Student perspective: Obliterating procrastination

Photo of Iskandar, the author of the postby Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Every time I slip up and spend hours on YouTube or Tik Tok instead of studying, I would chide myself and promise to do better next time. Did I actually do better? Not quite.

As opposed to taking a well-deserved break at the end of the day, procrastination is not at all fun – it’s just easy. If you’re struggling with this issue as well, especially with distance learning, I have found that setting up structures to promote productivity greatly reduces the chance of procrastinating. Here’s what I found useful:

Pile of papers, with the top one headed 'To do list'
Photo: Breakingpic/ Pexels
  1. Set clear sub-goals when breaking down bigger tasks.

Most of us know that breaking down large tasks (i.e. preparing for a workshop, doing your final year research project, etc) into smaller, more manageable subtasks will make it much easier. Not only does it make the work less daunting, but the endorphins you get when finishing a subtask can motivate you to continue working.

While this will likely make your work less unpleasant and therefore reduce the chance that you’d just give up entirely and binge-watch The Crown, I would encourage you to take it a step further and set goals for your subtasks. Having clear goals have been proven to lead to better outcomes (Locke et al 1981) and having subgoals was proven in a study by Bandura and Simon (1977) to increase the quality of the intended result.

So hopefully when you try this and find that your work is less intimidating and you’re actually obtaining clear results, you’d be less likely to procrastinate and enjoy studying more!

Student looking at phone
Source: Andrea Picquadio/ Pexels
  1. Obliterate distractions

Distractions disrupt your focus and can easily lead you off course, so obliterating -because eliminate is too timid a word for such a serious assault on your productivity – distractions should be a priority.

Phones

Android users have the Focus Mode (DownTime for iPhone users) which allows you to customise which apps can operate. This instantly blocks out notifications from apps that distract your attention, although I would suggest muting your phone as well. To reinforce this barrier against using my phone, I also use the Forest app to plant a tree for however long I want to focus. This prevents me from using my phone while the tree grows, lest I want to be a monster and kill the little thing.

Chores

If you’re like me, the various tasks you juggle daily would gnaw at the periphery of your thoughts and prevent you from staying focused. To prevent this, if you have work for later, write them down in your planner (or anywhere) so you can keep them off your mind with the reassurance that you won’t forget them.

Notebook and computer on desk, arm pointing at computer screen
Source: Julia M Cameron/ Pexels
  1. Organise your study space

Personally, I like my window-facing study table, complete with a hanging string of pearls plant and fairy lights. But according to feng shui principles, the best study table position is when:

  • Your back is facing the wall
  • The door is in your line of sight
  • If you have a window, have it at your side rather than facing it

Other things to consider include what material and colour your study table is, and the presence of plants to affect the aura. All these components aim to address your subconscious mind and help you to focus better.

You should also start cleaning your desk. Chae & Zhu (2014) found that a disorderly environment led to a range of self-regulatory failures which for our purposes, means reduced ability to focus and less effective studying. Remove anything that is unnecessary on your study table and keep it neat to ensure your mind is not distracted by untidiness, but rather stays focused on that essay that is due tomorrow.

Four students sitting around a table with books and papers
Source: Cottonbro/ Pexels
  1. Set up study sessions with friends

The lack of scheduled hours in our current blended learning can blur our concept of time, meaning long hours of work without proper cut-off points for rest and recharge. It is all too easy to let the days flow into each other and eventually burn out.

Setting up a scheduled study session with your friend(s) can help provide a bit of a structure to your day. It gives you a small sense of accountability for showing up to the session, and you can help each other stay focused. It has definitely worked for me.

Alternatively, you can join Study Skills’ interactive Online Study Lounge. You can sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-study-lounge-tickets-120527943323

 

Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some new things to try! I would love to hear what you think about these structures, and whether you personally have other ways of preventing procrastination. Goodluck!

Student perspective: How to generate creative and innovative ideas in group work

by Beth Robinson, Bristol Futures AdvocatePhoto of Beth, author of the blog

For many people, challenging their assumptions about what it means to be creative can be difficultespecially for those who already define themselves as being either distinctly creative or decidedly not creative.

It can be easy to define yourself and your own level of success, but working creatively in a group is, in my experience, completely different. I’ve learned that it‘s so much more than ‘what the best and worst ideas are’, and ‘brainstorming creative ideas.’ Today I’d like to share some tips and links which I hope you might find useful when trying to generate new ideas and projects in a team. 

Key things I’ve learned  

1) ‘No ideas should be left behind’. Irrespective of how good, bad or even ridiculous you think an idea is, keep it written down. It may have had a detailed thought process behind it which wasn’t expressed more clearly, and/or could provide some inspiration later.

