Friday, March 30, 2012

Loneliness: The Silent Stalker of College Students

Photo by Scott Meltzer
Have you ever felt lonely?  This matters to this topic, because loneliness is one of the major factors for people dropping out.  Just as we are created for a relationship with God, we are also created for relationships with other people (Genesis 2:18). If you have difficulty fitting in where you go to school, it will make doing school difficult.  If you were to place the schedule of a young adult alongside an older adult you would notice differences. 

The one area young people devote more time is in socializing with friends.  As you get older, this tends to fade as other responsibilities increase.  This is ok because young adults have a greater need to figure out who they are apart from their families, so friends fill this role.   It is common for people to have high school friendships that extend back to very early years.  These friendships have always just been there.  Army brats tend to do very well in making friends because they are used to moving constantly, but if you never had to go make new friends it can be challenging.  

In college, it is rare to see people you know and friends who go to the same college may find it difficult to meet up if their schedules do not match.  All of this leads to a lot of loneliness. Do not neglect yourself in this phase of life; you need to be connected to people.  I would encourage you to plug into your local church to establish a bond with like minded people. 
You can make friends at school also, and fortunately there are two needs that can be met at the same time.  Group study counts as social time.  I repeat, group study time counts as social time.  If you do this you will find yourself feeling much better.  The task is to find group members who work hard and are also enjoyable to be with.  Here’s a tip:  Control the process of membership at the outset.  Schedule a study room on days that would work for you.

On the first day of class, you show up having read the text prior to the first lecture.  You will have created your Cornell Note with facts and preliminary “high level” questions about things that didn’t make sense. As the lecture proceeds take your notes, ask your questions and watch the others and note who is taking notes, asking goods questions and seems like they may be a good group member.    As the class ends, move in and introduce yourself, “Hi I’m Mike, this looks like a tough class.  You seem like a hard worker, I have reserved a study room in the library would you like to join us?  We will meet in room 14 Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30-3:30.  We need to make sure we get a lot done and we can’t mess around, so go over your notes before we meet and write down questions for things you think will be on the exam.  Whatever we can’t figure out I’ll go ask the professor during her office hours.”   

Did you catch what was going on?  You have set the tone for a successful group and established the group norms.  You have just helped this person and yourself.  Shoot for 4-6 people because a small group of hard working students usually has perfect knowledge, but if the fact is important and the group can’t figure it out, you have a perfect question to bring to a professor.  Next Time: Office Hours

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wasted Time

If your study time involves your phone, Facebook or Twitter, you will get less done because you will be distracted. Check out the chart that follows:
  The idea is that every study session involves a warm up period to get to the point where you are studying at peak productivity, but it also involves distractions that force us back into the warm-up period.   For every person it differs.  You do learn things during the warm up period, but just at a slower rate.  Every time you intentionally sit down to study with the purpose of limiting distractions you will get better.  In other words the more you study, the faster you will get to your peak level, reduce distractions and lengthen your peak levels. 

 All of this means more time in the study sweet spot where you are really learning at an amazing level.  The chart should show you that every time you are distracted you reset to zero and must refocus.  Haven’t you ever reread a line from a book over and over?  This is frustrating and distractions do this to you.  You need to limit distractions.  I would argue that little distractions are robbing you of precious study time.  So when you think you are studying for two hours, in reality that is not what is happening.  You need to subtract the lost time due to recovering from each of your distractions.  Your phone is a classic time thief, as is Facebook, Twitter and even your iPod.
Many people study with headphones to limit outside distractions, but more distractions are being induced if you are stopping to select a new song after each song concludes.  Deep practice is very exhausting, so be ready to get tired when you study deeply.  Having a tenacious spirit will help you to stay locked in. As a child of God you have access to this mental state through the Spirit (Psalm 51:10).

Finally, you need immediate feedback in order to grow quickly.  Look for real-time quizzing opportunities to check your level of learning.  The summary section of the Cornell note should be done afterwards as a way to self check whether you can reproduce the most important facts in your own words.  For those of you who are verbal learners, you will do well to explain the information to someone else.  This will allow you to see whether you really know the information.  Study groups fit this purpose well.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Productivity: A Student's Best Friend

Have you noticed that some people are able to balance many responsibilities?  Their secret is something called productivity. Productivity is a business concept that measures efficiency. Increased productivity leads to more getting done with the same amount of time or resources. Productivity is the reason American businesses continue to thrive despite all the horror stories, but the real cool thing is that productivity also applies to individuals.  You have periods of the day when you are more efficient and times when you just can’t think straight, and there are ways to make the time you have more productive.  If you block off a single chunk of time for study, you may find that there comes a point when you are no longer thinking straight because you are mentally fatigued.  It may be better to break up your studies into multiple bursts of hard study.
One secret to unlocking more of your productivity is the concept of trash time.  Have you ever had to wait for somebody, a bus, a class?  You can redeem (repurchase) that time by studying when you wouldn’t normally study.  Redeeming time is a way to force purpose into your life.  This adds to the overall amount of time that you study.  The idea is to utilize all those moments in our weekly schedule when we are waiting.  The trouble is that we often do not have the spider sense ability to detect when we are in trash time.  If you find yourself saying, “I’m so bored” that is your cue to get back to work.  You are building purpose in your day, when you disengage from idleness (Proverbs 6:19) (Eph 5:16).  Side note:  there are times when you must be still, reflect and talk to God, this is an active thing and not idleness.  It takes great faith and mental work to stop and depend on the Lord. 
Waiting is uncomfortable, because we feel silly doing nothing. That is why many people instinctively pop out their cell phone.  As a student, you need to convert that urge to text to an urge to study.  In fact applications are available to do note cards right on your cell phone. 
Be aware of when you are most productive and use those times for study and less productive times can be used for work or entertainment, or socializing.  Just don’t label all of your time as unproductive.  Do you remember the distance equation from algebra?  Distance equals rate times time.  (D=R*T) The same applies to memorization and study.  The more intensely you study (Rate) and the more time (Time) you study will increase the overall amount you learn (Distance).  The intensity of study is the key factor.  When you are setting down to study, be ready to hate it, because we hate to struggle mentally.  When the urge hits to get distracted, fight it.  Daniel Coyle has done some amazing research as to the nature of talent.  His premise is that talent has nothing to do with genetics, but rather practicing deeply many hours.  This deep practice is striving intensely to master something and this state of thought is exhausting. The best athletes, students, artists, dancers, musicians work intensely at the edge of their abilities, spending their practice time working to acquire higher and higher levels of talent.  With regard to studying you need to purposefully be looking at information you know will be on the test, but not wasting your time by working on things you already know.  You should be pushing yourself to your outer limits of your ability, and when you reach a plateau you have been gunning for recalibrate a higher plateau to work intensely at.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Balancing Work and School

