Categories
Education Productivity

Algorithms for Every Class (Part 1)

“If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.”

Colonel David Hackworth (Former United States Army Colonel & Military Journalist)

Most of the educational content on my blog is pretty specific and I wanted to try something a little different.

This post is going to be a bunch of seemingly disjointed advice, but they are connected through the idea that they work for all kinds of classes.

Beware the Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge is something I like to keep in mind when it comes to understanding our educators and ourselves. The Curse of Knowledge is the idea that — once we know something, it’s extremely difficult for us to imagine what it’s like not to know it.

This is why a lot of educators can skip over simple concepts when teaching complicated subjects. It’s easy to assume that our understanding is the same as everyone else’s, if fact that most people’s default way of communicating. Someone who’s blinded by the Curse of Knowledge would probably think something like “This made sense to me, so it must make sense to them.”

People around us don’t know what we know and we can’t assume they do. If we find ourselves in a position to teach, then we have to make a conscious effort not to “burn down the schoolhouse” after we learn something.

Everyone Has Something to Teach

We will never go far by pre-judging people – try to learn from everyone we can. A few years ago, I adopted the idea that everyone has something to teach me and because of that I’ve made more meaningful connections and learned so many fascinating things.

Self-education is a big value of mine and it’s something that I want my students to be able to effectively participate in. The key to self-education is being open to lessons from all around us and that starts by seeing everyone as a potential source of knowledge and wisdom.

Yes, sometimes people waste my time and don’t have something to teach me, but when they do it’s incredibly delightful.

Scheduling is Most Crucial at the Beginning

I’ve written a fair bit about time management and scheduling and I highly recommend checking those posts out here, but there are a few things about scheduling that I want to mention.

Take the time to make schedules for every class. Know when and where the exams are and any significant due dates. When I was in college, I even created a separate calendar for my professor’s office hours so I could easily find out when I could see them. It’s so worth it to have easy access to all the exams and due dates as well as office hours. It makes things so much easier later and we’ll have a lot fewer surprises to deal with.

Syllabus week is a perfect time for creating these schedules and getting situated. Most students treat syllabus week and an extra vacation week but take the 2-3 hours to calibrate yourself and your calendar. Future you will thank you so much when things start getting stressful.

Additionally, the brain is more receptive to changes in schedules and habits at the beginning of every semester. So syllabus week is the time to get adjusted to the changes. Make this tiny sacrifice and the semester will be at least 10x easier, I know this from experience.

Follow the path less travelled.

Playing Teacher’s Pet

This has a bad connotation, but if we want letters of recommendation, potential job hookups after college, or mentorships it’s in our best interest to have a few strategies for being buddy-buddy with our professors. This section is more applicable for college students.

Introduce yourself to the teacher/professor, take time to get to know them, and allow them to get to know you. Do this early on in the term, but don’t just walk up, say hi, and expect them to carry the conversation. We need to take responsibility for our presence and give them something to go off of. Maybe mention a question or a genuine compliment.

Speak up. Teachers like students who are actually people. Being another person floating around in their class is a perfect plan for being forgotten. I know this because I’ve taught many classes. This will also be important for getting letters of rec. Most of the time, letters of recommendation are on statements of character, and character is built through action. Teachers and professors can only speak on who we are and that is created from what we do.

Sit in the 2nd row. Sitting in the back is too secluded and sitting in the front draws too much attention. Let’s be honest, no one likes a try-hard. Plus, the teacher would be more inclined to call on us. Sitting in the second row is conducive to paying more attention, but gives us a little more anonymity.

Get to class early and sit in the same place. Studies show that this helps with retention, plus the professor will notice who cares enough to show up early.

Two Efficiency Tips

Here are two tips that I used to manage the student-work-life balance.

Chunking – breaking big tasks into smaller tasks. This is fantastic whenever I feel overwhelmed. I used this a ton when I was doing my senior design project for my bachelor’s degree. I had to design and project costs and profits for a liquid natural gas plant. The project took the entire semester and I only got through it because of chunking.

Batching – this involves doing similar types of activities at the same time. For example, I don’t wash my clothes every time I use them. I wait until I have a critical mass, then I wash it all at once. I do this to manage my youtube channel and tutoring sessions especially. I also try to batch tutoring sessions – knock out as many of them as I can in a short amount of time rather than scattering them all throughout the week.