2) ‘There are no such thing as bad ideas, only opportunities for growth’. If you think someone has suggested a bad idea, consider it an opportunity for further innovation. Instead of saying ‘no’, say ‘yes – AND *suggest a way to further the idea*’

3) Have fun! In using some of these techniques, groups I work with have written some peculiar sounding words or suggestions to begin – often completely different from the brief. But these initial ideas are springboards and prompts, and don’t have to be perfect before you say them out loud

Some techniques 

These techniques are designed to help with idea generation and to boost creativity, and further information on them can be found by clicking on the links:

  • ‘Random Pictures’ – starting with a random picture, writing down random words associated with it, and then working on relating these to the subject matter (Random Images Technique).

  • ‘Out-and-out-reversal – creating a statement which is the opposite of what you want to achieve and working out how to solve the problem to then apply it to the initial brief – this is my personal favourite! (Reversal)

  • ‘Bringing in time’ – when you start to build ideas, ask ‘how would I go about this if I had only one day to execute it? Or one month? A year, or century? This can be helpful in working out anything related to logistics in a project. 

There then, of course, needs to be a slightly more ‘down to earth’ selection, refinement, and structuring process of developing the idea fully. One way to approach this is to build on any ideas you’ve generated and then make them better by creating timelines, asking questions, and using the SWOT technique (SWOTto critically analyse concepts.

I hope that some of these tips will help you as they’ve helped me in finding it easier to innovate in a group setting. Of course, different things work for different people, so leave any tips, problems, and solutions in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you! 

Student perspective: Overcoming the trials and tribulations of the group Zoom call

by Beth Robinson, Bristol Futures Advocate

‘Group work’ gets mixed reviews at the best of times, let alone when everyone’s internet connection keeps dropping and the speakers aren’t working properlyFor the most part, I’m really enjoying online meetings. But whether it be with a project supervisor, as part of a study group or yet another virtual quiz, something’s bound to go wrong at some point. In an academic sense, I’ve noticed that it can be hard to make online calls as productive as they could be. These are solutions others and I have found to the trials and tribulations of group Zoom (/Skype) calls.

When meetings are unproductive 

We’ve all been there. The calls where you speak for an hour or two without actually getting anywhere. So, ahead of group study or even 1:1 calls, make sure you set a clear agenda. Perhaps working on setting goals and/or time slots of exactly what you want to cover and when may work. Or, if you are not able to do this (or indeed don’t feel comfortable doing so), work out what it is you personally want to get out of the meeting. Because, no matter how unproductive a meeting may feel, it’s likely you’ll be able to find something valuable in it. For example, being able to empathise with what someone else is experiencing or thinking about any next steps you can take with respect to your personal development.  (One useful tool to help with PDP can be found here)

When the WiFi/video/microphones are being temperamental 

If quitting and rejoining doesn’t work, the student laptop and phone clinic at the University of Bristol is still running, so if you are having tech or connectivity problems then be sure to reach out to them. If you have very limited access to internet more generally, don’t be afraid to contact a unit or programme director – in such difficult times I doubt they’d want to see you experience an unfair disadvantage. 

When it’s hard to find the right space  

It can be difficult to find the right environment to be on a group call, especially if you’re somewhere with no desk and/or a house full of people. That being said, I’ve seen some great creative solutions out there! Pinterest has lots of cool ideas – for example ways to get creative with tabletop spaces if you don’t have a desk, and interesting lighting and sound solutions. Depending on the nature of the call, adding a green-screen background on Zoom or going around the group and sharing a ‘unique item’ from where you are living can be a nice icebreaker! 

Hope you’re all keeping safe and well, especially as we move forwards into exams! What have been your biggest annoyances and solutions to group video calls? 

Student perspective: Effective virtual group studying

by Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Since the lockdown, a lot of teaching and learning has been moved online. This would invariably affect your personal study sessions either with friends or your tutors. In light of this, I have compiled a few pointers on how to make virtual learning more manageable and effective, so read on!

  1. Choose the right platform

Different platforms offer different features. Skype Business has extended features which the University has made free for all students (see: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/telephones/sfb/). A rising rival to consider is Zoom; solid option in terms of stability. Alternatively, Discord offers interesting templates for studying. No shortage of options here.

  1. Set goals and a structure

The whole of first year my group study was nothing but gossiping and getting distracted. Don’t be me. Instead, try listing down your goals, allow time for discussion, and stick to it. I find using checklists especially helpful in staying focused, and tutorial guides a great starting point in creating a study plan.

  1. Delegate tasks beforehand

Ensure everyone is ready to contribute by assigning work beforehand. You’ll find discussions run more smoothly and you can focus on bolstering each other’s knowledge rather than spend awkward minutes reading silently (trust me – I’ve been there)

  1. Use a shared work platform

Trello is a great platform to centralize your group project materials although I find that it takes a while getting used to. If you prefer simpler technology, Google Drive is the way to go. You’ll be able to access each other’s notes all in one convenient place and it definitely beats having to email each other every time.

  1. Practice good online study etiquette

Turn off your mic when you’re not speaking. Update each other on your progress. Never, directly edit on someone’s original documents. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Most of all, remember that it is a difficult time for everyone so don’t panic if it’s hard to be productive! However, if you’ve managed to do so why not help other students by sharing your own tips?