How to study for exams – a highly effective technique. 

When we study for an exam, we usually have a few chapters to go through, from either one or more textbooks and perhaps some articles, and learn the material for an exam. It contains important terms, dates, definitions and some facts. You’ve read (or not) some of this material ages ago and surely don’t remember or know many important facts right now.

There is one very effective technique that can help you a lot.

How can you study to learn so much and quickly?

I’ve been using this technique for years and it always work very well for me so hopefully some of you will find it very useful too! 😉

  • (Obviously) You probably don’t have time to re-read the chapters so just skim them, looking for and highlighting the most important information. Many of the most crucial dates and terms will already be in tables or marked in some way by the authors to make them more visible which will simplify this stage a bit. Don’t highlight all the pages! Just dates, facts, definitions and a few examples!
  • Once you choose what’s most important go through your book again and make handwritten notes. In a notebook, not your book. Write down the highlighted sentences and terms. Try to be as selective as possible. Each time you go back to the text you should be able to narrow the information down more and more. The important bit here is to re-read some parts of the highlighted text and try to write the most vital things in your own words. Sometimes it may seem impossible to paraphrase something like a difficult term so just copy the authors’ words. It’s for your own use only anyway but you will need to use your own words during the exam unless you remember some quotes and then can use the exact wording. Make your notes interesting. The brain doesn’t like boring linear notes so adding some small mind maps and using colours or writing some words with a thicker pen can help with this. Funny or abstract little drawings on the sides? That’s what will help your brain remember stuff even more.
  • Take a break. Come back after a small meal and a walk or some exercises, andcarefully re-read the text. Read it out loud! Imagine that you are a teacher and try to explain the material to your students (you can speak to plants or books while practising this). It’s a very effective exercise that will help you to remember things better.
  • The next step is to take an A4 page and, bearing in mind that you have only one page for this task, summarise everything that is most important/worth remembering from the chapter you’ve skimmed and made some notes on. So basically, all the notes from one chapter now need to be narrowed down and summarised further: 1 chapter = 1 page. You decide what may be useful during the exams. You won’t be able to remember EVERYTHING anyway unless you’ve been studying hard all year—even then you’ll probably forget some facts. Again, make your notes colourful, use arrows, circle and underline the most important things to make things clear and easy to remember. Once this is done, you just need to re-read it the same day and the next day, and if you have time after 5 -7 days too. Read it while trying to understand, and if possible even imagine the meaning, of every single sentence. Turn the page upside down and try to say what you’ve read about, again like you are teaching someone about it. So, the rule is that a summary of every chapter goes on one page. You can write this using very tiny letters, but make sure it’s handwritten and colourful!
  • A day or ideally two before the exam, try to summarise your chapters even MOREall summaries of the textbook now go to one two-sided A4 page! So usually you can allow 20-30% of the page to each chapter’s summary, but it really depends on the number of chapters you have. So basically, you end up having one piece of paper with all the most important knowledge that your textbook contains. Again, make it super colourful and attractive – so you actually will want to read it. Make the letters quite small. Re-read this final summary a few times. Remember to take breaks! Keep the longer summaries (1 chapter = 1 page) with you and read them slowly in the morning before the exam, without rushing so as not to get stressed and to avoid doing these final repetitions a bit mindlessly. Then re-read your two-sided final summary with all the chapters on it.

If you follow all the steps, then you are more than ready for your exam!

Good luck!

THE 3 BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Motivation 3/3

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THE MOTIVATIONAL MYTH

There is something called motivation, I do agree, but some of us often try to rely on it instead of believing in ourselves more and taking action. We can do what we want if we focus on managing tasks and our energy instead of constantly seeking inspiration and motivation to drag us towards our goals. It doesn’t work that way.

If you enjoy doing what you are doing and working on then you don’t really need any external motivation, do you? You do something because you like it or love it. Some of us think that motivation precedes action. Does it? We have to have some internal motivation but that often shows up during or after activities we do, not before. Otherwise, can you imagine that a successful sportsman waits for inspiration and exercise only when he or she feels like it?

