Time Management/Study & HW Strategy: The Tomato Method

With readings days fast approaching and finals week close behind, we are all struggling at the end of the semester to find motivation for this last push before the summer break. Ugh, why can’t it be here already? If you’re like me right now, who is so close to feeling burned out, finding the patience and determination to stay focused on small or large tasks seem daunting and unrealistic. One method that I have heard and used as a great strategy for those with short attention spans or low drive would include The Pomodoro Technique, also more simply and commonly known as The Tomato Method.

This time management technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It’s super easy to implement and can increase productivity when doing tasks. Look at it this way: it’s like you have to run miles and miles to get to your destination, but with the Tomato Method, you accomplish this by doing many sprints with short breaks in between. That way you don’t just procrastinate and give up at the beginning of the line. There are tasks when we can just fly through them, but others times, its just such a drag. In a way, this technique is a lot like chunking your time and task. Check out this short 2 minute video that explains how to get started. Here is a quick summary on how to it all works: tumblr_nnjxvcPVbz1senxz2o1_1280

If you want to use some other websites or other apps on your tech besides a simple time keeper, here’s a list from LifeHacker.com that might be useful as well:

  • Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
  • Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timer that you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
  • Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
  • Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
  • Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.

Say “bye bye procrastination!” with this technique. Try it out! Or come into Weingarten to try it out with a Learning Instructor.

Staff Writer: Victoria Singh Gill

Bigger Pictures: Make a Note

“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~  Various Attributions

Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.

Lombard_scribeAcademic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing:  the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word.  This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.

Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.

But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.

And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Tech Tuesday: Apps for Group Work Collaboration (GroupMe, Slack, GoogleDocs)

You hate it, I hate it; yet everyone assigns it: group work.  Before the internet, group work consisted of wrangling everyone for their availability before finally getting together in person and just wasting away a full day when really, we know one or two people will finish the whole thing. Nowadays,  thankfully, we live in the 21st century and no longer have to be bogged down with that outdated and fully infuriating methods. With technological advancement, so many apps and programs are geared towards collaboration and can be carried out remotely according to one’s own pace. In this blog post, the commonly used ones such as GroupMe, Slack, and Google Docs/Slides are covered.

GroupMe: Owned by Microsoft, GroupMe is a mobile group messaging and photo sharing app. It’s free, works on every device, and is geared towards working with multiple groups. For example, people usually have a group chat for family, friends, coworkers, clubs, etc. Here, students can create a group chat and plan when, where, and if to meet. Or simply, discuss how to divide and conquer and then casually check in for any questions, comments, or concerns. Each group member gets to decide who they want to interact in the chat on their own. For more detailed steps on how to use GroupMe, click here. Screen shot 2015-01-12 at 1.43.24 PM

Slack: If you’re looking for a more professional and business feel, users tend to prefer Slack over GroupMe. Slack has a free version and is an app for all devices. What makes this more professional than GroupMe is that it has not only messaging capabilities but also voice, video calling, and file sharing. With that comes a search and archiving features too.  “Channels” are like chat rooms and where projects are discussed. For more info on how to use Slack, click here.

slack-webdesign

Google Docs/Slides: Google Docs was created to compete with Microsoft Word and Google Slides was created to compete with Microsoft Powerpoint. What Google has on these programs is that it is all online and can be collaborative and worked on in real time. If you have a gmail account, you automatically have access to these programs as part of your Google Drive. They are free and online and just because you don’t have internet doesn’t mean you can’t stuff done either. You can see people make changes to the documents as they type it in (if you’re logged on at the same time) and also leave comments on the side for to update the team on your thoughts and feedback. Again, like the others, these tools are available across all devices. For more detailed support on Google Slides, click here and for Google Docs, click here.

 

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Google Docs Sample

google slides

Google Slides Sample

For more one on one consultation on a current group project, paper, or presentation, feel free to come into Weingarten for support! How do you use these apps? Leave a comment below if you want!