Combat Procrastination

Procrastination is a huge topic, but I wanted to include a few tips to help with it. I have a few posts I’ve written that cover topics surrounding procrastination, but I haven’t written a focused post about combating procrastination yet. Here’s a list of the posts that, when read together, could give us an effective arsenal for combating procrastination:

The Myth of Motivation

Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2)

Our Proclivity for Comfort

The Art of Practice

Obviously, no one’s life is going to change off a quote or a few tips, but this could be a starting point.

Pre-screen/pre-read lectures to set up purpose for each class. I used to think that when teachers and professors stated “Objectives” for each lesson was bureaucratic bullshit, but in fact it’s rooted in an idea fundamental to human existence – we are purpose driven creatures. When we do something imbued with purpose, the chatter in our minds falls away, excuses disappear, and obstacles are inconsequential. Pre-reading/pre-screening exposes us to things we don’t know which naturally brings up questions in our minds like “what is that?”, “why did that happen?”, or “what does that phrase mean?” It doesn’t have to take long either, we just need to know what to keep an eye out for when the lesson actually begins.

Just start. It’s much harder to get started than to keep going. Friction is one of the biggest contributors to procrastination and if you’re familiar with physics you know that static friction is usually higher than kinetic friction. Make it a goal to just get started and let momentum take us. It’s surprising how far we can go.

For essays, just write 50 words. In the same vein as the last tip, just getting the first 50 words down is a solid goal. Once we’ve gotten over the activation energy, other sources of motivation can take the reins. Usually when I’m having a hard time writing, I just tell myself to write for 10 minutes or just write 50 words and believe it or not, sometimes I actually forget that original goal and my new source of motivation becomes finish my thought or capturing an idea.

For math problems, just do the first 3 steps. Just like essays, just doing the first few steps can get us going, but the desire to finish what we started can take over fairly easily. When my students have a hard time with complex math problems (problems that take 5-10 steps), I usually just ask them to focus in on the step in front of them. Taking things piece by piece is a great way to get started and make serious progress. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of small incremental improvements. Which leads me into my next tip. –

Break it down and do the easiest thing – it’s surprising how far incremental progress and momentum can take us. When we’re up against complex tasks, it’s easy to put them off simply because we don’t know where to start or because it seems too big. Breaking them down makes them manageable and conquerable.

Extra Credit

Honestly, I stole this idea from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, but the rationale is hard to argue with. Always look for extra credit, always do extra credit. Extra credit boosts your grade way more than normal assignments do. If you don’t believe me, review adding fractions – extra credit only adds to your numerator and not to the denominator.

For example, if I had a class where my grade was 70/100 (70% a C-) and I turned in an assignment for full credit that was worth 30/30 points my grade would be 100/130, which is roughly a 77% still a C. But let’s say that assignment was extra credit (just an additional 30 points) and not part of the graded course work, then our grade would be 100/100, an A+. Regular assignments add to the numerator and denominator, while extra credit just adds to the numerator, which means extra credit is inherently more valuable than regular assignments when it comes to our grades.

Doing extra credit is a better use of our time than doing regular assignments, unless the assignment is heavily weighted.

Categories
Education Productivity

Phasing

“Excellence is the next five minutes, improvement is the next five minutes, happiness is the next five minutes.”

Tim Ferriss (1977 – )

In light of the new semester, I want to go over a method that can help in the majority of classes. I consider this to be a more advanced technique and if you’re new to learning about study methods, I recommend checking out my Strategies for Better Studying posts: 1, 2, 3, & 4.

This technique is called phasing and it’s designed to maximize results with minimal effort. Something to keep in mind about phasing is that it does require stellar academic skills upfront. The better the student one is, the less they have to work, so long as they know the right techniques.

During my last few years in college, I started to try this phasing technique. It took me a while to get down, but once I got it I was rarely ever stressed about my classes or exams and I was getting higher grades than ever before! Once I got my phasing system down, exam season and finals week were the most stress-free times of the semester.

Honestly, finals week should be the easiest week of the semester.

I remember one night my friends wanted to go out and celebrate someone’s birthday the night before I had my electricity and magnetism physics final.

Do you know what I did?

