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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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robbie hyman

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Published on May 20, 2019

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

Time.

When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

So, how do you start?

Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

Assess Your Current Time Spent

Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

Tricks to Tackle Distractions

Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

2. Beware of Emails

Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

3. Let Technology Help

As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

Time is in Your Hands

At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

So what are you waiting for? 

Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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