Imagine what being a master of your own time would look like.
Maybe for you that would mean no more late nights. No tired mornings. Energy, focus, clarity. You jump into each project with a plan of action and you get it done, quickly. You can say yes to your friends and family. You balance work, school, your social and personal life easily.
You feel good about your accomplishments as you knock them down one at a time.
Success is a recipe you can easily follow and it will make you the master over your time.
When time owns you, often you’ll find yourself struggling to keep up.
Overwhelm, frustration, and disappointment are easily accessed emotions. If you’re not getting “enough” done each day, you’re not in charge of your time, time is in charge of you.
This guide will show you proven strategies for taking control of your time, and your life.
I've been an educator for nearly 20 years, first as a high school history and language teacher, and now more than ten years as a private tutor and study coach. I have spent thousands of hours, one-on-one, with students in middle school, high school, and college, and I have zeroed in on some simple and concrete strategies for helping them manage their independent studies.
As schools begin to close down for extended periods, sometimes moving to remote instruction, a great portion of the responsibility for learning is now in the students' hands. Self-management will be crucial in making these studies effective, and I believe the strategies below will prove useful.
So without further ado -
How To Succeed In School Without Teachers (Or A School)
Creating a plan that is SPECIFIC is key. Sit down, and on paper or screen answer these questions:
WHEN will I do my work?
First, sketch out a broad plan for the coming week using Google calendar...
Ellen’s Rules For Effective Time Management, Part 3
5. Mix up your subjects.
Spending all day working on the same project can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Mixing up your subjects helps the brain to stay engaged, since it can’t fall into the trance of working on the same thing for hours. If you’re writing a paper and starting to feel annoyed or frustrated with it, take a break and work on your math for a bit. You’ll sit back down to the computer feeling refreshed and relaxed, even if you haven’t stopped for more than fifteen minutes at a time all day.
6. Make the delineations between subjects clear and firm.
When mixing up your subjects, keep them distinct and separate from each other. Take a short break between subjects, or place the rest of your notebooks on the other side of the room so that you’re forced to get up and move around in order to change subjects. Give your brain several minutes to clear and reorganize for the next...
Your elementary school-aged child has been getting good grades and seems to enjoy school. Homework is getting done. Text and quiz scores are all "A" and "B." Then your child begins middle school or junior high school and suddenly you realize that your elementary school scholar is a complete mess. Homework, which you know was done, isn't getting handed in. You find yourself saying, "When were you going to tell me that this project which is worth 1/2 of your grade is due on Monday and you need all these supplies?" Is it just the approach of the teen years or is something else going on?
The answer is - it's a little bit of both. Elementary school-aged students often depend on their memory to store and recall information. They seem to be very bright and they don't seem to need to study very much. However, when the workload of middle school or junior high falls upon them, if the only study skill they have learned is to rely on their...
No one likes to mess up, but going to great lengths to avoid errors - even when the consequences of making an error are benign - is unlikely to help you learn. In fact, in her review of the literature, Janet Metcalfe makes a compelling argument that making errors while learning - so long as you receive corrective feedback - results in better outcomes than making no errors at all.
Her findings are somewhat counterintuitive. If the goal is to perform flawlessly in high-stakes situations, shouldn't we pursue perfection in order to prepare for them? Early theorists feared that the commission of errors would make it harder to learn the correct response later on. One of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, Albert Bandura, believed that only correct responses should be rewarded; errors, if they occurred, should be ignored. However, what Metcalfe's review of the literature suggests is that errors should be encouraged as part of an active exploratory learning process,...
It's not controversial to aver that procrastination is bad. Most would agree without giving it a second thought.
But what about procrastination is so harmful, and why do we procrastinate when we readily agree we shouldn't?
When I talk about procrastination, I'm talking about delaying an important task despite knowing we will suffer as a result. Why would we do this? The problem seems to have its roots in an inability to manage emotions, and from an overweighting of short-term benefits over long-term costs.
In a landmark 1997 study, Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister rated college students on an established scale of procrastination, then tracked their academic performance, stress, and general health throughout the semester. Initially the procrastinators reported lower levels of stress, presumably because they were enjoying more pleasurable activities in lieu of the work they should have been doing. By the end of the semester, however, the procrastinators earned lower...
It's fairly likely that you've heard someone talk about "mindfulness." It's less likely that you know exactly what mindfulness entails, and even less likely that you've heard of Ellen Langer, the "mother of mindfulness" in Western academia. In fact, even if you Googled mindfulness you'd find credit for its popularity in the West given to a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn. Langer's name doesn't appear anywhere on the first page of Google's results, so you probably wouldn't learn that she earned her PhD and began her line of research around the same time as Kabat-Zinn, and that the groundbreaking nature of her work led her to become the first woman tenured in the Psychology Department at Harvard in 1981. Her research has had profound effects on how we think about everything from aging and mental health to decision-making and learning. So even if you don't know her name, it is likely that in one way or another you are familiar with some of her research. The focus of this...
