The costs of late-night tweeting

A new study found that NBA players who tweeted between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. the night before a game scored fewer points and pulled down fewer rebounds the following day. The researchers concluded:

“…acute sleep deprivation, as measured via late-night Twitter activity, is associated with changes in next-day game performance among professional National Basketball Association athletes. More broadly, the use of late-night social media activity may serve as a useful general proxy for sleep deprivation in other social, occupational, and physical performance-based contexts.”

A professional athlete in any sport is, by definition, one of the best in the world at what they do. If late night social media activity can negatively impact performance in their sport, how do you suppose it impacts your performance on that exam, that meeting with a student, that important presentation, etc.?

Five reasons you might not be reaching your goals

If you’re having trouble achieving goals that matter to you, it might not have anything to do with your work ethic. The trouble might be with the goals themselves.

Here are five potential goal pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. You haven’t identified your goals.
Sometimes hard workers get so engrossed in the effort that they’re not sure where they want that work to take them. Not everything in your life needs to have a goal attached to it. But you have to know where you’re headed to get where you want to go. Start by actually writing your goals down and describing them clearly.

2. Your goals are too nebulous.
Goals need to be specific if you’re going to set a plan and hold yourself accountable for reaching them. “Get better grades” is a worthwhile outcome, but it’s not specific enough to work towards. “Improve my grades in science and math,” “Improve my batting average to higher than .300,” or “Secure a solo for at least one recital this semester” are specific goals you can work towards.

3. Your goals are too grandiose.
Ambition is a valuable trait, and there’s nothing wrong with aiming high. But there’s a point at which you bypass a lofty goal and move into the realm of fantasy. And that’s just another way to let yourself off the hook. Here’s a good litmus test to make sure you aren’t making this mistake: If you can’t describe a detailed plan to reach your goal, you’re probably edging into grandiosity, which brings me to…

4. You don’t have a plan to reach them.
The most important ingredient in any goal-worthy pursuit is a detailed plan to achieve it. What exactly do you need to do? What are the obstacles? How will you know if you’re making progress? Crafting a detailed plan makes you accountable. You won’t be able to pretend that you’re moving forward unless you’re actually doing what you planned to do each day, week, or month. Start with the end goal in mind (see #1), but don’t forget your detailed directions to get there.

5. You don’t have enough help.
Nobody succeeds alone. Even the most determined of us needs others to help us achieve our dreams. Don’t forge ahead on a solo quest. Maybe you need guidance from your counselor, instruction from a tutor, or support from family and friends. Decide ahead of time who you’ll need in your corner to help you. As long as you’ve earned the help before you ask for it, people who care about you will want to do what they can to help you succeed.

Purported productivity

I came across an article yesterday—and I’m purposely not sharing the link here—about “microscheduling.” The latest in a never-ending series of purported productivity hacks that actually just help you add even more hours—and more work—to an already full day, microschedulers plan every hour, and in many cases, every minute of their day, from their meals to their email responses to their bathroom breaks. I couldn’t help but wonder how many hours all this meticulous microscheduling takes–hours that could have been spent actually getting those scheduled tasks done.

I hope we can all agree that being successful in school, in work, and in life requires that you regularly and willingly put your head down and focus on doing great work that matters. If you spend most of your day watching TV and eating Cheetos, you’re not learning, contributing, or benefiting as much as those who fill that time in ways that leave them proud of their efforts.

But our culture has somehow gotten to a place where we glamorize work-at-all-costs mentality. Long days, lost sleep, schedules without free time, overflowing inboxes, working nights and weekends, constantly available online—it’s all part of this narrative that those who get ahead are those who make the sacrifice. Sleep, family, fun, leisure, friends, sanity—you’ve got to give something up if you want to make it today!

But this notion that adding more hours and more work will automatically lead to more success is demonstrably untrue. Nobody is impressed just by how many hours you worked this week. Nobody cares how little sleep you had. Nobody will rave about you just because you answer emails at all hours. What gets you ahead is the work you produce. Yes, the quantity maters, but not nearly as much as the quality does.

Productivity isn’t a willingness to let work seep into every part of your life. Productivity is producing great work from focused but manageable workloads. That’s not the lazy way—it’s the effective way.

So before you add more hours, or yet another way to cram more work into non-work time, consider not just how much you’re trying to do, but how much uninterrupted, focused time you’re giving yourself to do it. Your reputation is built on the quality of your work, not on your willingness to sacrifice via hacks of purported productivity.

Ten ways to make valuable contributions

Too many high school students view their success in group activities as measured only by accolades or official titles. But there are lots of ways you can make valuable contributions that your group—and the colleges you apply to—will appreciate. Here are ten suggestions.

1. Improve relationships with constituents.
Be the server at the coffee shop who remembers people’s names, the member of student government who engages with the student body, or the lighting tech who gets others interested in coming to the performance. Helping connect the group with those outside of it is a valuable public relations contribution.

2. Solve the problems other people can’t solve.
What’s a challenge your group faces repeatedly and just can’t seem to solve? The ability to spot solutions is a valuable skill that can make you invaluable to the group. If you’ve got that talent, put it to work and let your fixes fly.

