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دوره: ذهنی برای اعداد / درس 9

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tools, tips, and tricks

As noted management specialist David Allen points out, “We trick ourselves into doing what we ought to be doing. . . . To a great degree, the highest-performing people I know are those who have installed the best tricks in their lives . . . The smart part of us sets up things for us to do that the not-so-smart part responds to almost automatically, creating behavior that produces high-performance results.”1 Allen is referring to tricks like wearing exercise clothes to help him get into the mood for exercising or placing an important report by the front door so he can’t miss it. One constant refrain I hear from students is that putting themselves in new surroundings—such as the quiet section of a library, which has few interrupting cues—works wonders with procrastination. Research has confirmed that a special place devoted just to working is particularly helpful.2 Another trick involves using meditation to help you learn to ignore distracting thoughts.3 (Meditation is not just for New Age types—a lot of science has revealed its value.4) A short, helpful guide to getting started with meditation is Buddha in Blue Jeans by Tai Sheridan. It’s free as an electronic book and is suitable for people of any faith. And of course there are many meditation apps—just Google around to see what looks workable for you.

A last important trick is to reframe your focus. One student, for example, is able to get himself up at four thirty each weekday morning, not by thinking about how tired he is when he wakes but about how good breakfast will be.

One of the most extraordinary stories of reframing is that of Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. Bannister was a medical school student who couldn’t afford a trainer or a special runner’s diet. He didn’t even have time to run more than thirty minutes a day, squeezed in around his medical studies. Yet Bannister did not focus on all the reasons why he logically had no chance of reaching his goal. He instead refocused on accomplishing his goal in his own way. On the morning he made world history, he got up, ate his usual breakfast, did his required hospital rounds, and then caught a bus to the track.

It’s nice to know that there are positive mental tricks you can use to your advantage. They make up for some of the negative tricks you can play that either don’t work or make things more difficult for you, like telling yourself that you can polish off your homework just before it’s due.

It’s normal to sit down with a few negative feelings about beginning your work. It’s how you handle those feelings that matters. Researchers have found that the difference between slow and fast starters is that the nonprocrastinating fast starters put their negative thinking aside, saying things to themselves like, “Quit wasting time and just get on with it. Once you get it going, you’ll feel better about it.”5 A POSITIVE APPROACH TO PROCRASTINATION

“I tell my students they can procrastinate as long as they follow three rules:

  1. No going onto the computer during their procrastination time. It’s just too engrossing.

  2. Before procrastinating, identify the easiest homework problem. (No solving is necessary at this point.) 3. Copy the equation or equations that are needed to solve the problem onto a small piece of paper and carry the paper around until they are ready to quit procrastinating and get back to work.

“I have found this approach to be helpful because it allows the problem to linger in diffuse mode—students are working on it even while they are procrastinating.” —Elizabeth Ploughman, Lecturer of Physics, Camosun College, Victoria, British Columbia

Self-Experimentation: The Key to a Better You

Dr. Seth Roberts is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. While learning to perform experiments as a graduate student, he began to experiment on himself. Roberts’s first self-experiment involved his acne. A dermatologist had prescribed tetracycline, so Roberts simply counted the number of pimples he had on his face with varying doses of tetracycline. The result? The tetracycline made no difference on the number of pimples he had!

Roberts had stumbled across a finding that would take medicine another decade to discover—that seemingly powerful tetracycline, which has unsafe side effects, doesn’t necessarily work on acne. On the other hand, benzoyl peroxide cream did work, contrary to what Roberts had originally thought. As Roberts noted, “From my acne research I learned that self-experimentation can be used by non-experts to (a) see if the experts are right and (b) learn something they don’t know. I hadn’t realized such things were possible.”6 Over the years, Roberts has used his self-experimentation efforts to study his mood, control his weight, and to see the effects of omega-3 on how well his brain functioned.