If you don’t enjoy what you are doing then watching a motivational video won’t help; surely, it’s not a long-term solution anyway.

You need to find out EXACTLY why you don’t like something and consider what you can do to change this. Is the task too boring or difficult? What can you do about it?

  • Can you make some modifications to make the task more attractive? Can you do something to enjoy it a bit more while doing it, e.g. listening to an audio book or your favourite music while cleaning?
  • If it’s difficult can you watch some tutorials about it or take up a course or two so you can extend your skills and knowledge and become a bit more of an expert in it?
  • If you can’t find a way to improve anything, then a technique such as Pomodoro may be useful (blocks of 25 mins of work using a timer). You can read more about this technique here . Pomodoro timers are available online for free.

Read about and listen to productivity tips but also do spend some time on observing and considering what really works for you and what doesn’t because even the best methods won’t work for everyone in the same way.

Kaizen – how to dramatically improve your life?

We know that changing habits such as getting up earlier, stopping smoking or implementing daily meditation or exercising routines is POSSIBLE (but surely not easy). We also know that it takes on average 61 days to change a habit. This is only an average, though, because it can actually vary from 18 to 254 days(!) depending on the individual. Many people get frustrated if they can’t get used to new habits quickly and then give up on them.

The Kaizen approach is used in companies such as Toyota and Ford but can also be applied in personal life.

So, what is it exactly?

It is often called a Japanese technique for improving the quality of life and work; however, as a matter of fact, the theory was created and first used in the USA. The main point of it is to make small changes. You can make little improvements in ANY area of your life.

Trying to take big ambitious steps to improve our lives may be a good idea sometimes but, according to science, most people don’t really know how to stick to their goals in the long-term. Many of us tend to get easily discouraged, change plans and give up on aims when we meet too many obstacles.

If you want to achieve something, try to focus on breaking the goal up into lots of little steps, for example:

  • If you want to start to exercise, why not do 1-2minutes of exercise today, and then add an additional minute every day instead of signing up for a gym and paying upfront to a fitness coach for a few hours of intensive training?
  • If you want to read more daily, set up a low target and add to it a page a day or every other day until you reach your upper target. One page doesn’t take much to read so this small change shouldn’t require too much effort, even if you are busy.

What’s interesting is that the Kaizen technique doesn’t have an end point, last step or final target. It is a continuous development and improvement of ourselves and our lives. For example, if you want to read 30 pages a day and, after making some small changes, you finally reach your goal, after let’s say a few weeks, then this process or aim doesn’t need to end right there. The next step in your personal development in this area could be learning how to do speed reading. The next steps all depend on our needs and ideas.

The Kaizen approach was first used in industries in the depression era in the USA because making greater improvements simply wasn’t an option. The Americans started to look at how little changes in various areas and departments could be made, and realised that, although they took small steps, they eventually added up and had a bigger impact in terms of bettering their businesses. So, they looked at how to make improvements in money, time, material waste, resources and policies.

William Edward Deming (an American engineer, professor and management consultant; 1900- 1993) is believed to be the Father of the Kaizen approach. He was known for introducing and teaching this method.

The result of implementing Kaizen wasn’t just bigger productivity. It also eliminated hard work and taught everyone in an organisation how they could constantly improve themselves and the things around them; and how the work they were doing could be more rewarding.

It was a very successful strategy and after the Second World War, when the Japanese needed help in maintaining their factories and industries, a group of American business advisors was sent to Japan to teach the Japanese how to make improvements there.

The Japanese gave a name to the approach: KAIZEN where KAI means GOOD in Japanese and ZEN means CHANGE. So, KAIZEN literally means good change, but more generally it is understood as a CONTINUING IMPROVEMENT. The Japanese expanded the theory further making it somewhat into an art of living and working.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, aren’t they? Small changes are more manageable than huge steps, and although they may seem tiny and meaningless at first, they do add up and lead to great improvements.

