on the examination. The ACT and its rival SAT do not check facts but require you to have an understanding of the topics that you can apply in practical ways. There is nothing wrong with revisiting older learning in the weeks running up to a test but this will only truly help you if you knew and understood the topics before revising. A far better use of your time is to ensure you learn and understand every topic as it is taught and frequently revisit it but not to refresh your knowledge but instead to insert new learning into a growing framework of understanding.

Raw learning is sometimes far more important

If, however, you have blocks of information or key equations that just won’t stick there are no shortcuts to memorizing them you’ll have to go old school. When you learned to read and write the only way to make it stick was to do it over and over again. Flash cards, memory games and the old fashioned mainstay of just writing it out repeatedly are the only way that really work. Parrot-fashion learning has fallen out of fashion (and quite rightly with understanding being fundamentally more important) but when it comes to raw, powerful, intense recall there is nothing that beats it. Remember that actors learn lines by reading them out over and over again. Doctors learn medicine and lawyers recall cases through flashcards – it may seem childish but it works.

Remember that practice makes perfect

You’ve put the effort in and solidly learned the key facts through repetition. You’ve stalwartly taken this knowledge and transformed it into understanding through mind-maps and deeper reading… so are you ready for the big day? Not in the least.

Understanding and deeper learning requires cognitive conflict and quite frankly you need to be sure that your understanding is correct. From a much more practical standpoint you also need to become intimately familiar with the way in which you will be tested on your understanding. There is no substitute in the world for taking past examination papers, and with free ACT practice papers available on the internet, that’s more easier than ever. Revision requires knowledge and understanding; not just the knowledge and understanding you are revisiting but a clear knowledge of what you do not know properly and this can only be determined through testing.

Didn’t you get the message? There is no final cramming session. There is no shortcut to success. Revisit, redraft, flashcard and memorise as you go. Link concepts together and read deeper. Understand rather than just learn. And then test yourself over and over again.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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?

Top 20 RSS Feed Readers You Should Know About

Now that the school semester just ended, its time to catch up on some reading.

Im a big fan of Google Reader, but there are a bunch of other great RSS readers out there.

Heres a nifty collection of RSS readers you may not know about:

Desktop-based feed reader for Windows.

An RSS reader based on Ajax. Very simple, clean interface.

Organize, save, and share all your favorite feeds and its completely free.

Fastladder claims to help you read the most amount of feeds in the shortest time-frame.
Allows you aggregate RSS feeds like a typical reader – and allows you to leave comments on blog posts without leaving the site.

Get your RSS feeds sent directly to your Windows desktop. Requires Microsoft Windows.

A desktop-based feed reader. Its like a feed reader in Microsoft Outlook.

Free online feed reader that lets you save items locally and covert posts to PDF or print format.

Organize your feeds into folders, share with friends, save your favorites, and add notes to any post you want. My favorite.

It automatically stores all your feeds locally, so you have access to the feeds even if the site is down. It also integrates nicely into

Its a personal page like Netvibes that has a SpeedFeed Reader application.

MSN Start
A typical personalized page (a la iGoogle) where you can add feeds of your favorite sites.

My Yahoo
A personalized page that allows you to add your RSS feeds.

A clean-lookin personalized page that allows you subscribe to feeds. I have several friends who like using Netvibes because of the sweet interface.

A web-based feed reader that is Mobile/PDA enabled.

The site offers a free web-based RSS feed reader – and a desktop version that integrates into Microsoft Office.

A simple RSS reader – similar to Google Reader.

A nice lightweight RSS feed reader extension for Firefox.

A free RSS feed reader for your MAC desktop.

Visually-appealing RSS feed reader that lets you scroll through feeds with your mouse wheel.

And if you dont know how RSS readers work, heres a great video that shows you the benefits of subscribing to your favorite web content:

Please let me know of any others that I missed.

Ill be glad to add them here.

The Nuts and Bolts of Time Management

If youve been reading productivity blogs for a while, you probably already know the basics of time management:

  • Making your “To Do” list
  • Focusing on one task/goal at a time
  • Creating deadlines for yourself
  • Rewarding yourself for accomplishing your goals
  • Avoiding procrastination
  • Making time to relax

Its easy to understand these basics, but its another to actually apply them in real-world situations.

As you know, its very easy to lose focus on our daily goals – especially with email,, Google Reader, yada, yada, yada.

So thats why Ive found these online resources on time management very practical:

Managing Your Time
Dartmouth developed a nifty list of online resources for time management. The article includes links to a time management video, planning documents, and free calendars to download in both Word and Excel.

Beating Procrastination
The best way to defeat procrastination is to identify it the moment its happening. This article provides 3 practical steps to overcome this weakness in all of us.

10 Tips for Time Management in a Multitasking World
Even though this article is focused on todays office environment, it definitely fits with the life of a busy student.