Staff writer: Victoria Singh Gill

Making New Habits Stick

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January is the month of New Year’s resolutions and good intentions. Many of us strive to be a little bit better at something than we were before. Maybe we vow to be better at time management – to get and use a planner, to not procrastinate as much, or to start papers and projects early. The problem with resolutions, no matter how well intended, is that most of our behavior is based on unconscious habits. In order to really make a new habit stick or to change an old one, we have to make our behavior more conscious.

The brain likes to be efficient and thus repeated behaviors become automatic habits. This default towards efficiency means you can sail through your morning routine of showering and getting dressed on autopilot and still have brain capacity left over to think about your upcoming day. Bad habits are hard to break because we’ve stopped making conscious decisions about what we’re doing. We just automatically do it. For example, when our phone alarm goes off in the morning that noise serves as a cue to pick up the phone to turn off the alarm. If you, like me, then spend the next 30-40 minutes looking through your newsfeed, that is an automatic behavior triggered by the alarm. The reward for 30-40 minutes of scrolling is a sense of being informed about the day. Did anyone text overnight? What are the breaking news stories? I’m sure if I didn’t automatically scroll through my newsfeed every morning, I’d be out the door much earlier.

This cycle of cue, routine, and reward is what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls the habit loop. Becoming consciously aware of these three elements can help you form new habits or change old ones. To form a new habit, first think of the benefits of changing your behavior. What is it that you want to start doing? What are the long-term pay offs? Then think of a cue that will capture your attention at the moment you are most likely to take action. A cue can take various forms. It can be something visual like seeing your planner on your desk or it can be an action like coming back to your room after a long day of classes. Then think of the reward you’ll get for doing the routine or behavior triggered by the cue. If seeing your planner on your desk triggers you to spend a few minutes prioritizing your tasks for the next day, the reward might be a sense of calm or a feeling of being in control. Eventually, you’ll start craving that sense of calm and control as soon as you see your planner and will automatically pick it up to organize your day.

To change a habit, keep your familiar cues and rewards but change your routine. For instance, for many of us, coming back home after a long day is often a cue to flop on the bed or couch and just relax “for a few minutes” before tackling something else. The reward is a feeling of relaxation. However, “just a few minutes” often expands into an hour or more and suddenly we wonder where all our time went. What if we kept the cue of coming home after a long day and the reward of relaxation but changed the routine? Other activities that aren’t such time sponges like taking a shower or making a cup of tea can be inserted into the habit loop and eventually make us more productive.

As this new semester gets underway, start paying attention to your cues and rewards to change your habits. Anticipate the rewards – a feeling of satisfaction after checking items off a to-do list, a smoothie after a workout – as these cravings will push you to get stuff done. Finally, believe that you can change your habits or make new ones stick. Because you can.

Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds

 

Resolutions for a Fresh Start

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“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

            And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught

            For auld lang syne.”

~  Robert Burns

Have you ever wondered why, when the ball drops at midnight, nobody seems to know all the words to the song, other than the pressing question of whether or not the auld acquaintance should  be forgot, and that bit about the auld lang syne?  Well, now you know.  Above is the 5th verse (yes, really, there are five verses) in all of its Scots glory, which now allows you to feel better about New Year’s Eve, and which now allows me to type the phrase “right gude-willie waught” one more time and drive spell check into wiggly red underscore frenzy.

Go ahead:  sing the 5th verse.  You know the melody.  Give it spin.  I’ll wait here.

Fun, huh?

Anyway, now that we got the melody looping in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk Resolutions.

The problem with most resolutions, especially those of the improving-my-academic-performance variety, is that our planning can be overly ambitious.  It’s like resolving to whip yourself into shape by adopting a plan where you work out three hours a day, seven days a week and, falling short of the lofty goal, abandon the initial resolution for yet another shameful period of slothful anti-health.  It’s supposed to be a resolution, not a guise for self-punishment.

