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Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+

Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+
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    Is it better to get an A or an A+? Most people instinctively react with an A+. As I’d like to show in this article, that isn’t always the case. Being perfect can cost far more than good enough. Also, as I’d like to demonstrate, the habits that might get you an A+ might also leave you with a B or C if you fail to optimize.

    I’ve never been a perfectionist. I’ve always been aware of the costs of going beyond good enough. Despite this seemingly poor attitude towards work, it hasn’t hurt me in the slightest. By optimizing instead of attempting perfection, I’ve managed to maintain a grade hovering between an A and A+.

    How Optimizing Works

    The traditional studying approach is to learn everything perfectly and with equal force. I believe this approach will only lead to a nervous breakdown.

    An optimizing approach says that learning everything perfectly is impossible. However, by investing more time on critical details and less time on unimportant ones you can get a better grade with less time invested.

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    Isn’t All Information Important?

    Importance is relative. Sure you might be tested on it, but will knowing something make up 5% of your test or 50%?

    To get you started with the optimization process, here are some tips:

    1. Identify the testing bias.

    A test is a device used to gauge your understanding. All tests invariably have bias, where they emphasize certain concepts or types of understanding over others. Go over past tests and ask yourself what biases are shown in the tests. That can form your template for learning.

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    2. Quality of Time Spent Ratio

    Look at your course outline and the various percentages given to different assignments. Divide that number by how much time you need to get your desired grade. The result is a Quality of Time Spent Ratio. When time becomes tight and you need to make a choice, always use your ratio to see where extra time gets placed.

    Example: Your running out of time and you have three projects to do. The first is worth 5% of your grade and you expect 2 hours to get the grade you want. The second is worth 20% and you expect 15 hours to get the grade you want. The third is worth 30% and you expect 10 hours to get the grade you want. Your quality ratio’s are:

    • Project One: 5%/2 =2.5%
    • Project Two: 20%/15 =1.33%
    • Project Three: 30%/10 =3%

    Extra time spent on the third project is likely to have the biggest rewards for your final grade. Don’t use this approach dogmatically as there are other factors to consider (mark cut-offs, differences in marginal benefits, etc.). However, this method be a rough way to decide where to put your time.

    3. Reading Emphasis

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    If I asked you to recite your entire textbook from memory, could you do it? Could you do it even with a 50% accuracy rate? In both cases you probably couldn’t. Then how, if you don’t know the words in your textbook, can you pass the class?

    The answer is that some words and meanings are more important than others. Certain ideas are critical, others are supporting details. Some ideas form the foundations and others are just extra facts.

    When reading through a textbook, form a priority of information in your mind. Flag important information, but more importantly, assess the degree of importance. Simply using a highlighter might not be enough if you’re unable to distinguish between an idea that forms the basis for a test and one that only accounts for one question.

    4. What’s the point?

    What should you be able to do/understand after your course is finished? Use this question as a shorthand for prioritizing what needs to be learned. The beauty of this method is that most instructors give you the course purpose on the first day. You don’t even have to look for it!

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    Example: Financial Accounting teaches you to prepare financial statements for shareholders as well as understanding company financial statements.

    From this brief purpose statement, your goal is to connect everything you do to this broader point. Periodically ask yourself how some fact or detail you learn applies to that broader goal. Don’t learn things in isolation, expand and connect with the broader purpose of learning.

    5. Cutting Classes and Skipping Chapters

    I don’t recommend skipping class. But there are exceptions to every rule. I got two A+’s in courses that I only went to a quarter of the classes. I recognized early on that the material covered in class was simply repeating what could be learned in the textbook. Some students benefited from the repeated exposure, but I didn’t.

    Cutting out entire assignments, classes or chapters is normally a bad move in a school setting. Usually the marginal benefit of just showing up exceeds reinvesting the time elsewhere. Instead, most your optimization is about where to place extra time. Where do you put the extra hour when you have several different places to put it?

    If time isn’t an issue for you, then optimizing isn’t necessary. Just finish every project with the same zeal and enjoy the rest of your time off. But most people I know don’t have that luxury. Inevitably you need to make trade-offs. Optimizing often means making choices to aim for A rather than A+.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations 7 Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

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    Published on January 16, 2019

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

    You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

    You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

    That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

    Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

    1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

    Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

    We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

    To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

    At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

    The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

    2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

    Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

    The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

    In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

    It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

    It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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    So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

    • Are you a great strategist?
    • Are you an effective planner?
    • Is Project Management your strength?
    • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
    • Are you the ideas person?
    • Is Implementation your strength?

    Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

    3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

    One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

    Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

    Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

    Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

    4. Take Time for Planning

    “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

    One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

    You can take the time to think about:

    • What’s the purpose of the project?
    • How Important is it?
    • When does it need to be delivered by?
    • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
    • What are the KPIs?
    • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
    • Who is working on this project?
    • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
    • What tolerances can I add in?
    • What are the review stages?
    • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

    Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

    5. Focus on Priorities

    Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

    Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

    One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

    1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
    2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
    3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
    4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

    James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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      The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

      If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

      If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

      6. Take Time Out

      To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

      If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

      Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

      In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

      Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

      7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

      Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

      I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

      Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

      If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

      8. Stop Multitasking

      Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

      So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

      When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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      If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

      9. Work in Blocks of Time

      To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

      I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

      Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

      Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

      Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

      Then take another 10-minute break.

      Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

      By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

      10. Get Rid of Distractions

      Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

      “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

      Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

      If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

      11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

      You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

      Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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      Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

      12. Take a Time Audit

      Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

      Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

      You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

      Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

      Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

      At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

      If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

      13. Protect Your Confidence

      It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

      When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

      Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

      When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

      Final Words

      A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

      The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

      If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

      Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

      Reference

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