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It’s Finals Season: Study Tips

It’s Finals Season: Study Tips

We have all reached the end of Fall semester and felt the temptation to start our Christmas shopping. Our motivation to study is further dampened by colder, shorter days, which makes it difficult to stay focused and productive. Yet, we know we must finish off the semester strong! Here are several tips to bring out your inner book worm and get you energized, focused and ready to ace those finals.

1. Plan out your studies

We are all guilty of having books, papers, and supplies scattered all around our rooms and even all over the house, not just driving ourselves crazy, but our families and roommates as well. Prioritizing is extremely important. It is good to keep a journal or calendar, where you can highlight your assignments and the order in which you need to have them done by. Feel free to go crazy and use as many sticky notes, highlighter colors and other organizational supplies to stay on track. The sooner you are organized, the easier it is to dive into your work.

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2. Stay focused

Staying focused can be difficult, especially with all the social media we have access to. I personally find it helpful to avoid logging onto social media while working. It is always tempting and can free our minds a bit from the stress of finals, but social media should be what you turn to during your break, not so much while you are working. If you can, keep yourself logged off Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and millions of other applications while you are studying. Yes, knowing how your friends are doing is important, but not while trying to write a twenty page paper or studying for an exam, everyone can wait.

3. Stay energized and hydrated

It is important to stay hydrated and energized while working. If you want to avoid running around the house like a crazy person, I suggest having some water and snacks with you in your study space, so you are able to sit for a while and stay productive. Staying hydrated and eating food will help you focus, think and avoid feeling tired. I do not suggest eating unhealthy snacks, since those take away your energy, but rather some fruits, vegetables, crackers and nuts. Avoid sugary and greasy foods if possible.

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4. Study space

It is very important to find a space that works for you. I am the “sit on a pillow on the floor” kind of person, even though my desk is literally a foot away. Everyone works differently, but it is up to you to find out what works best. Depending on whether you enjoy working alone or with others matters in the location you choose. The good thing about libraries is they have quiet study spaces, as well as social ones. The good thing about coffee shops, is they allow you to feel focused with others around you being productive. Space is crucial, so choose wisely.

5. Timing is everything

I personally work better at night. My best work is always written from 9 pm-midnight. Everyone is different, however, and it is up to you to find a time of day where you feel your best ideas kick in. If you are someone who works during the day, but that time period is where your mind is the most energized, find a time during your break to jot down your ideas so you can come home and put them into writing. We all have obligations and cannot always work on school work when we want to, but it is all about the preparation process to get those ideas on paper.

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6. Study break

Sitting around a computer or just sitting in general is never healthy. Of course, it is important to focus and not become distracted (as stressed earlier), but it is important to take a brief pause. Instead of staying on the computer, take a walk, listen to music, take a quick nap, anything you would like. It is important to take mini breaks here and there, to avoid fatigue and writers block.

7. Get enough sleep

You are all probably questioning this study tip since finals and sleep do not go together. However, it is crucial to have enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is not only unhealthy but dangerous. I’m not going to go into the science of it, but it is necessary to sleep. It will help you stay focused, work more efficiently and stress less.

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8. Take a break

Unlike a study break, I actually mean take a break. Plan some time for yourself to go out or to spend time with family and friends. It is not healthy to keep going and seclude yourself from daily life. You should still make plans to get your mind off your work for a couple hours to a day. There is always something to do, whether it’s a long walk or jog, sharing a meal with someone, leaving town for the day, etc. Make plans and stick to them, do not panic and cancel, because we all deserve time to get out and take a breath of air.

These are my study tips to you. Stay focused, determined and know you got this. Happy studying. And now, if you will excuse me, I have a paper to write!

Featured photo credit: http://www.heysigmund.com/college-studying/ via heysigmund.com

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Nicollete Izakovic

Candidate of International Relations

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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