Archive for September, 2011


Scrooge was productive

Who works on Christmas?  Scrooge and I are the first two that come to mind.  That’s right, for the past four years I have gotten up at 4AM on Christmas morning to serve up breakfast pastries and bread at the bakery where I work, because after all Christmas day is one of our busiest of the year.  I wonder if this means Scrooge and I have a similar work ethic, or just a shared aversion to vacation.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating for working on Christmas.  Holidays are a time to spend with family and friends, to relax, and to enjoy some down time.  You should absolutely take some time off from your busy schedule to enjoy the holidays and recharge. 

That being said, the holidays can also be a great time to get caught up with tasks and projects on which you have fallen behind.  Think about it.  When school is closed and you have off from work (as most places of employment – bakeries excluded – are closed for the holidays), you suddenly have tons of free time.  Sure, a good percentage of this time should be dedicated to festivities, but some of it can also be spent proactively.  The holidays should first and foremost be a time to relax and connect with loved ones, but they can also be productive.

This week during our break for Rosh Hashanah, remember that this is an opportunity for you to rest up, but also to catch up.  Work on upcoming assignments, get a head start on studying for midterms, and start researching for your term papers.  Getting things done now can not only free up your schedule later on, but it can also reduce stress by shrinking your to do list.  So make your long weekend count, and be productive! 

Click here for your two minutes of procrastination, and donate your old and broken cell phones to Medic Mobile and Hope Phones through Phi Eta Sigma’s cell phone drive.  You can drop your phones off in room 3300N at John Jay College, or arrange to have them picked up by emailing me at



Every semester the same thing happens.  Students enjoy the slow pace of the first month or two of classes, they procrastinate, and they justify their procrastination by telling themselves that their assignments are not due for months.  And then suddenly, it is the end of the semester, all those assignments are due at the same time, studying for finals consumes all of your time, and you have to cram a semester’s worth of work into a few short weeks.  It is stressful.  It is exhausting.  It is unnecessary.

I have posted here before about my technique for avoiding end of semester cramming (see my post on how to use a day planner).  Simply put, I schedule backwards.  First, I note the deadlines for all of my projects on my calendar, then I start from the very end of the semester.  Working backward, I give myself check points – dates by which I need to finish each project in order to complete them on time.  I note these check points on my calendar, then break the assignment down into daily tasks.  When I employ this method, it is not uncommon for me to end up having daily tasks scheduled in September for a project due in November or December. 

Take, for example, one of my classes this semester that requires a term paper worth 75% of my grade due during the last week of classes.  For this assignment I gave myself a check point in both October before which I plan to complete an outline for the paper and one in November before which I plan to write a first draft.  Then, I broke down the work required to do this paper into daily tasks and scheduled them, starting from December and working back towards September.  I have actually scheduled some time to do research for this paper this week. 

This method is all about being proactive, and it works!  Sure, it feels like a lot of work now, especially while your classmates are procrastinating and enjoying free time.  Believe me, however, when the end of the semester comes they will be scrambling to finish their projects, papers, and studying for finals; and you will be stress-free and well-rested. 

Click here for your two minutes of procrastination, and donate your old and broken cell phones to Medic Mobile through Phi Eta Sigma at John Jay’s Cell Phone Drive during the month of September.  You can bring your phones to room 3300N between 9 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday, or email me ( to find a way to donate that is more convenient for you.


more bees with honey

It is a familiar situation.  You have a question, a concern, or even just a story you are trying to communicate to someone, but when you do, they do not respond in the manner you wished or expected they would.  Instead they are short with you; they may even blow you off.  And while some times this is just the way that particular person engages with others, I think I can say confidently that a lot of the time this type of response is more likely due to being busy and being stressed.  As much as I hate this very short, very blunt type of response, I am guilty of having employed it.  When there are a thousand tasks stacking up and someone asks a question, it’s not atypical to give a very off-the-cuff answer in a “I don’t have time for this” kind of tone. 

While I am sure I have been afflicted with it for some time, I first realized that I occasionally have this very short tone with people this summer, when my to-do list was literally miles long.  I was working full-time, attending seminars at night, and working on a business plan with some friends for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship.  Every second of every day was tightly scheduled, and I had little time for added tasks.  And whenever anyone would ask me for a favor, ask a question, voice a concern, or just start chatting with me while I was working on something else that tone would end up just coming out.  I would think, “Why can’t people understand that I need to stay focused?”

While staying focused is really important, there is really never a reason to be rude.  This is especially true, when someone is simply trying to make light conversation or ask a question out of genuine curiosity.  However justified in giving a short response you may feel, it is really never acceptable. 

Luckily this summer I learned a very clever trick that can help out in these types of situations from one of my mentors at the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship.  Simple put, whenever someone approaches you when you are in a busy and stressed state, simply listen to what they have to say for a moment, quickly validate that they have been heard, and reply with, “That sounds really important, and I want to make sure I dedicate some time to thinking about it so that I can respond thoughtfully.  How about you email me about it, and I’ll get back to you later this week?”  The beauty of this technique is that it not only allows you to stay focused on the task at hand, but it enables you to do so in a very sweet and mature manner.  The person on the receiving end will feel like he or she has been heard, but also like you are doing him or her a service by taking time to really think about whatever the topic is. 

This week try to respond with kindness rather than with short and blunt responses.  Like they say, you get more bees with honey.  Click here for your two minutes of procrastination.


practice makes efficient

Like many college students, I had mixed feelings about the start of the new semester.  Sure, I am excited to be back at John Jay, seeing my friends regularly and (since I am a nerd) engaging in intellectual dialogue.  But like always, the good comes with some bad.  For me, and for a lot of working students, being back at school means a hectic schedule, long and tiring days, and a lot of added work (and stress).  While I may be an amateur when it comes to coping with stress (for tips on dealing with stressful situations click here),  I pride myself on being an expert when it comes to managing the added work…

Every semester I try to get ahead on my class assignments.  This is especially true during the fall semester, because procrastination only leads to a lot of extra work around the already busy holidays.  This semester, however, I feel particularly ahead of schedule on many of my class assignments and reading.  This is not because I have more time this semester; that is for sure.  If anything, I have less time than ever before.  It is because I am getting things done quicker, and my secret to being speedy is efficiency.

I have posted on ways to increase your efficiency a million times.  There was the Know Yourself post and the Get in the Zone post, just to name a few.  Recently, however, I stumbled upon another great technique that can help get work done in half the time.  The trick is practice.  As my loyal readers already know, this summer I read a ton of books.  All that reading has made me a faster, more efficient reader.  In the past it would take me about an hour to read twenty pages, but now I can read forty in that same time.  I am better at picking out important information, taking notes, and comprehending authors’ main points.  In the past I had to schedule extra time for class reading, but now I am able to get most of my reading done on the train, which means more time for getting ahead (and a less stressful end of the semester).

When I realized that my reading speed literally doubled this summer, I started to think about other things I have come to do more efficiently.  Writing papers comes to mind.  When I started college it would take me days to outline, research, write, and edit papers.  By the time I was finished I was exhausted.  In my senior year I am able to write quality papers is much less time and with much less effort.

My point here is that practice makes perfect.  People say it all the time, but it is true.  If class reading seems daunting because it takes so long, read more.  Over time you will become a faster reader.  If you procrastinate writing papers because it seems exhausting, write more often.  With experience you will be able to articulate your ideas with less concerted effort.  At the start of the semester class work can seem overwhelming, but by the end of the term you will be a pro!  Click here for your two minutes of procrastination.

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