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Here’s a top 10 list for defeating distraction at college.  What would you add?

  1. Recognize distraction as a growing problem—and not just for college students. Learning strategies to manage your time and attention will pay dividends for the rest of your life
  2. Use pen and paper for note taking, not your computer, in class lectures (you are going to class, right?).
  3. Multitasking is a super power and you’re not a super hero. Focus on one thing at a time. Your brain (and memory) will thank you.
  4. Stake out your cave­: the place where no one can find you and you can get some serious work done. Think the top floors of the library stacks, the quiet end of the anthropology building, etc.
  5. Turn off notifications for social media—the fewer dings, the better for your attention. Social media companies spend a lot of money to make even more money figuring out how to grab your attention.
  6. Use Sunday to get a head start on the rest of the week. Time spent productively on Sunday will set you up for a less-stressful week.
  7. Whenever possible, read from real books and not a computer screen (digital pages are minefields of distraction).
  8. Set a timer for 50-minute study blocks—then reward yourself with 10 minutes to do whatever you want.
  9. No texting in class! Professors report a strong inverse correlation between students who text (yes, they can see you texting) and academic performance. You might even learn about inverse correlations if you pay attention and ask a question or two.
  10. STUDY AT THE LIBRARY—NOT YOUR ROOM!

Anchored Focus Consulting offers the Academic Success Lab providing college students with surefire techniques to defeat distraction and achieve success.  To learn more, contact Anchored Focus or call 888-865-5316.

Cal Newport’s How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students includes among its 75 short chapters not only those pearls of wisdom handed down by parents since the beginning of time (#4 – Make Your Bed and #59 – Eat Healthy) but also some truly counterintuitive strategies passed along from today’s college superstars (#1 – Don’t Do All Your Reading and #12 – Avoid Daily To-Do Lists).

 

As someone looking for information to share with new college students on how to be successful, I found the insights on study systems and navigating the college bureaucracy particularly useful.  The amount of material required in a college curriculum is so overwhelming that students who don’t figure out their study strategies early on get swept under in the flood of information.  Also valuable were the specific tips for developing writing skills and staying on top of those long-term projects (the “downright evil” papers of 11-20 pages described in #41 – Use Three Days to Write a Paper).

 

I was also impressed to see the psychological health of college students addressed in a number of chapters as much of doing well in school is developing strategies to recover from the inevitable disappointments and establishing strong rituals for self-care (#29 – Find an Escape and #36 – Exercise Five Days a Week).  My favorite was #11 – Do One Thing Better Than Anyone Else You Know.  Building a strong sense of identity and self-confidence (which comes with owning a singular skill) carries you through so many of life’s low points and takes away the power of others to dictate your mood. An internally-regulated self-worth, as opposed to being dependent on the approval of others, provides the buffer necessary for success in a world where digital comparisons often leave us feeling lacking.

 

For me, the most important take-away from Newport’s guide was to recognize college is not just an isolated four-year period to be completed before moving on to the next phase of life but can be a tremendous opportunity to build for the future.  The habits and tactics used to navigate college successfully served as a springboard to a lifetime of accomplishment.  The students interviewed by Newport were not waiting for their lives to begin – they started fast during those college years and gained a tremendous advantage for the rest of their lives (another strategy, #73 – Start Fast, End Slow).

 

For more on succeeding at college, sign up for the August 2018 Academic Success Lab!

 

Source: Newport, Cal.  How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets from the Country’s Top Students.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.

Well-developed executive functioning skills are absolutely essential for academic and professional success.  Without the consistent ability to start work, complete assignments, learn effectively and remain positive in spite of disappointments, the pace and quantity of work demanded in today’s universities and workplaces quickly overwhelms. College, in particular, presents risks as students often enter without fully-matured brains (the frontal cortex, site of many executive function processes, continues to develop up to age 25) and usually encounter a much less-structured lifestyle than during the high school years.  The demands for organizational skills, time management, planning, scheduling and maintaining emotional balance are tremendous during this time and students without strong executive functioning struggle.  According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, more than 40% of college students fail to graduate after six years of full-time study.  Most disheartening, one in three college freshmen fail to return after their first year. For those who don’t succeed, the repercussions are enormous in terms of lost earning potential and stalled career plans.  In 2014, the Pew Research Center examined the economics of obtaining a college degree and had these findings:

  • A college education is worth more today
  • College benefits go beyond earnings
  • College grads are more satisfied with their jobs
  • The cost of not going to college has risen
  • College grads say college is worth it
  • College majors matter

Certainly money and lack of academic preparation are major factors in the poor retention and graduation rates but consistently the lack of time management and other executive function skills are noted by researchers and students themselves as barriers to success.  Very few college students have not had some exposure to the topic of time management and have no doubt heard the warnings of how important organizing their time will be and yet still neglect to employ the techniques and practices associated with productivity and success.