I partied my face off with them and still dominated that test. I got an A in the class and I wasn’t nervous about it one bit. This is all thanks to phasing. (Trust me, physics E&M was not a class that came easy to me at all)

Before we really dive in, I want to get two things out of the way early on. First, there is no substitute for hard work. For every class, there is a minimal amount of work necessary to receive a certain grade and there’s no way around it. If we want an A in a class, then we’ll have to do A level work. We can’t get As with D effort, but we don’t have to totally kill ourselves over the As either. Phasing helps with keeping the work limited to only what we absolutely HAVE to do.

Leave the busy work for those who pretend to make progress.

Second is sacrificing the present for the future is worthwhile. In order for phasing to be effective, we have to be able to keep our future selves in mind. Taping into the part of us that is capable of sacrifice is crucial for phasing to work its magic.

What is phasing?

Phasing involves breaking up the semester into 3 fundamental phases: Frontload, Review, and Relax. I love phasing because (if executed properly) it maximizes performance and requires far less effort than just “trying to get through the semester.”

I also love phasing because it follows the “natural curve of motivation” throughout the term. In the beginning, most students are highly motivated and well-rested but as the semester goes on students tend to get lazier and lazier. I know that’s true for me. I felt that way every semester without fail.

Frontloading

Frontloading is taking the entire load of the semester and moving it to the front, typically the first 1/3. For example, let’s say we wanted to frontload a class that was 3 months long, then we would plan to go over all of the class material in the first month. Now, this isn’t easy and it’s why I brought up the two points I did earlier. Frontloading is difficult, but at least this way we put the toughest part of the semester on the time when we are the most resilient. Remember, we can’t get As with D level work, but the sacrifice is worthwhile. Frontloading is a serious undertaking, but when the end of the semester comes and we’re not feeling as motivated we’ll be so happy you did it.

Honestly, frontloading was something that took me a few semesters to get down properly. It was easy to fall into the fallacy that it’s much easier to just learn and perfect the concepts throughout the semester rather than bust it frontloading. Until one semester, I finally stayed on top of the frontloading and I was getting the grades without any of the stress.

It’s critical to keep in mind that the goal of frontloading is not to take the whole class in a third of the time but to be familiar with all the topics covered. This is the difference between frontloading working properly and being more trouble than it’s worth.

When we’re frontloading, we do not need to be proficient in each topic, we just need to be familiar. The first 1/3 of the semester is for building the neural pathways necessary to kick ass. The rest of the time is dedicated to strengthening them. I talk about building neural pathways in my posts The Brain and The Mind (Part 1) & Neural Pruning vs. Long-Term Potentiation and strengthening them in my post, Active Recall & Spaced Repetition.

Earlier I said that this technique takes less effort than just taking the semester as it comes. So why am I suggesting to put in extreme levels of effort into the first 1/3 of the term if it’s already difficult to just keep up? Because in the long run, it will require less effort.

We are simply paying out dues upfront. There’s no substitute for hard work.

Frontloading Techniques

Frontloading is hard and can seem impossible if it’s not approached systematically. Do not just wing it and try to learn everything 3 times faster. That’s a guaranteed way to crash and burn out. Instead, take the time to plan it out. Take time. Don’t worry if it takes a few days to plan it out. Clearly articulate checkpoints and goals. Define a successful day and define failure.

When I took my second semester of o-chem, I couldn’t afford the textbook so I had to pay careful attention to what concepts I was responsible for learning and how long I had to learn them. I’ll go into how I handled this class into more detail later, but for my frontloading phase, I took the time to write down which mechanisms I needed to learn each day. When I was making the schedule I had no idea what an aldol condensation or a Diels–Alder reaction was, but I knew that next Thursday I’m going to figure them out. I also tried my best to not put too much pressure on myself to learn these reactions perfectly, I just simply wrote down the questions I had when I couldn’t figure things out (which was pretty often). When making these schedules, keep in mind the days and times which you will have access to someone who could easily explain the information to you. I try to get all the front loading in before the last review session with a tutor or teacher so any knowledge holes can be filled.

Also, keep this in mind when you start creating your frontloading schedule — trying to learn something proficiently every month is much more difficult than learning a bunch of things and spending 3 months trying to improve. Learning and proficiency take time.