3. Manage complex projects.
Managing a fundraiser, planning a junior prom, organizing a team retreat—these are big jobs with a lot of moving parts, and plenty of potential for things to go sideways. But some people are at their best when they’re taking a complex job with a variety of inputs and shipping it out the door.

4. Inspire, teach, and make others better.
Ever seen that person that the rest of the group will follow to do almost anything? Those people are irreplaceable. And they don’t need to be granted authority to do it.

5. Become the domain expert.
What if you became the expert on once slice of your group’s work? The runner who knows the most about how elite distance runners train in the off-season, the writer with a deep understanding of the role of journalism in reporting news, the photographer who knows so much about lenses and exposures and lighting that they always get the perfect shot. When you know your stuff, and you share that knowledge, you’re making a valuable contribution.

6. Be a maximizer.
Do you look at things that are already good and ask, “How can this be even better?” Groups sometimes spend so much time fixing what’s broken that they miss opportunities to maximize their areas of strength. Amplifying bright spots is a sure way to improve just about anything, and if you’re the one who sees those opportunities, the group will look to you to keep sharing your talent.

7. Make new people feel at home.
It’s hard to be the new employee on his first shift, the recently promoted player at her first practice with the varsity team, or the new kid at school joining the history class discussion on day one. Can you make them feel at home? Can you make that transition a little easier so they can get comfortable and start making their own contributions? Most group memberships in high school don’t last forever, and turnover means there will always be new people joining who could use a friendly welcome to make things easier.

8. See what’s possible.
Not everyone can peer into the future and envision a way to make it better. In a group, instead of saying, “This is what we’ve always done,” this version says, “I see a new and better way.” Do you see that vision? Can you communicate it clearly and enthusiastically to your group? If so, chances are you’ll get some followers who support your vision. And once you’ve got followers, you’re a leader, with or without a leadership position.

9. Unleash your enthusiasm.
Are you inherently positive, always able to spot the good in any situation? Are you quick to smile and reluctant to let a bad mood get the best of you? Genuine enthusiasm is like a group pick-me-up. It makes everyone a little happier, a little more positive, and consequently, a little better at what they do.

10. Become the best.
I listed this last because it’s the hardest and the most exclusive. But it still deserves a place on the list. If you’re the very best musician in the orchestra, player on the tennis team, or mathlete in the math club, you’re making the group better with your excellence. If your talent and hard work puts you in that position, assume the mantle proudly. But don’t forget that there are plenty of other ways to contribute, and the point of being in any group is to help the group—not just yourself—be successful.

Self-explanations are the best explanations

I’ve written often that the surest way to learn any new material is to teach it back to an imaginary audience. The act of explaining something clearly and cogently activates a different part of your brain and is a lot more effective than passively reviewing or memorizing. Here’s more evidence–a study showing that self-explanation turns out to be more effective than teacher explanation, note-taking, and several other learning techniques.

Our kids need more sleep

From Challenge Success’s regular newsletter, which arrived in my inbox this week:

“Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that not getting enough sleep is associated with certain health risks and that more than ⅔ of U.S. high school students report less than 8 hours of sleep during school nights. When teens consistently get the right amount of sleep, they feel and function better. A lack of adequate sleep is associated with increased risk of physical illnesses, such as obesity and diabetes, injury-related risk behaviors (e.g. risky driving or not wearing a helmet), poor mental health, attention and behavior problems, and poor academic performance.”

The best productivity hack?

If you’ve made any resolutions in the vein of getting more done in 2019, don’t skip what could be the world’s best productivity hack: saying no. We all have obligations that are just part of school, work, or life, things we don’t have the option of turning away. But just about everything else is a choice. Do you need to attend that standing meeting every Tuesday? Do you need to meet with that tutor for the course you’re already earning a solid B in? Do you need to do yet another round of test prep in the hopes of eking out another 50 points?

Your answer to any or all of those scenarios might well be yes. But it’s important to ask the question, and to remember that the surest way to get more done is to have less to do.

Put some teaching into your studying

Studies have shown teaching material is the best way to learn it, a process I’ve written about before. The act of clearly explaining something, even to an imaginary student, engages a different part of your brain than just absorbing the material. And here’s some more science, a meta-analysis of 64 studies involving 6,000 students, all showing that the ability to explain something (even to yourself) leads to better learning outcomes than when the explanation comes only from a teacher or book.

If you want to raise your grades this year, put some teaching into your studying.

Diminishing returns of overwork

Given that your average college-bound student probably works at least 40 hours per week between school, homework, and activities, you might check out this article and consider the referenced research that shows:

  • Working more doesn’t mean working better.
  • Productivity dramatically decreases with longer hours and drops off completely at 55 hours per week.
  • On average, someone working 70 hours a week achieves no more than a colleague working 15 fewer hours.

If your biggest achievement is simply how many hours you work, fewer hours spent working just might lead to bigger achievements.

More downtime, and more sleep

Here’s Challenge Success’s Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time: PDF for Teens; Common-sense strategies for promoting teen health and well-being.

And for teens (or parents!) who are convinced that you can get by with less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams is a worthwhile and potentially alarming read.

Let’s get some more downtime—and some more sleep—into all our lives.