If you want to try Kaizen in your private life or at work, look at an area (or areas) which you’d like to improve and think what could be the SMALLEST possible change that you could make to create a little difference, especially if done consistently and expanded further step by step in the future.

Kaizen can be applied to various bad habits, for instance, you can decide to waste a little less time watching TV or on social media every day until you reach a goal that you feel happy with.

Are you going to try to implement this approach in your life?

THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Time management 2/3

Person Writing On Notebook

THE TIME-MANAGEMENT MYTH

Time can’t be managed, bent, given, multiplied and modified in any way. So don’t try to fight with time and treat it as your enemy! Perceiving time more positively will help you to be calmer and happier with your life. You can’t manage time but you still can do a lot in order to improve your productivity.

  • You can manage your energy levels by exercising, sleeping better, drinking more water and eating well.
  • You can choose to limit distractions by turning your phone off or onto airplane mode or by getting up earlier and doing some meaningful work before everyone else will have a chance to bombard you with questions and queries.
  • You can manage your attention better by doing something to improve your focus. I’d recommend green tea, fresh air (open windows for a while) and practising mindfulness.
  • You can say no to invitations, meetings and some people sometimes. It seems very difficult but remember that you can’t allow others to decide how you should live your life.
  • You can manage your tasks and decide to, for example, check emails less often.
  • You can devote some time to planning and reviewing your goals and analyse the progress to become better every week.

Don’t look at the passing hours and minutes. Focus on what’s important, plan your steps and take actions. One of the most important things is to have a flexible approach. You may need to change your plans, your techniques and methods but you don’t need to give up or change your goals. Challenges are good for us – they help us grow. Be open, positive and flexible.

Image result for flexible approach quote

THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Multitasking 1/3

box, business, celebrate

THE MULTITASKING MYTH

Around a decade ago some employers suddenly started to ask during work interviews: Are you able to multitask? Some still do this although many people are already familiar with the most recent studies which indicate that multitasking is impossible in humans and is merely switching from one task to another. On top of that, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 30-40%.

It may sometimes be okay to combine a physical activity with a cognitive one, e.g. listening to an audio book while riding a bike or washing dishes, but many employers got the idea of multitasking completely wrong. Some of them believe that multitasking is needed and can be done in busy office environments where one needs to answer a lot of phone calls, reply to emails and provide face-to-face customer service. No, it can’t.

Research shows that trying to multitask will actually make you slower and also … lower your IQ! Our human brain can focus only on one task at a time and people who try to work this way and avoid multitasking achieve the best results.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England carried out a study using MRI scans. The findings revealed that people who spend time using multiple devices, for example texting while watching TV, had less brain density in a part of the cortex which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control. Emotional control is a simple term but some of you may wonder what cognitive control means. It basically means that your brain allows you to make decisions based rather on our goals than habits and reactions. It allows you to be flexible and adapt more easily in different situations.

If you are interested to read more about multitasking I’d recommend this book: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw (available here).

How to reduce stress levels and feel more in control? 

Do you feel you are getting stressed too often? Let’s look at what studies say about dealing with this problem. Being aware that stress can affect our well-being enormously and how to deal with it is certainly crucial for our well-being!

Remember that your emotions are just emotions and they are temporary. Don’t let them dictate how you feel. If something is overwhelming and you feel stressed and you feel that there is no solution, just TAKE A BREAK.

Depending on the situation, different things may help: talk to a trustworthy and supportive friend, watch a movie (preferably a comedy!), unplug and disconnect for a few hours and take a nice hot bath, practice mindfulness or go for a run (take headphones and turn on your favourite music).

When it’s difficult to deal with problems and we feel overwhelmed, it’s best to do some physical activity. Getting more oxygen to your brain, making your muscles tired – this always does the trick and will make you feel better, more confident and calmer!