When frontloading be sure to create a running list of questions. This is going to be invaluable later. Write all the questions you get while you’re frontloading. Write down everything that is confusing to you. This will capture your own unique understanding of the concept. If you can find the answers, write them down too.

Frontloading is by far the most cumbersome phase.

Review

Once we’ve reached the review phase, it’s all downhill. Reviewing can be challenging, but it is much less taxing than creating new neural pathways. Especially when study techniques are modified with the principles in mind to fit each unique situation. I highly recommend checking out my post, Active Recall & Spaced Repetition, that goes over the fundamental principles of learning more and studying less. The goal of this phase is to strengthen the neural connections created from the frontloading phase. This is when we become concerned with proficiency and excellence.

So how do we know when it is time to review?

There are two different situations when I could stop the frontloading phase and move onto the review. The first is when I finish going over all of the scheduled concepts. Maybe going over the concepts was challenging, but I was able to develop a basic understanding of the idea.

The second is when I get stuck on understanding a new concept and I will need support from a tutor or a professor. Maybe the concepts were too complicated for me to grasp on my own and I’ll need outside support.

What do we actually review when the time comes?

Remember that list of questions I said to make earlier? This is when creating those questions from the frontloading phase comes in handy. That list of questions contains all of the potholes of our specific understanding and it is a great place to start reviewing.

Studying the homework assignments and practice questions assigned by the teacher are also other great ways to strengthen these newly formed neural pathways. If you don’t have access to those, or if your class doesn’t operate that way, there are tons of practice questions online from other educational resources. All you need to know is the name of the topic or concept that you’re trying to practice and the rest is cake.

Final Thoughts on the Review Phase

Similar to frontloading, I recommend the review phase be scheduled out. Clearly articulate checkpoints and goals. Define a successful day and define failure. Take the time to create this plan, it will keep chaos at bay.

On that note, it’s worthwhile to know when the 2nd to last day that you will have access to outside help is and plan accordingly. I brought up this idea in the frontloading phase, but it’s critical to get it right in the review phase. We should make sure that our schedule (this includes spill days) can handle reviewing all of the material before the 2nd to last day of the lecture or 2nd to last office hours. Yes, this means we have to be extremely responsible with your time. I don’t recommend saving the unanswerable questions for the last office hours, everyone else is trying to get their questions in too and there’s a chance of not being able to ask a question at all. Everyone always tries to cram before an exam. Crowds ruin everything and we don’t want to be screwed out of information simply because there were too many people. Do the opposite of what the crowd does and find much less resistance.

I also recommend checking out my posts on schedules and Time Management: 5 Tips of Better Scheduling, 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling, and Another 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling.

Remember that reviewing takes less energy than learning something completely new. As the academic term moves forward the semester will get easier and easier and easier. Stick with the system and you’ll see the payoff slowly emerge. Eventually, recalling this information will be a cakewalk and all we’ll have to do is just show up.

When all the questions and concepts start to bore us (because they’re too easy, not because they’re uninteresting), that is how we know we can enter the last phase.

Relax

This is my favorite part of phasing and (to be honest) the whole reason why this method is worth it. While everyone is else is cramming and stressing, we can focus on relaxation and living our best lives. Maybe we might want to have a few active recall sessions just to keep our minds sharp, but most of our time will be spent decompressing. This is exactly how I was able to party it up with my friends on finals week and still kick ass on my exams. If we’ve executed the last two phases as designed, then active recall would work it’s magic and any gaps in knowledge would have been filled at office hours or in class.

By this point, we know everything we need to know for the class, and maintaining knowledge is so much easier than learning. Enjoy it. Getting to this point is not easy at all and the rewards ought to be reaped. Now, the focus can be shifted to other things like proper sleep and diet.

I love to play huge amounts of video games, make music, and watch tv before exams.

What do you like to do?

When is it applicable?

Phasing is a fantastic method for getting fantastic results with less effort than usual, but it’s not suitable for all class types. The types of classes we’ll encounter in our academic carrers are as follows:

Lectures – these are usually large scale classes held in giant rooms. The average class size for a lecture is anywhere from 100-500 students. Usually, the professor talks the entire time, while students take notes. These are most common in first-year college courses. Typically, students who attend a lecture also have to attend a discussion class.

