Newsletter Library

Alexandra in Tutorland:
Reframing time for better task management

We are used to thinking about time in terms of minutes in an hour. We watch the hands tick along or the digits jump on a clock. Then, when we think about "time management" we consider how much time we have, what our priorities are, and how long certain tasks will take to complete. However, we rarely ruminate on the quality of the time we are spending and how the passage of time feels. An hour of doing something we like feels a lot faster than an hour spent on something we're less interested in. So, tasks that might actually take the same amount of time to complete in reality require different amounts of time. We misjudge how long an activity will take based on how we feel about it. Often, the tasks we want to do least are those that we think will take an inordinate amount of time. We start avoiding those responsibilities thinking we just don’t have the time to complete them. The more we put off tackling something, the bigger of an ordeal it seems, the more time we feel we’ll need for it, and the less excited we become about attacking the task.

When you’re up against a task that seems to expand before your eyes and you’re having trouble finding the time to get started, practice a few brain ticks to help you tackle the work:

  1. Set aside a limited amount of time and spend it "power working." Rather than thinking about the task itself and then letting your mind worry about how much time it will take to complete the task, give yourself and hour and get to work. Remind yourself that you will work for just that one hour and then spend that time working in complete focus.
  2. Order of operations matters. Doing something you don’t want to do after you've been engaged in a stimulating activity will make you even less interested in the challenging task. Your mind will keep going back to the fun activity and the task at hand will feel even more difficult. Start with the assignment you're dreading and know that you can move on when you're done.
  3. Reflect (a little bit). Once you've completed that seemingly insurmountable task, take a few minutes to appraise the situation and realize that you were, in fact, able to accomplish your goal. Giving yourself the mental space to recognize the achievement will help you the next time you have to do a similar chore. If you've reminded yourself that you can get it done – and maybe that the process wasn't so bad – then next time the task won't seem so difficult.

Much Ado About Learning:
Gearing up for finals

"Discretize large tasks into small ones. For example, when you have a big paper to write, view getting the research done for it as its own project, and it's easier to muster up the motivation to get it done. Then work on outlining, then on writing." -- Jonathan Rosenthal

"To help yourself stay sane during finals, start preparing early so you can break studying tasks into manageable pieces and set goals for tackling those chunks. For example, you can decide to make five or ten notecards each night during the month before finals. Then you'll have all your cards written and ready for an easier review when it's crunch time!" -- Kate Durham

"Don't try to do everything at once--start small by just organizing ALL of your materials from your locker, backpack, binder, folders, desk (reading packets, homework, essays etc.) Organize them by subject, and then within that, by topic or unit. Throw away sheets or papers that are unnecessary or redundant. Then, for each subject, make a study plan or timeline so that you can begin to imagine yourself re-familiarizing yourself with the information/reading/problem sets. You could make a plan to review one chapter of a book each week, or go over one homework assignment each day and remind yourself how you got the answers. Once you break things down into small steps, you won't feel so overwhelmed. Before you try to review anything, take an hour or so to take these organizational steps. It will make the mountain of review seem way more realistic and manageable." -- Rose Howell

"Plan ahead for enough time to thoroughly review old tests, quizzes, and homework to identify challenging topics and drill those topics. If necessary, there should be enough time to bring questions about these topics to the teacher. Finally, using practice problems to create a "mock test" environment would also be helpful.

Emotionally, a good way to diminish test anxiety would be to plan ahead, practice over a long period of time, and over-prepare. Explaining concepts to peers or family members helps to build confidence with the material." -- John Frank

"Organize all homework assignments and tests and re-do any problems you got wrong or have forgotten how to do.