Overall, Roberts has found that self-experimentation is extremely helpful in testing ideas as well as in generating and developing new hypotheses. As he notes: “By its nature, self-experimentation involves making sharp changes in your life: you don’t do X for several weeks, then you do X for several weeks. This, plus the fact that we monitor ourselves in a hundred ways, makes it easy for self-experimentation to reveal unexpected side effects. . . . Moreover, daily measurements of acne, sleep, or anything else, supply a baseline that makes it even easier to see unexpected changes.”7 Your own self-experimentation, at least to begin with, should be on procrastination. Keep notes on when you don’t complete what you had intended to complete, what the cues are, and your zombie-mode habitual reaction to procrastination cues. By logging your reaction, you can apply the subtle pressure you need to change your response to your procrastination cues and gradually improve your working habits. In his excellent book The Now Habit, author Neil Fiore suggests keeping a detailed daily schedule of your activities for a week or two to get a handle on where your problem areas are for procrastination.8 There are many different ways to monitor your behavior. The most important idea here is that keeping a written history over several weeks appears to be critical in helping you make changes. Also, different people function better in certain environments—some need a busy coffee shop, while others need a quiet library. You need to figure out what’s best for you.

ISOLATION VERSUS GROUP WORK—TREATING PROCRASTINATION DIFFERENTLY THAN SIMPLY STRUGGLING TO UNDERSTAND “A tip I have to address procrastination is to isolate yourself from things you know will distract you, including people. Go to a room all alone, or the library so you do not have anything to distract you.” —Aukury Cowart, sophomore, electrical engineering

“If I’m struggling in a subject, I find it helpful to study with other people from the same class. That way I can ask questions and we can work together to figure out what we are confused on. Chances are I might know what he or she is confused about and vice versa.” —Michael Pariseau, junior, mechanical engineering

Ultimate Zombie Alliance: The Planner-Journal as Your Personal Lab Notebook

The best way for you to gain control of your habits is simple: Once a week, write a brief weekly list of key tasks. Then, each day, write a list of the tasks that you can reasonably work on or accomplish. Try to write this daily task list the evening before.

Why the day before? Research has shown this helps your subconscious to grapple with the tasks on the list so you figure out how to accomplish them.9 Writing the list before you go to sleep enlists your zombies to help you accomplish the items on the list the next day.

Most people use their phone or an online or paper calendar to keep track of important due dates—you are probably using such a system. From your “due date” calendar, write down a weekly to-do list of twenty or fewer key items. Each night, create the next day’s daily to-do list from the items on the weekly to-do list. Keep it to five to ten items. Try not to add to the daily list once you’ve made it unless it involves some unanticipated but important item (you don’t want to start creating endless lists). Try to avoid swapping out items on your list.

If you don’t write your tasks down in a list, they lurk at the edge of the four-or-so slots in your working memory, taking up valuable mental real estate.

But once you make a task list, it frees working memory for problem solving. Yay! But remember, you must absolutely trust that you will check your planner-journal. If your subconscious doesn’t trust you to do that, tasks will begin swirling back up, blocking your working memory.

One more thing. As writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant recommends to her writing clients: “Eat your frogs first thing in the morning.” Do the most important and most disliked jobs first, as soon as you wake up. This is incredibly effective.

The following is a day sample I drew up from my own planner-journal. (You can create your own week sample.) Note that there are only six items—some of them are process oriented. For example, I have a paper due to a journal in several months, so I spend a little focused time on most days working toward completing it. A few items are product oriented, but that is only because they are doable within a limited period of time.

NOV. 30

PNAS paper (1 hour)

Go for a walk

Book (1 section)

ISE 150: demo prep

EGR 260: prepare 1 question for final exam

Finalize upcoming talk

Focus, fun!

Goal finish time for day: 5:00 P.M.

Note my reminders: I want to keep my focus on each item when I am working on it, and I want to have fun. I’m well along my list today. I did catch myself getting sidetracked because I forgot to shut down my e-mail. To get myself back into gear, I set a twenty-two-minute Pomodoro challenge using a timer on my computer desktop. (Why twenty-two minutes? Well, why not? I don’t have to do the same thing each time. And notice, too, that by moving to Pomodoro mode, I’ve switched to a process orientation.) None of the items on my list is too big, because I’ve got other things going on in my day—meetings to go to, a lecture to give. Sometimes I sprinkle a few tasks that involve physical motion on my list, like pulling weeds or sweeping the kitchen. These aren’t generally my favorite kinds of tasks, but somehow, because I’m using them as diffuse-mode breaks, I often look forward to them. Mixing other tasks up with your learning seems to make everything more enjoyable and keeps you from prolonged and unhealthy bouts of sitting.