Sometimes I had professors use the lecture before an exam as a review session, which can play a key role in the review or frontloading phase.

Discussion – discussions are smaller classes and are usually led by a graduate student studying the same subject as the course. This is where students receive additional instruction as well as extra practice problems. Typically, this is where most students get their questions answered.

If the schedule permits, I use discussions as an opportunity to fill knowledge gaps during the review phase. Discussion classes are invaluable if used right. I literally would not have passed Calc III if it wasn’t for the grad student who led my discussion that year.

Use office hours in place of a discussion for the same purpose. Some students feel awkward going into office hours, but that time is literally set aside so students can have in-person access to their professors.

Laboratories – oh labs. Usually, they come with science classes and last a few hours. In these classes, students will perform some kind of experiment, record data, and interpret the results. Phasing doesn’t really apply to lab classes, but usually, the person who leads the lab is another graduate student so you can use that time to ask them questions if needed.

I remember in my O-Chem II class, my discussion grad student was terrible and couldn’t answer my questions. But the grad student who helped me in my lab section was awesome! Dave if you ever see this, thank you! I managed to get all my questions answered during the lab section while I waited for my solutions to heat up. Phasing doesn’t typically apply to lab classes, but there is another opportunity to have access to someone who knows the material proficiently.

Studio – similar to labs, studios are a hand-on place for students to learn by doing. I wouldn’t recommend phasing for a studio class, but just like labs, these classes are a great opportunity to have access to someone who knows their stuff.

Independent study – these classes are designed to be separate from a regular course. These are great classes to use phasing on because the class is just you! You can schedule the material however you please and phasing is an excellent frame to base that schedule on.

Content-Based – these are classes that require us to understand facts and concepts then prove our knowledge. All STEM classes are this way. Phasing works best for content-based classes. Honestly, it was created in order to specifically get through content-based classes relatively stress-free.

Synthesis – these are classes that require us to take input from many sources and synthesize them to extract a greater understanding or to prove a point. Most language and humanities courses are this way. Phasing can work for synthesis classes, but some details would have to be changed. Synthesis work encodes information differently than active recall and the modifications to phasing should reflect that. Maybe instead of a review phase, switch the phase to rewriting or a drafting phase.

Phasing works best with lectures, discussions, seminars, content-based, and independent study type classes. It can be applied to the other classes as well, but the logistics would work a little differently.

Accommodations/Modifications

If you’ve read my other posts about studying, then you’ll know that I’m all about learning the principles of a system then modifying it to better fit the situation at hand. In other words, phasing is a great method to approach the academic term, but tweaking it to fit exactly what we need is even better!

Some classes may be too difficult to split into 3 equal parts. In order to accommodate this, I recommend keeping the phases in the same order, but repeat them as many times as needed. The full semester model is powerful, but sometimes we need to pivot.

For example, in my o-chem class, I had to split the term into 9 phases instead of 3. I had a set of “frontload, review, & relax” for each of the 3 exams. For each exam, I got a list of the concepts I was responsible for learning and scheduled which day I was learning each topic. I made sure I covered all the topics at least once before the 2nd to last office hours to ensure I get my questions answered. This meant I was studying for the exam as if it was the night before, a week or two in advance.


Phasing works because we only spend about 1/3 of the time heavy on the gas pedal as opposed to always being on every other week or so. At least with phasing, we know that 2/3 of our time will be spent efficiently or relaxing. It’s possible to get it all, it just takes a little foresight, discipline, and effort.

Phasing is not a catch-all method, but an ideal to shoot for. It is simply a framework to operate inside. I say this because the frontloading phase can take most people down and it’s easy to feel like there isn’t enough time to get through it all or that it’s impossible. If the schedule doesn’t totally fit, just make a few tweaks and account for spill days!

This is one of the more advanced techniques I talk about simply because it requires so much at the starting line, but the rewards are sweet.

Challenge yourself. Give it a try. Win. Take it all.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Another 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling

“‘Why are you idle? If you don’t seize the day, it escapes.’ Even though you seize it, it still will flee.

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)

Scheduling is so important. If we can control our time, then we can control our lives since time is what makes up life. I have two other posts about scheduling which I recommend checking out before you read this one. They’re 5 Tips for Better Scheduling and 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling. This is yet again even more tips that I have for scheduling – take what you love and leave what you don’t.