If you’re looking to post better grades and/or learn more, start with small, simple strategies.  Let’s get back to basics:

  • Review your lecture notes after class within 24 hours. This needn’t require a massive amount of time; 20 to 30 minutes max.  Couldn’t get to the notes in 24 hours?  Don’t abandon the resolution, adjust the plan and get to them in 48.
  • Go to class.   Even if you think you don’t get anything out of lecture because A) I hate the professor  B) The lecture makes no sense and I just get more confused  C) Life is so much better in bed  –  lecture is still three hours a week with the course material.  At the very least, if you’re not replacing missed class time with study time, you’re falling further behind.
  • Read more, especially if it seems like you don’t read at all. I’m not saying read everything.  Remember the whip yourself into shape thing earlier?  Same principle.  Start with Power Point slides, or chapter summaries.  And don’t just read for the sake of reading, think about what you’re reading.
  • Come to Weingarten. Our friendly learning instructors know their way around all kinds of academics-related resolutions.  At least one of us knows what a right gude-willie waught is.

Now sing the fifth verse of Auld Lang Syne one more time.

 

Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor

The Story of the [Research] Question

As writer and scholar, have you ever felt “stuck” conceptualizing and fleshing out your thesis and related research question?

At any point in the writing process and academic calendar, but especially relevant during the semester-end stretch when final papers are due, it is not unusual to find oneself reflecting on interrogating the premises of, and perhaps, even feeling “stuck” in how to further develop the research question(s).

One way to intentionally and mindfully deliberate on the research question and unleash the conceptual flow of writing is to PAUSE and REFLECT on the “story” of the [research] question itself. This can be done by writing a brief reflective memo, which may or may not be integrated into the paper itself, but will probably prove to be quite cathartic, anchoring, and clarifying.
Taking license to be free and unrestrained, write as if journaling to yourself, and reflect on any one or combination of the following prompts relative to your thesis and/or research question(s):
  • What is the (background) “story” of (behind) this [research] question?
  • What has been the developmental trajectory of the research question?
  • How did I become interested in this question?
  • Why is this question significant to me?
  • What do I find most compelling about my question?
  • In what ways do I connect with this question? What are my points-of-reference in probing into, responding to, or contextualizing this research question – in my own life, practice, field, and/or in the world?

For more help or strategies to get started, come into Weingarten to work a learning instructor and get tailored feedback with individual consultations. Or feel free to join our Dissertation Bootcamp working group series for support in undergraduate and graduate research!

 

Staff writer: Min Derry

Pre-finals week planning = The calm before the storm

The final weekend in November was a long one that left us all feeling a bit more relaxed, but, for many of us, our stress returned the minute December 1st arrived. The last day of classes and Reading Days are right around the corner, which is hard to believe since many of you still have midterms to think about. With only three weeks left in the semester, now is a great time to create a plan to get everything done!

Here’s what you can do to make the most of your pre-finals time:study-hacks-for-reading-days-fall-2016

  1. Attend our Reading Days Study Hacks workshop

Wednesday, December 7, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

ARCH 110

Thursday, December 8, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Weingarten Center Lounge

Register here: goo.gl/3mEMzQ

Staff members from the Weingarten Center will walk you through how to create a realistic study schedule, analyze your professors’ expectations and study actively during Reading Days.

  1. Make an appointment with a Learning Instructor

If you want more personalized study tips, stop by or call us at (215)573-9235 to make a 50-minute appointment with a Learning Instructor. It’s never too late to come see us! Many of our appointments at this time of the semester focus on planning ahead and preparing for finals week. Making an appointment also helps you get things done earlier. If you have a presentation to do, we can be a practice audience. We can help you brainstorm for an upcoming final paper, days or weeks, in advance or connect you to other resources that may also be able to assist you in the final days of the semester.

  1. Stop by our extended walk-in hoursextended-walk-ins

In addition to regular appointments, we are offering extended walk-in hours through December 22. These appointments are 25 minutes long and are usually best for a specific question. In addition to hours offered at the Weingarten Center, there are also hours at the ARCH and Grad Student Center.

  1. Create a master calendar with due dates

While all of your assignment due dates and exam dates are on Canvas or your course syllabi, it is best to put everything in one place so you can have a clear picture of what to expect before the end of the semester. With all of the social events happening in the next few weeks, it is important to put those in as well to create a more realistic schedule for studying. Stop by our office to pick up a December calendar or fill one out with a Learning Instructor!

Staff writer: Cassie Lo