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Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails

    In high school, I had a great routine. About five minutes before I had to leave to get to school on time, I would be hitting print on the paper, project or homework assignment due that day. If I truly had timed things perfectly, I might be printing out anything due in the afternoon in the school library during my lunch period.

    To put it mildly, I was a great procrastinator. College put a little bit of a kink in that approach, though. Professors think nothing of setting due dates all on the same day, forcing me to actually plan ahead. I struggled a little with that sort of planning, to be honest. I had never really needed to plan my time out for studying: I could make a project take as much time as I thought I had before it was due, and prioritizing wasn’t exactly my strong point.

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    Looking at my list of must-haves for a good study planner, I noticed that Study Rails (in open beta) seemed to have most of them. I’m taking one class this summer. I figured that maybe Study Rails might be able to help me out.

    Study Rails Set Up

    Setting up a Study Rails account is pretty easy — although only a 14 day trial is free. After that, there’s a subscription fee of $10 per month. Once you’ve confirmed that you really do want to register, the site asks you some basic questions. You will need to put in your class schedule, so I’d recommend have that handy. You’ll also need your cell phone, for Study Rails’ text message capabilities. There is one optional piece of software that the website asks you to download.

    The Benefits of Study Rails

    At first glance, Study Rails seems like little more than a calendar application with a few study skills bells and whistles. You input your class schedule, along with any other appointments that block off your time. You list out your upcoming assignments and estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete it. Nothing fancy, right?

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    When you start marking off hours for your study time, you start to see a difference. Study Rails automatically prioritizes what assignments you’ll work on during a given hour. The program doesn’t automatically assign you to work straight through on a project, either. It breaks up your study session so that you do a little work on all your assignments and projects.

    Study Rails also tells you when it’s time to hit the books. During the setup process, the site asks for your cell phone number. That’s so it can send you a text message 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start studying. It also text messages you when you need to switch over to a different project or assignment.

    As far as calendar applications go, Study Rails is a pretty aggressive taskmaster. But for many of us not used to planning study sessions on our own, a stern calendar may be necessary. I wouldn’t recommend it for a student who has a good planning system, and it may be a bit overkill for part-time students. It is worth $10 a month to students who need a little help, though.

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    Study Rails, the Software

    As you provide the site with your class schedule and cell phone number, Study Rails offers something in return: a software download. This download is available in both Mac and Windows flavors — although Linux users are out of luck. When installed, this program, known as Study Rails Blocking, will prevent you from accessing any applications and websites you chose. You can prevent yourself from opening up a chat client while you’re supposed to be practicing your Latin vocab or browsing YouTube when you’re supposed to be doing math.

    I’ve seen plenty of plugins and websites that limit your web surfing but most of the methods I’ve seen for blocking AIM and other distracting applications have required a bit more complicated setup than Study Rails Blocking. Interestingly, settings for the blocking software are handled through the web application’s dashboard. Furthermore, you can’t change blocking settings (eliminating sites, etc.) while the calendar says that you’re supposed to be studying.

    I can think of a number of problems that sort of limitation could create — what if you had to IM a classmate to get the question numbers for your math homework? Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea for some people. I know I struggle with checking my email and other distractions when I’m supposed to be working on a specific project. It isn’t the most elegant execution, but it is a decent implementation.

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    Who Should Use Study Rails?

    Study Rails isn’t the perfect web application for every student. Its niche is students who have difficulty managing their studies on their own. For most other students, I can’t recommend spending $10 every month for a calendar — even if it is a great calendar. I think, however, this application is perfect for parents working with their kids to better manage study time. It would be great if Study Rails added some functionality to allow parents to check up on their kids’ schedules down the road, but as is, Study Rails works well as training wheels for study skills.

    I can’t imagine anyone sticking with Study Rails forever. Even for perpetual students, it isn’t a lifelong system. But I could easily see a student using it for the full four years of his high school or college career.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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