Over time, as I’ve gained more experience, I’ve gotten much better at gauging how long it takes to do any given task. You will find yourself improving quickly as you become more realistic about what you can reasonably do in any given time. Some people like to place a number from one to five beside each task, with one being the highest priority and five being an item that would be okay to delay until the next day. Others like to put a star beside high-priority tasks. Some people like to put a box in front of each item so they can check it off. I personally like to put a big black line through each item when I finish it. Whatever floats your boat. You’ll be developing a system that works for you.

THE FREEDOM OF A SCHEDULE

“To combat procrastination, I make a schedule of everything I have to do. For example, I tell myself, ‘Friday, I need to start my paper and then finish it on Saturday. Also, on Saturday, I need to do my math homework. On Sunday, I need to study for my German test.’ It really helps me stay organized and practically stress-free. If I don’t follow my schedule, then I have twice the amount of the work to do the next day, and that’s really not something I look forward to.” —Randall Broadwell, mechanical engineering student with a German minor

Incidentally, if you’ve tried starting a planner or journal before and not had it work for you, you might try a related technique that has a more obvious reminder function built in: Keep your task list on a chalkboard or whiteboard by your door. And of course, you can still feel that visceral thrill of pleasure every time you check something off your list!

Notice my goal finish time for the day: 5:00 P.M. Doesn’t seem right, does it? But it is right, and it is one of the most important components of your daily planner-journal. Planning your quitting time is as important as planning your working time. Generally, I aim to quit at 5:00 P.M., although when I’m learning something new, it can sometimes be a pleasure to look at it again after I’ve taken an evening break, just before I go to sleep. And occasionally there is a major project that I’m wrapping up. The 5:00 P.M. quitting time comes about because I have a family I enjoy hanging with, and I like to have plenty of time for a wide variety of reading in the evening. If this seems like too easy a schedule, keep in mind that I rise early and do this six days a week, obviously not something you need to be doing unless your study and work load is extra heavy.

You might think, Well, yeah, but you’re a professor who is past your youthful study days—of course an early quitting time is fine for you! However, one of my most admired study experts, Cal Newport, used a 5:00 P.M. quitting time through most of his student career.10 He ended up getting his Ph.D. from MIT. In other words, this method, implausible though it may seem for some, can work for undergraduate and graduate students in rigorous academic programs. Time after time, those who are committed to maintaining healthy leisure time along with their hard work outperform those who doggedly pursue an endless treadmill.

Once you’ve finished your daily list, you’re done for the day. If you find yourself consistently working beyond your planned quitting time, or not finishing the items you’ve laid out for yourself, your planner-journal will help you catch it and allow you to start making subtle shifts in your working strategy. You have an important goal each day: to jot a few brief notes into your planner-journal for the next day, and a few checkmarks (hopefully) on your current day’s accomplishments.

Of course, your life may not lend itself to a schedule with breaks and leisure time. You may be running on fumes with two jobs and too many classes. But however your life is going, try to squeeze a little break time in.

It’s important to transform distant deadlines into daily ones. Attack them bit by bit. Big tasks need to be translated into smaller ones that show up on your daily task list. The only way to walk a journey of a thousand miles is to take one step at a time.

NOW YOU TRY!

Planning for Success

Pick a small portion of a task you have been avoiding. Plan where and when you will tackle that portion of the task. Will you go to the library in the afternoon, leaving your cell phone on airplane mode? Will you go into a different room in your house tomorrow evening, leaving your laptop behind and writing by hand to get a start? Whatever you decide, just planning how you will implement what you need to do makes it far more likely that you will succeed in the task.12 You may be so used to procrastination and guilt as motivators that it is hard to bring yourself to believe that another system could work. More than that, it may take you a while to figure out how to properly budget your time because you’ve never before had the luxury of knowing how much time it takes to do a good job without rushing. Chronic procrastinators, as it turns out, tend to see each act of procrastination as a unique, unusual act, a “just this one time” phenomenon that won’t be repeated again. Even though it isn’t true, it sounds great—so great that you will believe it again and again, because without your planner-journal, there’s nothing to counter your thoughts. As Chico Marx once said, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” AVOIDING PROCRASTINATION—INSIGHTS FROM INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING STUDENT JONATHON MCCORMICK

  1. I write down assignments in my planner as being due one day before they are really due. That way, I never rush to finish at the last minute, and I still have one full day to think my assignment through before turning it in.

