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

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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.

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?

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 . . .

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?