The science of time management

Dan Pink just released his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. And if you’re a student, parent, or counselor who may be feeling like you just don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done, you might enjoy this 30-minute podcast interview with Pink.

Here’s the summary from the website:

Do you always feel like you’re short on time? Most days, it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that matters to us. But what if the problem isn’t how many hours we have — but how we’re using them? That’s the big idea from Daniel Pink, our guest today on the StoryBrand podcast. Daniel has done the research and studied the science, and it turns out that certain times are better than others for doing different types of work.  Donald Miller sits down with Daniel to help you finally understand the smart way to structure your time. He points out the common time management mistakes he sees and how to fix them. And he shows you a simple way to pay attention to your natural rhythms, so you can maximize your productivity and creativity every day. The quest for the ideal schedule ends here!

8 questions for managers (plus counselors, parents, and students)

Claire Lew’s latest piece, The 8 best questions to ask during a one-on-one meeting, is designed (and perfect) for managers to ask of an employee. But some versions of these questions might be helpful for counselors to ask their students, for parents to ask their kids, and even for kids to ask themselves.

That third suggestion might seem strange, but students, imagine if you regularly considered—and honestly answered—questions like:

How’s life?

What am I worried about right now?

What are my biggest time-wasters?

Would I like more or less direction from my parents or my counselor?

Are there any decisions I’m hung up on?

Wouldn’t you be in a much better position to work towards answers that would make you happier, more successful, and less stressed?

That’s what the breaks are for

High school students face a scheduling challenge most adults haven’t faced since they walked their own high school hallways—most can’t start doing their work until the afternoon or evening. After attending school and participating in activities, it’s not unusual for many students to find that their first opportunity of the day to do homework and study comes after the sun has already set. How can you make the most of that time while still leaving enough hours to get a good night’s sleep?

The answer just might be to take more breaks.

This article shares the latest scientific findings about how regular breaks actually boost rather than interrupt productivity. If you read through, you’ll find three different research-backed recommendations for your work/break balance.

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Work. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. Repeat three more times, then take a longer (30-minute) break.
  2. Work in 90-minute blocks, taking short breaks in between.
  3. Work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 (the article explains not only why the specifics are important, but also why research shows this might be the most effective approach).

But no matter which version you choose, it will only work if you commit to focusing intensely during your work time, which means eliminating all distractions and getting into your work zone. Answering texts, responding to emails, checking social media, etc.—that’s what the breaks are for.

The human skills

Larry Page and Sergey Brin were PhD students in a computer science program at Stanford when they met and began work on their search engine that would soon become Google. So it’s not surprising that as their company grew exponentially, they used hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students who’d earned top grades at the most selective universities.

But as this Washington Post piece explains, Google eventually learned that they were focusing on the wrong characteristics:

“In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

The study doesn’t claim that STEM skills aren’t important (they are, especially if you plan to work in a related field). But don’t forget to develop your human skills, too.

A simple way to stand out in class

Here’s a simple way to stand out in class.

1. Pick a course where class participation is not part of your grade.
2. Participate.

Raise your hand. Ask genuine questions. Respond to queries from your teacher. Engage. Show that you’re interested, that you genuinely want to understand, and that you respect the transaction of teaching and learning that’s taking place.

Simple, effective, and great fodder for a future letter of recommendation.

Should learning embrace kids’ mistakes?

The Greater Good Science Center based at UC Berkeley sponsors scientific research into social and emotional well-being, and helps educators, families, and leaders apply the findings to their own lives. Their recent piece, Why We Should Embrace Mistakes in School, shares some compelling findings showing that the best way to set students up for long-term learning and success is not to praise their ability to get the right answer, but to acknowledge and even praise their mistakes along the way.

The notion of somehow rewarding failure can be difficult for many parents and students to embrace, especially when you’re immersed in a college-bound culture that often feels like anything short of perfection somehow falls short.

But if you read the findings with an open mind, you’ll see that the recommendations actually help raise—not lower—expectations, aspirations, and potential. And when kids learn to see the value in the effort over the outcome, they’re better prepared to attack scenarios that don’t have a right answer, and better positioned for a world where there is no such thing as straight A’s in life.

Sometimes the old-fashioned way is best

If you’re hoping to get the most out of a class, a meeting, and other interactions, you’re better off relying on a good old pen and paper than you are your laptop.

From the New York Times:

“The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces…. The best evidence available now suggests that students should avoid laptops during lectures and just pick up their pens. It’s not a leap to think that the same holds for middle and high school classrooms, as well as for workplace meetings.”

Is distraction harming your work?

Just how much do interruptions like phone calls and emails negatively affect you and your work? Quite a bit, according to The Economist’s recent “Are digital distractions harming labour productivity?”:

“Conducting tasks while receiving e-mails and phone calls reduces a worker’s IQ by about ten points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet. That is equivalent to losing a night’s sleep, and twice as debilitating as using marijuana. By one estimate, it takes nearly half an hour to recover focus fully for the task at hand after an interruption.”