Photo by Thomas Hawk
Most students report difficulty getting their work schedule to accommodate their class schedule.   If you put work over college you will never finish your degree.  Sometimes a lower paying job will net you more money if your schedules can mesh. 

For some people, there is a cool job factor, whereby some of you will take a lower paying job because you feel this job impresses friends.  Conversely, some of you will take less pay to avoid jobs you feel are beneath your dignity.  

Photo by DAEllis
Think about this, if you had a high paying job where you couldn’t work as many hours, you make less money but will tend to spend more money because you have more time on your hands. Also if you can get paid more it can reduce the number of hours that you need to work and have more time to study.  If you are concerned about spending more because of free time, then just work the full schedule and save the excess. 

 Many companies exploit young workers because they are cheap.  Once your boss sees how hard you work it is highly likely that you will be pressured to work additional hours.  Remember that time is a scarce commodity during college, so additional work must come out of your play time which we earlier noted was very low.  You will need to be firm but tactful in ensuring that you are not made to work more hours than you have available in your schedule.  

Be careful about loading your schedule too heavily, because breaks and diversions can help to reduce the likelihood of burnout. You studies will probably suffer if you work beyond 20 hours because you will tend to forgo study over having a good time with your friends.

For those living at home there will be an adjustment that parents and adult children both will have to undergo.  College takes more time than high school.  Parents sometimes don’t get this.  If your parents did not go to college, you will have to respectfully explain your time commitments.  This sample schedule could be a useful conversation tool with your parents.  Some of you have huge family commitments you need to renegotiate.   If you don’t then you will not have enough time to study.

Remember, you will need to recreate your study schedule every semester as class schedules change.  In addition, as you near the end of your degree, you will see less flexibility as you will need to do certain classes at certain times.  It is also rare to get exactly the classes and times that you want, so you will need to constantly adapt to a changing schedule.  

Multiple classes can fill some requirements, so look for those opportunities to create flexibility. If you are inflexible, you will take much longer to finish your degree.  The longer it takes for you to do your degree the less likely you will complete the degree. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Savoring God Right Now

Today’s post is part of the Christian Writer’s blog chain. This month, our theme is “Savor.” Please visit my friends’ blogs by clicking on the links in the right-hand column. 

Is your life in transition?  Are you starting something new, or preparing for a new phase of life?  Oftentimes the present seems so cluttered with preparations for the future that we usually neglect the present.

Psalm 46: 8-10 (NIV)
Come and see what the LORD has done,
   the desolations he has brought on the earth.
 He makes wars cease
   to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
   he burns the shields with fire.
 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 34:8 (NIV)
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Regardless of our situation, we are able to imagine something better.  This is why most people (including Christ followers) have an attitude of bitterness (Rev 2:4).  If we can be really honest with ourselves, then we would realize that this bitterness is directed at God (John 15:24-25).

When we obey God regardless of how we feel, we are acting in Faith (Heb 11:1).  God rewards this active faith with a stronger sense of connectedness to Him (1 Tim 3:13).  

When we stop and ponder who God is and what He has done for us, we will be filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude (Rom 5:8).  This gratitude should empower us towards greater devotion to the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom (2 Thess 1:11).

Savor the Lord, for He is good.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Time Value of a Degree

The above chart is a simplified way to look at income.  It does not take into account the multiplier effect of benefits such as health care, retirement benefits, paid vacations, bonuses, stock options and the like.  

The point is that while you are in college you will notice your non-college friends having more money, stuff, and free time than you. 

Since the dropout rate of college is high in the first year, there is an exponential effect as more and more friends seem to be much happier as they drop out and start having fun.  It’s times like this that you need to remind yourself of the deadbeat threshold.  Right about the time you complete college your non-college friends are beginning to get kicked out of their households.  

When a deadbeat is kicked out, it is devastating to them because they do not have enough earning power to keep them out of poverty.  Add to the fact that many of these folks have kids and a family to take care of at this point.  Fast forward another five years and if you have managed to limit your college loans and have been saving, you should be able to think about buying a house!  This assumes you are married to another college wage earner.  DINKS (double income no kids) have the added ability to save very quickly because costs are so low. 

For those who want to attend a distant college remember that living and working on campus saves a lot of commuting time and gas money, but dorm and food plan costs more.  You can lower this cost if you are willing to rent a room near campus, but this brings some additional issues to consider.  How will you commute to school and work?  What will be the living arrangements and legal agreements among roommates?