Many people think of tutoring as a remedial endeavor, but that really isn't the right way to think about it. The fact of the matter is that classroom instruction can never be tailored to individual students, which means that learning is rarely optimal. By necessity, teachers must teach to the middle of the class. The teacher's pace, style, and goals are geared to the class as a whole, not specific students. With private tutoring, on the other hand, lessons can be specifically tailored to the individual student. For students who plan to take the ISEE or SSAT - tests that inevitably include material students have never encountered before - starting early is important. The goal of enrichment tutoring is to ensure students have a strong foundation in the core knowledge areas that will determine how they do on these tests.
When a student is not excelling in a core subject, it is often because the class is moving too quickly, the teacher's style is out of sync with the...
Marshaling the cognitive resources and committing the amount of time required to earn good grades and high test scores takes effort. The rewards from these achievements are often delayed, while the rewards from having fun with your friends, playing video games, interacting on social media, watching tv, etc. are more immediate. What strategies can you use to help overcome this mismatch?
In the framework explored in this paper, the authors propose that the decision to delay gratification is mediated by two systems: a "cool" cognitive system, and a "hot" emotional system. The more the hot system dominates, the more likely you are to succumb to temptation.
Thankfully, as we get older, the cool system matures and thus makes it easier for many of us to delay gratification. We are most vulnerable to the hot system when we are young. You’ve probably seen the marshmallow experiment in which young children are placed in front of a table with a marshmallow...
You might wonder what emotion has to do with learning, and why I am writing a blog about sleep and emotion. If you think about it, though, how you to react challenging situations - the emotions you feel, and the cognitions, physiology, and behaviors that accompany them - can have a profound impact on how you learn. Indeed, emotional reactivity can have a profound impact in multiple domains, but in this blog we will focus on its impact on learning.
Modern neuroscience is not necessary to understand that sleep is fundamentally important. However, it increasingly allows us to understand why that is the case.
Andrea Goldstein and Matt Walker reviewed the literature on sleep and emotion and make a compelling case for the causal role of sleep in optimal affective brain function. For our purposes, I want to focus on the overarching theme of how sleep deprivation diminishes effective emotional reactivity.
When people are sleep deprived for even one night, functional...
When you're studying before a test, the question of how to allocate your study time inevitably arises. What should you study first? Where should you spend the most time? Janet Metcalfe and Nate Kornell designed three clever experiments to find out.
In the first experiment, participants were allowed to choose how to allocate their study time. They were tasked with learning English-Spanish word pairs of varying difficulty (easy, medium, and difficult), under three different timing conditions (5s, 15s, or 60s). In each trial, one pair from each category appeared and participants could choose where to spend their study time. The most important takeaway from this experiment was that, under tight timing conditions, allocating study time to the easiest items was the most effective strategy.
However, Metcalfe suspected that advantage would shift to medium items if participants were forced to spend the bulk of their study time on them. So, in Experiment 2, participants...
We all know we do better when we're well-rested than when we're not. Modern sleep research has started to uncover exactly why that's the case. In terms of memory, there are at least two important reasons to make sure you're getting enough sleep.
First, we better remember what we learned the day before. This is because sleep plays an essential role in the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory. Short-term memory relies heavily on a brain region known as the hippocampus (named after the Greek word for seahorse, given its shape), while long-term memory relies on a broad network of cortical association areas. When we learn new information, the hippocampus is very active, and when we sleep, it turns out that the activity of our hippocampus predicts how well we will remember what we learned when we wake up. Researchers have even found interesting ways to manipulate and improve this process. For example, in one study, experimenters paired the scent of a rose with a spatial...
The Importance of Study Skills
Study, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is the “devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, especially by means of books; a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.” Merriam-Webster defines study as an “application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge”. My personal definition is a combination of both. To study is to devote time and energy/attention to gain an understanding and knowledge of a subject.
Study skills, therefore, are the set of strategies that are used to adequately acquire and gain knowledge about a chosen topic or subject. When we possess these skills or strategies, we are able to increase the efficiency of learning. We are also able to increase the likelihood that what we are to be learning is retained in our long term memory for future use. Which brings us to the definition of learning.
Learning is a lifelong skill, that when successful and...
During the school year, many of the students I work with have jam-packed schedules replete with extracurriculars, sports, and demanding classes. Adding test prep into the mix can complicate schedules even further. So why not take advantage of the time students have off during the summer to get ahead, so that when school resumes they won't have a heavy additional workload to worry about?