  2. I tell my friends that I’m working on my homework. That way, whenever one of them catches me live on Facebook, they’ll hold me accountable to the fact that I’m supposed to be doing homework.

  3. I have a framed piece of paper with the starting salary of an industrial engineer on my desk. Whenever I can’t focus on my task at hand, I look at that and remind myself that it’ll pay off in the long run.

A little procrastination here and there is unavoidable. But to be effective in learning math and science, you must master your habits. Your zombies must be under your control. Your planner-journal serves as your eyes to keep track of what works. When you first start using a task list, you will often find that you’ve been too ambitious—there’s no way to accomplish it all. But as you fine-tune, you will quickly learn how to set sensible, doable goals.

You may think, Yes, but what about a time management system? And how do I know what is most important for me to be working on? That’s what the weekly to-do list is all about. It helps you calmly step back, look at the big picture, and set priorities. Setting out your daily list the evening before can also help prevent you from making last-minute decisions that can cost you in the long run.

Do you need to sometimes make changes in your plans because of unforeseen events? Of course! But remember the Law of Serendipity: Lady Luck favors the one who tries. Planning well is part of trying. Keep your eye on the goal, and try not to get too unsettled by occasional roadblocks.

ENLISTING LISTS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF STARTING

“I stay organized during the week by making a list of things that need to be done for each day. The list is usually on a lined sheet of paper that I just fold and stick in my pocket. Every day, a couple of times a day, I’ll pull it out and double-check that I’ve done or am going to do whatever is on the agenda for that day. It’s nice to be able to cross stuff off the list, especially when it’s super long. I have a drawer just full of these folded-up pieces of paper.

“I find it’s easier to start one thing, or even a few things at a time, and know that the next time I go to do them, they are already partly done, so there is less to worry about.” —Michael Gashaj, sophomore, industrial engineering

Technology Tips: The Best Apps and Programs for Studying

A simple timer plus pen and paper are often the most straightforward tools to avoid procrastination, but you can also make use of technology. Here’s a rundown of some of the best student-oriented tools.

NOW YOU TRY!

Best Apps and Programs to Keep on Task (free versions available unless otherwise noted)

Timers

The Pomodoro technique (varied prices and resources): http://pomodorotechnique.com/

Tasks, Planning, and Flash Cards

30/30—combines timers with a task list: http://3030.binaryhammer.com/

StudyBlue—combines flash cards and notes with text messages when it’s time to study again, along with a direct link to the material: http://www.studyblue.com/ Evernote—one of my personal favorites; very popular for noting task lists and random pieces of information (replaces the little notebook writers have long carried to keep track of their ideas): http://evernote.com/ Anki—one of the best pure flash card systems, with an excellent spaced repetition algorithm; many excellent premade decks are available for a variety of disciplines: http://ankisrs.net/ Quizlet.com—allows you to input your own flash cards; you can work with classmates to divide up the duties (free): http://quizlet.com/ Google Tasks and Calendar: http://mail.google.com/mail/help/tasks/

Limiting Your Time on Time-Wasting Websites

Freedom—many people swear by this program, available for MacOS, Windows, and Android ($10): http://macfreedom.com/ StayFocusd—for Google Chrome: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/stayfocusd/laankejkbhbdhmipfmgcngdelahlfoji?hl=en LeechBlock—for Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/leechblock/

MeeTimer—for Firefox; tracks and logs where you spend your time: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/meetimer/ Cheering Yourself and Others On

43 Things—a goal-setting site: http://www.43things.com/

StickK—a goal-setting site: http://www.stickk.com/

Coffitivity—modest background noise similar to a coffee shop: http://coffitivity.com/

Easiest Block of All

Disable sound notifications on your computer and smartphone!

SUMMING IT UP

Mental tricks can be powerful tools. The following are some of the most effective:

Put yourself in a place with few interruptions, such as a library, to help with procrastination.

Practice ignoring distracting thoughts by simply letting them drift past.