12 Hours to Better Time Management developed a great article on time management. Pay close attention to the first section that discusses how to set up your calendars.

61 Time Saving Tips
This article starts by saying that You DO have enough time for everything and then gives you a laundry list of ways to help you accomplish all your goals.

8 Ways to Avoid Managing Your Time Effectively
Sometimes it helps to read the opposite advice to think clearly about what were doing to waste time.

Time Management Principles for Students
The University of Minnesota Duluth compiled this list of time management strategies for students. Simple and practical.

TimeTracker is an online tool to help you track the time you spend on each of your tasks. It can help keep you on focused – which is helpful when you need to write a lengthy paper.

Time Management [Video] – Randy Pausch
This lecture was recorded at the University of Virginia – and runs over an hour. Its both informative and entertaining.

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


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:

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?


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

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 One Student Earned 2 Bachelors Degrees in 3 Semesters with a 3.9 GPA

I hope final exams and papers are going well for everyone. I havent posted this last week because Ive been busy with finals too.

I read a fascinating article this last week from Steve Pavlinas blog on how he managed to earn two Bachelors degrees in 3 semesters, while maintaining a 3.9 GPA.

Here are some highlights from his article that focuses on time management:

  • I believe that having a clear goal is far more important than having a clear plan. In school I was very clear about my end goal graduate college in only three semesters but my plans were in a constant state of flux. Every day I would be informed of new assignments, projects, or tests, and I had to adapt to this ever-changing sea of activity. If I tried to make a long-term plan for each semester, it would have been rendered useless within 24 hours.
  • Instead of using some elaborate organizing system, I stuck with a very basic pen and paper to-do list. My only organizing tool was a notepad where I wrote down all my assignments and their deadlines. I didnt worry about doing any advance scheduling or prioritizing. I would simply scan the list to select the most pressing item which fit the time I had available. Then Id complete it, and cross it off the list.
  • If I had a 10-hour term paper to write, I would do the whole thing at once instead of breaking it into smaller tasks. Id usually do large projects on weekends. Id go to the library in the morning, do the necessary research, and then go back to my dorm room and continue working until the final text was rolling off my printer. If I needed to take a break, I would take a break. It didnt matter how big the project was supposed to be or how many weeks the professor allowed for it. Once I began an assignment, I would stay with it until it was 100% complete and ready to be turned in.
  • To work effectively you need uninterrupted blocks of time in which you can complete meaningful work. When you know for certain that you wont be interrupted, your productivity is much, much higher. When you sit down to work on a particularly intense task, dedicate blocks of time to the task during which you will not do anything else. Ive found that a minimum of 90 minutes is ideal for a single block.
  • During one of these sacred time blocks, do nothing but the activity thats right in front of you. Dont check email or online forums or do web surfing. If you have this temptation, then unplug your Internet connection while you work. Turn off your phone, or simply refuse to answer it.
  • You can probably find numerous opportunities for multitasking. Whenever you do something physical, such as driving, cooking, shopping, or walking, keep your mind going by listening to audio tapes or reading.
  • If you want to master time management, it makes sense to hone your best time management tool of all your physical body. Through diet and exercise you can build your capacity for sustained concentrated effort, so even the most difficult work will seem easier.
  • While in college I could not afford to let my enthusiasm fade, or Id be dead. I quickly learned that I needed to make a conscious effort to reinforce my enthusiasm on a daily basis. I would listen to time management and motivational tapes. I also listened to them while jogging every morning. I kept my motivation level high by reinforcing my enthusiasm almost hourly. Even though I was being told by others that I would surely fail, these tapes were the stronger influence because I never went more than a few hours without plugging back in.

Read the full article . . .

How to Save Time in School

Here are some easy ways to help you save time – and stay more productive when the Spring semester begins:

Get up 30 minutes early.
By simply waking up 30 minutes earlier, you’re giving yourself time in the morning to accomplish some tasks early.

Plan your clothes at night.
Decide what you’re going to wear the night before.

Pack a breakfast and/or lunch.
If you’re going to be out all day, save time by preparing your meal the day before – that way you don’t need to visit a fast food restaurant. You’ll save time and eat healthier.

Avoid unnecessary trips to the library.
When you need to write a research paper, plan for a research day where you gather all the information you need in one day. Don’t leave the library until you’ve found all the info you need.

Buy groceries once every two weeks.
Try to save time by only visiting the grocery store once every two weeks.

Make large dinners.
Try to make extra large dinners so that you have plenty of leftovers for lunches or other meals throughout the week.

Avoid buying a morning coffee.
You can save yourself 10 to 15 minutes a day by brewing your own coffee rather than by buying it at your favorite coffee shop. This will save you time and money

What are some other ways you save time?