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One Big Advantage Your Parents Had When Learning (and How to Use it Yourself)

One Big Advantage Your Parents Had When Learning (and How to Use it Yourself)

Back when I was in college, the typical laptop weighed about 9,000 pounds. So most students actually took a notebook and pen to class.

(Millennials: By “notebook,” I mean a binder of actual paper, made from trees. By “pen,” I mean a handheld device that looks like a stylus but actually records information by transferring ink to paper.)

What an advantage that gave us!

At least, that’s one takeaway from an important new book called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, whose coauthor professor Henry Roediger I recently heard interviewed on a radio show. His findings give us more good reasons — as if we needed them — to singletask our learning and to use more focus, less tech.

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As Roediger explains, the typical university student today takes notes in class using a laptop — furiously typing as much as she can of what the professor says (in between posting Facebook updates like, “So borrred!”).

Here’s the counterintuitive finding from Roediger and his coauthors: When we take notes on a computer, we learn and retain far less than when we hand-write our notes.

That’s because we can type far faster than we can write by hand, so note-taking on a laptop is essentially dictation. We don’t have to stop to process what the lecturer is saying, because we can type almost every word of it.

When we write by hand, though, we can write only so much. That forces us to listen more intently and process what the professor is saying, so we can jot only the essential words and still keep up.

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A second and more intuitive reason it’s difficult to learn by laptop in the classroom is that the laptop also offers a zillion ways to distract the student — email, Twitter, eBay, CNN, Farmville.

I often listen to mp3s of college lectures on iTunes U. (I know: Nerd alert!) I remember listening to a course on public relations taught by a professor named Sam Dyer. What struck me was that professor Dyer actually made a point of telling his class to keep at least one browser window open during class, so they could easily navigate to whatever site he wanted them to view as he lectured. What Dyer was acknowledging, of course, was that he knew his students were at best splitting their attention between his class and whatever other personal business they had going on their computers. He was teaching the best he could to a room of tech-savvy multitaskers.

Dyer’s courses on media relations and business writing are terrific. But I wonder how much his students actually get from them, and how much they’re missing because they don’t have the advantage of attending his lectures in the pre-laptop era.

Now, am I suggesting that all of the previous generation’s students learned more in class and got better educations than those in school today? Of course not. We often let ourselves be undermined by the technology available to us, too — the tape recorder, for example.

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In fact, one hilarious story that made the rounds at UCLA, where I studied, illustrates the ridiculous lengths students and teachers would go to avoid attending class altogether. According to legend, a professor at our school recorded all of his lectures on audiotape. For each class session, he’d walk in, say hello to the students — and then press play on his tape player, set it down on the front table and leave. After a while, of course, the students got wise. They would wait for a minute after the professor left the room, pull out their own recording devices, set them on the front table and leave too.

So if you happened by this class and peeked in the window, you’d see a completely empty room with 100 tape recorders on the front table — 1 on play, and 99 on record.

The More Focus, Less Tech Approach Applies to Lifelong Learning

Students in my day had little choice in class but to listen to the professor (or cover our ears). We had far fewer distractions than students do today. So we had a natural advantage.

Today, anyone attending a class has to make a conscious decision not to be undermined by all of the electronic distractions easily available on the very devices that students are expected to use in class.

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But you can do it. Close everything not essential to your learning. No Skype, no iMessage, no iTunes. Just whatever site your professor wants you viewing and your note-taking app — Word, most likely.

This advice also applies to us in our professional lives or in any learning environment. If you’re attending a meeting or conference or industry panel, stay on task. If you’re using your laptop, close all apps you won’t need for that event. Better still — leave the laptop in your bag and take out your notebook (the paper kind) and pen (the non-stylus kind).

Learning in any setting requires us to be rested, alert and fully attentive to the material. Those of us who attended school in the High Middle Ages had the advantage of learning in a pre-Internet environment.

For learners today, getting the most from class or any learning setting is going to take some effort and self-control. But as professor Roediger and his Make It Stick coauthors discovered, the benefits of old-school, no-laptop learning are significant — including far greater understanding and retention of the material. Yes, it’ll be be hard not to check email for an entire meeting/class/conference/whatever. Hard, but worth it.

Featured photo credit: Busy children studying with digital laptop and tablet inside the school via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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