Diverting your attention to your passion can also be very helpful but it may not always work, for example, if your passion requires quite a lot of attention and focus, because your mind may just not be in the right state, with lots of meandering and not-so-constructive thoughts.

It’s been proven that reading (a minimum of 6 mins) can reduce your stress levels by as much as 70%!

Whatever you decide to do, just don’t withdraw from your life, society, or work. That’s not a solution or a good method to deal with stress. It actually increases anxiety, stress and depression instead of giving you an opportunity to focus and find a solution.

One of the most helpful techniques that you can use on a daily basis to improve your resistance towards stress is to work on your outlook. The way you perceive different situations impacts on how you feel and how your body reacts. Studies found that perceiving difficult tasks more positively, as challenges rather than problems or threats, improves stress levels and makes us feel more in control and calmer. Try to avoid self-pitying, blaming others, and pessimistic and critical thoughts.

And remember. EVERYONE has problems, large and small, now and then. You are not the only one!

Avoid the 3 Biggest Productivity Traps

  1. CATCHING UP

Working more hours often to catch up with the demands at work, or while working on your personal projects, sometimes ends up as a normal working pattern that lasts weeks or months. Working some extra weekends may be a good solution once in a while. It’s really satisfying to feel we are ahead and everything is nicely organised and ready for Monday morning. However, if you do it for a longer period of time, for example a few weeks, your productivity, attention and energy will decrease enormously. According to studies, working approximately 40 hours a week, is ideal in terms of our productivity. Working more than that is a great recipe for burnout, depression and exhaustion! If that’s what you need right now then keep going! … but I’m sure it’s not.

2. EXTRA ACTIVITIES
Many pieces of advice about productivity come down to one thing: try to squeeze in various productive, healthy and personally beneficial activities into your day, whenever you can. I’ve read tonnes of them by now:

  • if you are on a break you can quickly check and reply to your personal emails
  • read and watch news while eating your breakfast
  • listen to audio books while doing gardening/cleaning your house/looking after children
  • write, read and work while you are on a bus or train
  • use an app to learn a foreign language while waiting in a queue

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Some of the advice may be really good and useful for you as long as you don’t try to squeeze in too much. Otherwise you will end up:

– without any breaks and time for recharging your batteries

– with no opportunities to do something without using many of your cognitive skills, such as walking without occupying your mind with work and foreign language courses. Even cleaning house or gardening can be great opportunities to let your brain rest a bit from hundreds of emails, tasks and queries related to your work and projects.

If you forget about your needs to rest and disconnect you will feel tired more often and become a lot less productive.

3. LOW IMPACT VS HIGH IMPACT TASKS.
Every work has some more and less important tasks. You are probably familiar with the 20/80 Pareto principle, which believe me actually works! And it’s pretty straightforward. It says that:

20% of your input on tasks and effort translates into 80% of results.

Make a list of tasks that you need to do on a regular basis – to make it simple choose a maximum of 10 tasks that you tend to do most often. Then think which 2 tasks from this list give you actually the most meaningful and biggest results.

We often tend to spend a lot of time on things like answering emails and making phone calls – and although these things are important, we usually do them way too often. For example, on average most of us check emails every 15 minutes while studies show that to be most effective and productive you should do it only 3x a day if you do an office job. If you can check and reply to your emails only 2-3 x a week, then that’s even better. Of course, your personal email can be checked daily but hopefully you don’t use it as well as a work email.

If you are writing a book your high impact task will be writing and then maybe editing or researching your materials. Plan ahead to do your high-impact tasks when you have most energy, for example, 2-3 hours every morning. Try to do everything to avoid interruptions then. Maybe you can get up earlier, switch your mobile to airplane mode and let others know that this is a very important time for you when you need to work and can deal with their questions and requests later? Whatever you do try not to skip the planning stage which is crucial.