Always Input Locations

This is good because of all the reasons mentioned earlier in Be As Specific As Possible but also because my calendar app tells me when to leave depending on the traffic. Honestly, I used to forget where I would have to meet people during my mobile tutoring days so it really helps to get that extra reminder to leave a few minutes early. Also, you don’t want to be on time but show up to a completely different location. If you’re a mobile tutor, I highly recommend adding locations to the event. If you’re a college student, I highly recommend putting the building and classroom of your classes in your locations. It’s much easier to pull up your calendar than log onto your portal and check the class number. For a lot of people, forgetting where you have to go isn’t a big deal but during my life as a college student and mobile tutor, it definitely paid off to always input the locations.

Batch Whenever Possible

Batching. This is a common technique that many of us use already. When we want to do our dishes or our laundry we don’t wash each dish or each article of clothing right away, we wait until it builds to a critical mass then wash all the dishes or clothes at once. We can apply the same technique to other tasks. I got the idea of applying batching to other tasks from Tim Ferriss.

I love applying this to errands. Wait until you have a few errands and run them all at the same time rather than constantly running back and forth. I love applying this to groceries too (many people already do). Do your shopping once a week rather than going to the grocery store for every meal. Try that for a week and see how inefficient it is.

Batching – doing similar tasks at once.

I apply batching whenever I can. I reply to my text messages in batches (which is why it takes me forever to reply, sorry ya’ll). I reply to emails in batches. I blog in batches. I write lyrics in batches. I buy my stuff in batches. I batch whenever possible.

One of my favorite places to batch is in music production. If I’m feeling creative, I usually compose a bunch of tracks in one session So in a day, I can make 8-10 instrumentals. The next time I produce, I can focus on just the mixing process for each track. The next session, I can focus on just mastering. So this way I can pump 8-10 songs in three sessions rather than spending a session doing the composing, mixing, and mastering for one track. In this example, the batching method pumped out 8 songs in 3 sessions while the other method would pump out 3 songs in 3 sessions.

Batching multiplies productions because it minimizes task switching, which takes a lot of cognitive load and time. Obviously, this depends on the nature of each track, but the point is that batching is generally better than not.

Don’t Fall for Being Busy

I always laugh a little when people tell me they’re sooooo busy. Being busy is not a status symbol, a badge of honor, or an excuse. Being busy is a delusion. When I’m busy it’s because of two things:

I have no priorities – everything I do is important, therefore nothing I do is important. I’m constantly shuffling from one “important” thing to the next.

I’m giving too much of my time to others rather than keeping it for myself – when I’m feeling busy (or pretentiously claim to be) it’s usually because I’m giving too much of my time to other engagements that are not only for me. I like to keep in mind – life is made of time. Giving your time is giving your life.

Both of these result in terrible production and a shit quality of life. Plus, when we’re busy we can’t stop to appreciate the small things in life that make it worth living.

“Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

Tim Ferriss (1977 – )

When we’re busy we:

  • don’t appreciate the sunset
  • don’t stop to smell the roses (literally)
  • aren’t present with our loved ones
  • can’t process what’s happening

Rather than accepting the busyness, I try to notice when I feel it coming and reexamine my priorities or where I am spending my time. Usually attending to one of those two things will cure my busy sickness. We all have the same amount of time in a day, but there is always someone who will get more done than us. Being “too busy” is a hollow excuse. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s not the life you want.

45 Instead of 43

I got this idea from Derek Sivers. He’s an author and entrepreneur. He wrote the book Anything You Want and I highly recommend it if you are a creative person trying to break into the world of business.

When Derek was living in Santa Monica, he took up cycling and would ride a ~25 mile bike path often. He rode as fast as he could, red-faced and huffing, pushing as hard as he can. But no matter how hard he tried, he could never get his time under 43 minutes.

Over time, Derek got less excited to go out for bike rides. (Not surprising, the way he was cycling was physically painful and hard work. I wouldn’t be too stoked on it either.) When he realized this, he decided to go half his normal pace and enjoy the ride. He noticed things he never noticed before – the beautiful ocean, a pelican, dolphins. At the end of his ride he checked his timer and it took him 45 minutes to complete it. Derek was shocked that all of that extra suffering from pushing as hard as he could only gave him that extra 2 minutes. Every since that day Derek says he always prefers 45 instead of 43.

