“The Myth of the Big Break”

The article I will be responding to can be found at the following link:  http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/01/25/the-myth-of-the-big-break/

In this post, Cal argues that real success does not come from one point in which you “make it” but through a sustained push towards one’s goals.  He talks of people who want to do big things like write books or help produce movies.  However, many of them are not willing to put in the time to earn success.  Many are not willing to hone their craft or make a plan to take the necessary steps towards success.

I relate to this in the fact that often the hardest thing for us to do is start.  He uses the two points “(1) Get started; (2) Keep going.” as being crucial to achieving success.  In my life a goal of mine has been to lift weights to get bigger as I am rather skinny.  However, it is so hard to get over the anxiety of starting a new workout plan and actually taking the plunge and getting in the gym.  Eventually, I realized half the battle was just getting in the gym and doing something.  I couldn’t wait for the perfect workout plan or the right time.  These were just excuses that allowed me to procrastinate.  This summer I finally made myself start going to the gym regularly and it wasn’t as tough as I thought.  However, then I had trouble in regards to the “keep going” part.  Although partially due to hurting my elbow, I let myself get busy with other things and didn’t make working out a priority.  Now that I am healed I am in the same stage of having trouble forcing myself to start.  Writing this down in black and white has really made me realize I am just putting off working out.  Therefore, my action step after this post will be to go to the Aspen Heights gym tomorrow and get a workout in.  It doesn’t need to be a hard workout but I need to RESTART.

One way for a person to be accountable in achieving these goals and “starting” is to write their goals down.  However, it is not just enough to write them down.  You need to constantly revisit them and evaluate the steps you are taking to achieve them.  Goals are powerful.  Whether that be working out or doing better in school.  Without them, it is impossible to hold ourselves accountable and we limit our potential.


Getting Things Done for College Students

In college organization can be key.  It is crucial to keep deadlines straight or you can miss assignments.  There are so many of these tasks to keep track of that it is impossible to keep all of these things straight in your head without a system.  While college students don’t necessarily need to go crazy with time management, it is really important to find a system that is flexible and works for you.  Newport offers a condensed version of a system he thinks could work for many students which can be found at his post here http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/10/06/monday-master-class-getting-things-done-for-college-studentsmade-easy/

Organization does not come naturally to me as a student at all.  In high school, I really didn’t keep track of things and just tried to remember my commitments.  It is no surprise that I often missed assignments and just forgot about things quite regularly.  When one gets to college, this type of disorganization really catches up to you.  In high school, if you missed a deadline you could often turn it in late.  In some college classes, there are absolutely no exceptions for late work.  In my Audit class, a girl was 5 minutes late to class the day the project was due and she got a zero.  The professors reasoning was that she always could of turned it in early.  That may be on the extreme end of the spectrum but the point is that excuses don’t cut it so you really have to be on top of deadlines or you could really suffer in regards to your grades.

Newport’s system proposed in this article has 5 steps.  The first is “collect” which involves capturing all of the obligations that come into your life.  I think the key here is to make this as painless as possible.  Thinking about time management is stressful so if the process for collecting this info is a pain you are more likely to give up on your system.  Next you have to consolidate these collected obligations into your calendar at least once a day.  Then before the start of each week you should review your calendar to kind of get a big picture view where you stand.  Then, plan out when you will do what.  Each day you will likely have to create a daily schedule and adapt it to things coming up.  This is the act stage where you take that plan and actually implement it on a daily basis.

One crucial factor is to not just make a to do list but to each day block off a realistic time chunk where you think you can achieve each thing you need to do that day.  Try to get as much of your work done before dinner because your productivity really suffers the later it gets.  Plus there are always fun things to do at night in college.

This really sums up the system and when I have stuck to it I have largely been more productive then when I fall off the wagon.  By trying to be honest with how long things take, you won’t try to do too much each day and end up prioritizing things more effectively.  Time management can make the difference between  being a good college student and being a great college student.

I Got a C on My Orgo Exam! What Should I Do?

I wanted to start by responding to Cal Newport’s article “I Got a C on My Orgo Exam! What Should I Do?” because I feel that the article really sums up the differences in mindset that sets great students apart from good students.  This is really the guiding philosophy in terms of studying which I will dissect in further posts.  The article can be found here http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/04/01/i-got-a-c-on-my-orgo-exam-what-should-i-do/

It is safe to say that every college student will run into a bit of adversity when it comes to getting the grades they want.  I have definitely bombed a test a few times.  Sometimes you just study the wrong things or don’t review a certain area that the professor thought was really important.  Being in the business of writing study advice, Cal Newport gets his fair share of emails from people saying they’ve failed a test and they need help.  He believes that the difference between students who will pull themselves out of it and those that will just keep getting bad grades is adaptability.

In the context of academics, adaptability has very little to do with someone’s innate intelligence but their ability to change strategies to get a different result.  In fact, the study Newport references found that someone’s belief in whether intelligence was fixed or not was crucial to their success in premed courses.  If a student really wants to be successful they have to believe they can develop their intelligence and therefore adapt to get better.

How this plays out in college is that many students will study for an exam and fail it.  In response, they may try to study for longer or even worse just keep doing the same thing they were doing and expect a different result.  If you want to truly be successful you have to adapt your strategy and be willing to try new things to put yourself in a position where you can improve.  When you get a bad grade, you evaluate what you didn’t get right and develop strategies to makes sure next time you know that type of material.

In fact, if you abide by the belief that you should always develop and refine strategies to study better than not only will perform better but you will be able to achieve better results with less time.  More time does not necessarily guarantee better results.  This is something many college students don’t realize.  If you use your time efficiently, you can have a happier experience by getting things done so you have time for extracurriculars while still getting good grades.  Maybe you can’t have it all, but you can a whole lot more than one might think.

It starts with one conscious decision.  You have to decide to be go all in on the belief that you can be a great college student.  You have to be willing to think critically about your habits and techniques to perfect them.  Thinking isn’t necessarily easy but if you seize the opportunity college can be a life-changing experience.