There are many reasons why summer classes benefit students. One of the most obvious relates to what is known as the "summer slide." Most students lose about two months of grade-level mathematical proficiency over the summer. In fact, in a
meta-analysis of 39 studies that examined the effect of summer vacation on academic achievement, researchers found that summer break was detrimental for both math and reading skills, and that the amount of deterioration increased with grade-level.
Many times I work with sophomores and juniors in high school...
When I worked for Kaplan, they required all private tutoring lessons to be two hours. That surprised me because I thought of lessons as one-hour affairs. However, I soon discovered that we could get through a lot more in one two-hour lesson than we could in two one-hour lessons.
Why? For starters, each lesson always starts with a few pleasantries and takes a couple of minutes to get going. Furthermore, it usually takes 10-15 minutes for students' minds to warm up and perform at their best. So by the time we are at our best flow, if the lesson is only one hour, we have often already used a significant portion of our lesson time.
For the vast majority of students, I've found that 90-minute lessons work best. With 90-minute lessons, we can go through the warm up period and spend more than an hour at our most productive level. Lessons are long enough to ensure students learn a lot each lesson, but not so long that they are struggling to pay attention by the end.
Sometimes I work with students who perform well during our lessons, but who struggle when it comes to actually taking the test. It turns out the reason for this might be genetic.
When we experience stress, our prefrontal cortex is flooded with dopamine. Some of us are coded with a gene that slowly removes the dopamine, while others have a variant that rapidly removes it. The prefrontal cortex is critical for planning and decision-making, and it performs best when an optimal level of dopamine is maintained. Normally, on many cognitive tests, people with the slow variant of the gene perform better. But in stressful, high-stakes situations the opposite happens: those with the fast variant do better. Thus people with the slow variant have been dubbed Worriers, and those with the fast variant, Warriors.
However, being a Worrier does not mean you will inevitably be a victim of chronic underperformance in stressful situations. In one of the studies...
The Economist recently published an
article with some surprising research findings about stress. Contrary to popular belief, stress is not always bad, nor is it the amount of stress that matters. Rather, the key determinant of its impact on performance and health is largely psychological.
In one study, researchers divided a set of GRE test takers into two groups. Saliva samples were taken to establish baseline stress levels for all participants. Then one group was told that stress during practice exams is natural and can improve performance, while the other group just took the test. Saliva samples were taken at the end of the exam, and the results from both groups indicated similar levels of stress. BUT, the group that had learned stress can be helpful scored higher on the practice test (and, several months later, on the actual GRE) than those who just took the test.
Even more impressively, in 2012 a group of researchers scoured through...
Over the years, I have noticed that many students do not like to take their practice test scores at face value. When students get scores below their goal, the temptation to rationalize is strong.
"On Test Day, I will take it much more seriously, so I'm sure my result will be higher."
"I was distracted during XYZ sections, so my score on those isn't as accurate as it could be."
"I only really focused on the Math sections, that's why I didn't do as well on the others."
"I made a lot of careless mistakes."
I'm not saying these are excuses - it's possible they are accurate explanations - but even still, thinking this way will not serve you well.
For starters, if you're not taking your practice tests as seriously as you would the actual test, that's a problem. The whole point of practice tests is to prepare you for the real thing, so you should treat them as if they are the actual test.
Students are often frustrated when trying to learn a foreign language because they can't organize the material like they are used to doing in other subjects. Language is fluid and we are able to finally understand foreign words when we let go and allow the right side of our brains to take over. Much of understanding is intuitive and contextual, so give yourself permission to guess what is being said or written. The key is to think through the words and let them come alive in your brain, so you can use them later. That's how you learned your native tongue. Grammar should be a supplement to your language acquisition, not the main player. I always recommend online courses with pictures, sound and familiar scenes between actors...like a play on stage, but in German.
You know the German word Kindergarten because you have heard it so many times in the context of your life. That is how you can learn new German words....find a program...
Our understanding of the relationship between memory and learning continues to improve. Why not benefit from the latest research by incorporating some of these findings into your own study habits? I help my students come up with creative ways to do this all the time, and wanted to share one of the more helpful summaries I've come across about what works and what doesn't.
Here are a few highlights:
Link new information to things you already know
Actively participate in your own learning
Create both a visual and a verbal memory for the same information
Whenever possible, study in an environment that is similar to the testing environment
Spread studying out over several days, rather than cramming
Avoid multitasking when learning difficult or dense material
Review information you're trying to memorize right before you go to sleep
Quiz yourself frequently to practice retrieving these memories, making them stronger in the process