I think this story is fantastic because it demonstrates how pushing ourselves to our limits may not always yield us proportional results. At 50% of the effort, Derek only lost 4.6% in time. Sounds like a good trade to me. Giving 50% more effort for a 4.6% increase is definitely not worth it.

After reading this story, I took a look at what I was “red-faced and huffing” about in my life. Turns out, I was pushing too hard with everything. Ever since I dialed the intensity back, preferred the 45, my quality of life has seriously improved. It’s easier for me to do the things I want to do, and when I do them it’s not as difficult as they used to be. It’s allowed me to enjoy my life rather than subject myself to suffering thinking I’m going to get a fair compensation.

If It’s Not a Hell Yes, It’s a No

There will be a point when opportunities can become more of a hindrance than a benefit. I believe it’s important to say yes to things that make us uncomfortable. It’s a great way to cultivate ourselves. Saying yes gives us fantastic opportunities to try new walks of life, however, once we know what we are good at and what we want to do, we should stay focused.

Once my aims are set, new opportunities quickly turn into distractions. Unless I’m feeling a “Hell Yes” when something new comes up, I keep it far far away from me. My focus, energy, and attention are limited resources and I believe it’s so important that I keep them triangulated on the important things.

Learning to say no is a metaskill and has so many other benefits outside of scheduling. Developing this skill for scheduling is great because it keeps order within my calendar and keeps me on track but the value it has brought to the other areas of my life are unimaginably positive.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

5 Tips for Better Scheduling

“These things, they take time.”

Gabe Newell (1962 – )

It took me about 3 years before my scheduling skills were good enough to actually rely on my calendar. Today, scheduling is an integral part of my daily life and it’s a skill I’m happy I decided to take some time to develop. With better scheduling came better performances at work and school, plus I was forgetting less and never double booking myself. Here are 5 tips from my years of practice.

A few lessons from years of experimentation and research…

Start by Scheduling High Priority Events First

When I build a schedule, I start by scheduling the highest priority events first. This ensures that I have enough time to get the important stuff done. Everything else comes after. If I didn’t know what to schedule first, I would take some time to reflect on what I would be proud of accomplishing by the end of the day. The famous business consultant, Jim Collins, says “If you have more than three priorities you have no priorities.” Get clear if you aren’t. Open a fresh schedule and start with the important things. During my semesters sessions in college, I’d make sure I would schedule my classes first. Nowadays, when I’m building a new schedule I start with my work schedule on the ambulance since it’s the least flexible commitment I have.

Plan Everything to the End

I cannot even begin to express the amount of half-baked plans that have ruined otherwise great days. From not studying everything I should for my exams to wasting time being bored with my friends, not planning to the end has totally blindsided me time after time.

Robert Greene talks about the utility in planning to the end in his book The 48 Laws of Power, which is on my Must Read List. It’s Law 29 and I highly suggest checking out the whole book, at least that chapter.

It really would have helped if I took the extra 5 to 10 minutes (or even 40 minutes) to bring my plan all the way rather than complacently telling myself “ah, this is good enough.” Planning everything to the end helps with managing overwhelm and gives you a clear finish line. Just the planning to the end in itself (not even executing your plan) is a great exercise in patience and foresight.

Immediately Schedule when a Task will be Done

And by immediately I mean right when you find out you have to do it, schedule it. I like to put it down in some free space for then readjust it to a more reasonable spot once I get a free moment. If done properly, this prevents me from forgetting the little things that slip through the cracks. And as long as I maintain integrity within my calendar, I can consider that task already done. Honestly, I probably open my calendar app more than any other app!

This really helped in college when I was drowning from the flood of assignments. I would always ask myself “Where am I going to find the time to do all of this?” As long as I scheduled something in my calendar, and I knew myself as the kind of person that follows through on my commitments, then I didn’t have to worry about how or when this was going to get done. This little tweak helped me be more present, which allowed me to perform better in classes and have more fun when I was enjoying my leisure time.

Be as Specific as Possible

Set up a time AND place. Be as specific as possible. Leave nothing up to choice when you schedule something. I find that having to make decisions increases resistance.