Given that very few are motivated to fail and recognize the stakes at play for the future, why is it so difficult to pull it together and take control of time and lives?

While there exists a large amount of research and knowledge of time management principles, transferring this information to actionable habits and positive results has been lacking and for those dealing with significant distraction and lost focus, the stakes are high in terms of lost opportunity for a college education or professional achievement.

More about Anchored Focus’ innovative approach to building life-changing commitment and strategies to achieve personal productivity and success in my next post.

You know the feeling. You’ve got a big assignment with a fast-approaching deadline and you just can’t focus. Everything but the task is screaming for your attention and winning. There are long-term strategies we’ll address in future posts, but for now, here are five quick tips to get back on track fast!

  1. Set a timer.
    Start with an amount you know you can manage: 10 or 15 minutes. Once the timer starts, do nothing but the task at hand. Even if you find yourself re-reading the same paragraph or re-writing the same sentence, the goal is to keep on task until the timer sounds. When the timer goes off, treat yourself to 5 minutes of any activity of your choosing. Then set the time again and start the task again. You may find you can increase the amount of time gradually and may even work through the timer!
  2. Take a walk.
    Get your blood flowing back into your brain with a quick walk around the block or climb up some stairs. Too much sitting in one place deprives our brains of much-needed oxygen. Moving the body wakes up our circulation and restores our energy supply.
  3. Take a deep breath.
    If leaving your desk is not possible, deep breathing is possible anywhere. Start by breathing in for five silent counts and then breathing out for five silent counts. As you become more comfortable with your inhalation and exhalation, try extending the counting to six, seven or eight counts in and out. Try holding for a slight moment at the top and then release. The calming effect of deep breathing replenishes your focus and clears out extraneous thoughts.
  4. Make a list.
    If there are just too many thoughts running around in your head, take five minutes to make a list of all those items. Writing down all those thoughts removes them from your short-term memory and frees up that space for the task at hand.
  5. Drink water.
    Your brain is 75% water and dehydration is a major cause of poor concentration. At the first sign of inattention ordrowsiness, reach for your water bottle or glass and drink. Water brings much-needed oxygen to the brain.

Download Refocus Reminders and keep them close to where you work for instant inspiration when you find your energy flagging. Let us know of what else works for you when you need to refocus fast!

 

If you find yourself frequently complaining about how “time flies,” perhaps it’s time to find out just where those minutes, hours, days and years are flying off to.

Do a reality check by keeping a detailed record for one entire week of exactly what you do for those 168 hours, or if you’d like to get really granular, 10,080 minutes.

After you have one week of data, do a quick analysis of those hours.  Highlight time spent tending to your body’s physical needs in green (think “life”).  Time spent sleeping, preparing and eating meals, bathing, and dressing all come under the category of necessary for human life.

Next, categorize those hours spent working, attending class, or studying and commuting to your job or school.  Let’s use blue for those time commitments required for productive lives.

The rest of the hours can be coded with yellow.  These are your discretionary hours.  What most people notice right away is that there aren’t a lot of discretionary hours left in the week.  Typically, about 48 hours.  And a lot of activity has to fit in those 48 hours like chores, errands, child care, community or spiritual activities, hobbies, family and friends, exercise, entertainment, and just plain relaxing.

No wonder time seems to fly.  Unless you are careful and make conscious decisions about your discretionary 48 hours, it’s easy to have those hours fly away and be left wondering just where the time went.

Recognizing how precious time is as a resource can be difficult. After all, time is not something we see or consume like, for example, jelly beans! Here’s a video that provides just that perspective: The Time You Have (in JellyBeans). Using one jelly bean to represent each day of a typical person’s life, narrator Ze Frank demonstrates visually the treasure of every day of our lives.