If your attitude is troubled, reframe your focus to shift attention from the negative to the positive.

Realize it’s perfectly normal to sit down with a few negative feelings about beginning your work.

Planning your life for “playtime” is one of the most important things you can do to prevent procrastination, and one of the most important reasons to avoid procrastination.

At the heart of procrastination prevention is a reasonable daily to-do list, with a weekly once-over to ensure you’re on track from a big-picture perspective.

Write your daily task list the evening before.

Eat your frogs first.

PAUSE AND RECALL

Close the book and look away. What were the main ideas of this chapter? Remember to congratulate yourself for having finished reading this section—every accomplishment deserves a mental pat on the back!

ENHANCE YOUR LEARNING

  1. If it’s normal for students to first sit down with a few negative feelings about beginning their work, what can you do to help yourself get over this hurdle?

  2. What is the best way for you to gain control of habits of procrastination?

  3. Why would you want to write a task list down the evening before you intend to accomplish the tasks?

  4. How might you reframe something you are currently perceiving in a negative way?

  5. Explain why having a daily quitting time to work toward is so important.

NOW YOU TRY!

Setting Reasonable Goals

I would like the end of this chapter to be the beginning of your own. For the next two weeks, write your weekly goals down at the beginning of each week. Then, each day, write out five to ten small, reasonable daily goals based on your weekly goals. Cross off each item as you complete it, and mentally savor each completed item that you cross off your list. If you need to, break a given task out into a “mini task list” of three small subtasks to help keep yourself motivated.

Remember, part of your mission is to finish your daily tasks by a reasonable time so that you have some guilt-free leisure time for yourself. You are developing a new set of habits that will make your life much more enjoyable!

You can use paper or a notebook, or you can get a chalkboard or whiteboard to post by your door. Whatever you think will work best, that’s what you need to do to get started.

COPING WITH LIFE’S TOUGHEST CHALLENGES USING MAGICAL MATH MARINATION—MARY CHA’S STORY

“My father abandoned my family when I was three weeks old, and my mother died when I was nine. As a result, I did terribly in middle and high school, and while still a teenager, I left my adopted parents’ house with $60 to my name.

“I am currently a 3.9 GPA biochemistry major, and I am working toward my goal of going to medical school. I will apply next year.

“What does this have to do with math? Glad you asked!

“When I joined the army at age twenty-five, it was because my life had become financially unmanageable. Joining the army was the best decision of my life—although that’s not to say army life was easy. The most difficult period was in Afghanistan. I was happy with my work, but I had little in common with my coworkers. This often left me feeling alienated and alone, so I studied math in my spare time to keep the ideas fresh in my mind.

“My military experience helped me develop good study habits. Not as in stare intently for hours, but as in only got a few minutes here, gotta figure out what I can! Some issue or other was always arising, which meant that I had to do my work in short bursts.

“That’s when I accidentally discovered ‘magical math marination’—the equivalent of diffuse-mode processing. I’d be stuck on some problems—really stuck, with no clue about what was going on. Then I’d get called out to respond to some explosion or another. While I was out leading the team, or even just sitting quietly, waiting, the back of my mind was simultaneously musing over math problems. I’d come back to my room later that night and everything would be solved!

“Another trick I’ve discovered is what I call active review. I’ll be straightening my hair or showering, but I’m simultaneously reviewing in my head problems that I have already solved. This allows me to keep problems in the forefront of my mind so I won’t forget them.

“My process for studying is as follows:

  1. Do all the odd problems in a section (or at least enough of each ‘type’ to complete your understanding).

  2. Let the problems marinate.

  3. Make sheets with all the important concepts and one example of each type of problem you’d like to add to your toolbox.

  4. Before an exam, be able to list everything on your sheets: the subjects, the types of problems within the sections, and the techniques. You’d be surprised by what just being able to list the sections and subjects will do for you, let alone the types of problems and toolbox tricks. This type of verbal recall allows you to recognize types of problems more quickly and have more confidence before you go into the exam.

“When I was younger, I thought that if I didn’t get something immediately, it meant I would never be able to get it, or I wasn’t smart. That isn’t true at all, of course. Now I understand that it’s really important to get started on something early, leaving time for it to digest. This leads to stress-free understanding that makes learning a lot more enjoyable.”

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