For example, if I wanted to study I am going to

  • schedule a time I am going to start and stop
  • decide which library to go to
  • which chair to sit in
  • which back-up chair to sit in
  • which subject to study.

When you schedule something, do yourself a favor and make as many of the decisions early on as possible so it can be an effortless process when you’re on the go.

I want to leave as little decisions for Future Chris as possible because he will do anything he can to wiggle out of a less than ideal situation.

Best selling author and social psychologist researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson argues, it is not enough just to articulate what needs doing, it also requires clearly laying out what needs to be done, by who and by when. This is know as If-Then Planning. Halvorson also makes many decisions early on too. Planning the choices that I make has saved me tons of time! This is a huge secret for getting myself to do what I say I’m going to do.

Schedule Entropy Management & Downtime

First, let’s learn a little bit about thermodynamics. There are three (kinda four) main laws of thermodynamics, but we’re just going to focus on the 2nd law for now.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe, if viewed as an isolated system, increases over time.

So what’s entropy?

Entropy – en·tro·py /ˈentrəpē/ – noun – lack of order or predictability.

The first time I heard of entropy was during the thermodynamics unit in my AP chemistry class. Actually, I was absent that day and my classmate, Matt, explained it to me. He told me the easiest way to think about it is as a measure of randomness. The more entropy there is, the crazier things are. I think its so funny that there’s a way to measure how chaotic something is.

So what does this all mean?

It means everything gets more chaotic over time. This applies to your calendars, finances, grades, anything. Don’t believe me? Just watch what happens to your room if you don’t clean it for a year. You could neglect anything for a month and watch entropy increase indiscriminately.

The natural state of things is that they decay and become more entropic. It is not the default state for things to get better, or ever work properly. So we have to actively maintain the entropic growth that naturally occur in our calendars.

Yportne (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi

How do we stop our lives from getting too chaotic?

The best way to manage the chaos is to schedule time to manage it. Since we are aware that things get more chaotic over time, we know that we have to set aside time to restore order.

I literally schedule time in my calendar to clean up any of the inaccuracies or mistakes in my calendar. Just like when we have to do our laundry, clean our rooms, or take showers, we need to set time aside to clean up our calendar so it can help us. I like to schedule in an entropy management (EM) session at least once every two weeks.

Sometimes I have longer time periods when I don’t have an EM session but then I notice my life starts feeling more stressful.

Some quintessential signs that I needed an EM sesh were:

  • feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted
  • accidentally double booking myself or miss appointments
  • forgetting to do my assignments
  • feeling spread too thin
  • feeling like I’m reaching my limits

Scheduling downtime is a concept for the people, like me, who get so excited when working on something that they forget to attend to their other responsibilities. Honestly, sometimes I forget to eat, sleep, or even go to the bathroom when I’m pulled into my zone.

Downtime is a time of inactivity or reduced activity in order to recover and allow better performance for the primary function.

Sleep is a fantastic example of downtime in nature. Our bodies have to rest for roughly 8 hours a day to function properly. There have been plenty of studies done that explain how terrible losing sleep is for us. Creativity is one of the first things to go when we don’t allow ourselves time to rejuvenate, and when we lose creativity, we lose our ability to problem solve. If you are interested in how sleep affects us, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Matthew Walker’s research on sleep. It’s alarming to say the least.

I schedule downtime every single day. I usually have my downtime at the end of the day (after 10pm), but sometimes I’ll take a few moments throughout my day if things run a little ahead of schedule. I like to give myself some contingency time in between my scheduled events. I simply leave an extra 15 (sometimes 30) minutes in between some of the events just account for this.

I’m not as efficient, but it takes real life into account. Sometimes things run a little longer than expected or shit happens and we will need that extra time to make up for it.

Plus, if we don’t have a few extra minutes to enjoy a beautiful moment in our lives, then do we really have a life at all?

This is a skill like everything else and takes a while to become proficient. Remember, it took me 3 years before I could really count on my scheduling skills. The first 3 years were months of me making mistakes and figuring out what works best for me. I’m still tweaking things and developing myself in this skill every day and every day that I do, I am making my life a little easier in the future. Scheduling is for everyone, we just need to figure out what works best for us as individuals.