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Advice for students: If you’d like help, ask

Advice for students: If you’d like help, ask
Question

    When I’m reading a student’s essay and see a significant writing problem, I’ll often write this sentence: “If you’d like some help, just ask.” Alas, many students are reluctant to do so. They often believe (as I know from talking with them) that they “can’t write,” that they’re “no good” at writing. They make that point about themselves in harsher, cruder ways too. Such students seem resigned to getting along as well as they can.

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    But some students do come in for help during office hours. The help that I offer sometimes involves talking through the process of organizing ideas into an essay. Sometimes it involves matters of paragraphs — stating, developing, and keeping to a main idea without getting lost in tangents. Most often the issue is punctuation. I’ve found that taking just thirty or forty-five minutes to show a student how to find and fix comma splices or run-on sentences can go a long way toward solving the problem.

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    It’s useful for students to keep in mind that a college campus is in many ways a vast, standing offer of help. That offer doesn’t always come in the form of a personal invitation. But it’s there. So if you’re baffled by a microfilm machine or by the arrangement of the library stacks, ask a librarian. If you need to get in touch with a professor who’s on sabbatical, ask a department secretary (secretaries are often the most helpful and well-informed people on campus). If you’re trying to cope with an impossible roommate, talk to a resident assistant. If you’re in emotional or financial difficulty that threatens to overwhelm you, make an appointment with a counselor. If you’re wandering the labyrinth of a classroom building in search of a room number, ask someone who works there. And if you have questions about the work of a course, talk to your professor. There are questions that in retrospect might seem naive (or even stupid), but it’s better to ask them and get them cleared up than to let them go unanswered. I can remember as a college freshman mistaking the vast library reference room for the main stacks. I’m glad I asked for help.

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    Asking for help should never be a matter of asking someone else to assume responsibility that’s yours. It’s comically inappropriate to ask an instructor to proofread an essay for you before you turn it in (yes, that happens) or to step unannounced into a professor’s office and ask for a stapler (yes, that happens too). But a legitimate request for help will likely meet with a generous and kind response.

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    That can be the case in the so-called real world too. After trying out several topics for this post, I felt stuck and asked my wife Elaine Elaine for a suggestion. Thanks, Elaine!

    Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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