Don't just try to review and memorize - test yourself as much as possible." -- Danielle Jacobs

"Getting ready for finals can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be. Personally, I like to organize my weeks leading up to final exams and assignments to make sure I have enough time to both do my work and have some down time to relax. That way, stress levels are lower and you'll get everything done!" -- Victoria Tu

"Try to set aside 20-30 minutes each day to review one of the lessons. Even briefly re-familiarizing yourself with the material will remind you of how much you already know and give you a sense of control in what can be an overwhelming time." -- Christina Vanech

A Tale of One Tutor:
How real world experiences shape learning

By Zoe Mitrofanis

I once had a math teacher whose mantra was, "When in doubt, trial and error!" It's not a particularly poetic maxim and I seldom apply that logic outside of four-digit long division, but I still consider it good advice.

About halfway through my freshman year at NYU, I began to realize that my college experience wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. It took a bit of time to recognize and even longer to come to terms with, but I ultimately grew to understand that perhaps I was not at the right university. It wasn't that NYU didn't live up to the expectations I had unknowingly adopted in my youth and adolescence (After all, few schools can compete with the fictionalized campuses so frequently portrayed in movies and on TV). Rather, I realized that my academic environment was failing to stimulate me.

It was a fairly devastating admission, having been so excited to start my education there just a few months earlier, yet I couldn’t deny how uncomfortable I felt. In large classes (and indeed, those were most of my classes), I was just another face in the crowd and found myself all too willing to slink into anonymity. That was never the kind of student I had been or cared to be, but within a few months time, it was who I became.

If no one asked for my ideas, I wasn’t likely to share them - and neither was anyone else, I found. In my first year of college, I learned that I wanted -- needed, really -- a more engaging and collaborative scholarly experience. So after much deliberation, I decided I would transfer. It wasn't easy. It was frustrating, inconvenient, and the application process, having just been through it less than a year earlier, gave me a rather unwelcome sense of deja vu. Still, I applied to schools I knew could offer me what I wanted.

Transferring wasn't without its setbacks, of course, and having to start over was incredibly daunting. But perhaps the worst part was the feeling that I had made a mistake in choosing to attend NYU. I spent the second half of my freshman year hoping I could fix what my high school self had done, but in time learned that I hadn't really made an error in the first place. I had changed my mind, and that was okay.

In order to grow, I had to figure out what didn't work for me. That way, I could consider what did work -- and when I did, so many wonderful doors opened up. I chose the one that led to Columbia University, and am incredibly glad that I did.

I don't regret starting at NYU. It was a unique, eye-opening experience that allowed me to understand myself as a student -- and as a person -- a whole lot better. It was not a mistake. It was just a little trial and error.

Sense and Sensibility

A student asks: Spring break is over and I feel lazier than ever. I know this is the home stretch, but I can't seem to get started on important school assignments. I can't stay focused without my phone buzzing every few seconds and I just have to check my social media updates. I want to blame technology, it's such a distraction. Help!

Answer: You are facing a problem common to many students: procrastination. Whether its cellphones, laptops, iPads or tablets, they all create barriers in completing assignments and add to the procrastination process. Reality is -- your term paper isn’t going to write itself. It’s time that you make the first move to improve. Take the time to review all the things that create procrastination, and figure out what exactly is distracting you.

Tips to Help You with Distractions and Focus on Your Studies

  1. Find the right time and place to study
  2. Plan ahead by creating a schedule that includes all of your assignments
    • Keep two to-do lists. A master list that includes all high level priorities, and another that list tasks for the night
  3. Set realistic goals for your study session to maximize productivity (e.g. Read for 30 minutes before you log onto Facebook)
  4. Use website-blocking applications like "SelfControl" (Mac) and SelfRestraint (PC) to block distracting websites for predetermined blocks of time
  5. Aim to minimize real interruptions
    • Although electronic devices were meant to save us time, we find ourselves distracted by notifications, texts, and incoming calls. These gadgets are our enemy. Your study time and space should be gadget-free (e.g. Turn off your phone; put it on silent, place phone elsewhere, etc.)
  6. Just do it! You may find out that the task doesn't take as long as you expected and you'll feel much better for completing it.