Unplug, relax, recharge

The research just keeps showing that working longer and harder produces inferior results not just in terms of quality, but also quantity. In fact, active rest—intentionally carving out downtime to relax and recharge—is a secret weapon of some of the most prolific producers.

As quoted in the BBC’s “The compelling case for working a lot less,” author Josh Davis points out:

“Even US founding father, Benjamin Franklin, a model of industriousness, devoted large swathes of his time to being idle. Every day he had a two-hour lunch break, free evenings and a full night’s sleep. Instead of working non-stop at his career as a printer, which paid the bills, he spent ‘huge amounts of time’ on hobbies and socializing. ‘In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod,’ writes Davis.”

You can’t be on all the time. Unplug. Relax. Recharge.

Attitude changes everything

Our attitude is one of our most potent tools. It’s difficult to imagine one thing you have more control over that can also create as much positive impact for you and for the people around you. And best of all, it’s a tool that everyone has equal access to. Attitude doesn’t care what your GPA or test scores are, whether you’re rich or poor, where you went to college, or whether you can run fast, speak to large audiences, solve differential equations, or write publishable work. It’s there, just waiting to be unleashed.

What if you made the choice today, tomorrow, and every day after that to:

Be kind

Assume good intentions

Engage more meaningfully

Be hopeful

Recognize what’s good about other people

Be curious

Keep an open mind

Choose optimism


Withhold judgement

Be grateful

Notice what’s gone right

Be patient

Every one of them is a choice. Maybe not an easy one, but none of us are hardwired to do or not do these things.

If you really did them, imagine how much improvement you’d see in your happiness, relationships, job, schooling, and yes, even your chances of admission to college.

The tool is right there, just waiting to be used. And the choice you make to use it could change everything.

Make it a little better

There’s a lot of wisdom in this pithy passage from one of my favorite management books:

“When you enter your place of work, you never leave it at zero. You either make it a little better or a little worse. Make it a little better.”

It also applies when you swap “place of work” with school, classroom, rehearsal, dinner with your family, etc.

Job, career, or calling?

Amy Wrzesniewski is a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. Her ongoing research into how we can find more meaning in our work has led her to conclude that people view occupations in one of three ways: a job, a career, or a calling.

A job is something to endure just to get a salary.

A career is something that gives prestige or position within society.

A calling is work that you believe is part of your identity, something that gives you meaning in your life.

On the surface, those findings may not appear that surprising. You can probably name at least one person you know who fits into each category.

But where her research gets fascinating is that when asked whether they view their work as a job, a career, or a calling, the answers remain fairly consistent across every profession. Doctors, janitors, social workers, executive assistants, writers, construction workers, trash collectors, teachers—the percentage within each profession who view the work as a job, a career, or a calling is roughly the same. And the reason? Because we all can find meaning in the work that we do, no matter what kind of work it is.

That’s why a great restaurant server can transform the entire dining experience.

That’s why a doctor with a great bedside manner will likely have much better relationships with her patients.

That’s why a plumber who tells the truth and makes a recommendation for repairs in the best interest of the customer is a lot more likely to get referral business.

And that’s why one student can transform anything from a class, to a cross country team’s workout, to a club meeting, to an orchestra rehearsal.

The key to finding that meaning is not to ask, “How much can I get out of this for myself?” It’s to ask, “How can I improve this experience for everyone?”

Whether you’re attending a study group, a karate class, a drama rehearsal, or a part-time job at a frozen yogurt shop, what would it take for you to see that time as a calling? How could you bring more of your unique talents, energy, insights, and personality to make the experience better, not just for you, but for everyone?

Sure, there will always be roles, experiences, and jobs that we’re just not cut out to do. It’s hard to imagine any universe where I could call competitive high-jumping a calling given that I have absolutely no natural skills or interest in that area.

But while we don’t always get to choose what we’re doing, we do get to choose how we do it. And how you do it is what decides whether you’ll feel like you’re in a job, a career, or a calling.

Make others notice

Students, if you only do your best work when you like the teacher, or your parents push you, or the boss is watching, that’s giving other people an awful lot of power over your life. And worst of all, you’re letting them control when you’re at your best.

If you want to stand out, earn more credit, get more positive attention, and improve your chances of getting into college, don’t wait for others to get you to work. Do work that will make others take notice.

Teacher/student responsibilities

Students, who’s responsible for making sure that you learn the material in each of your classes?

I’d argue it’s you, not your teacher.

It’s your teacher’s job to make it clear what’s expected from students. It’s your teacher’s job to provide the necessary instruction and resources like materials, opportunities to answer questions, and even extra help if necessary. It’s your teacher’s job to fairly evaluate your performance in the class based on the metrics that have been made clear.

But learning takes two willing parties. And just like parents, bosses, and other figures of authority can’t physically force you to do anything well or at all, your teacher can’t will you to be an engaged student who genuinely wants to learn.

“I didn’t do well in that class because I didn’t like the teacher” is a student who’s abdicating their responsibility.

“My teacher wasn’t my favorite, but I still found a way to learn in her class” is a student who’s embracing their responsibly.

On purpose

There are some things you do (almost) every day. Brushing your teeth. Taking a shower. Checking your email or messages. There’s no debating whether or not you have time, no waiting for the right circumstance or opportunity. At some point, you just made a decision that this was something important enough to do every day. You started by doing it on purpose, but over time, it just became a habit.

On purpose works for lots of other things, too. What if you made the choice this week to:

Raise your hand and contribute to an in-class discussion at least once per day.
Spend 15 minutes a day learning more about something that interests you.
Initiate a project for your club or organization.
Ask a teacher for help when you need it.
Turn off your phone while you are studying.
Express your thanks to someone who deserves it.
Put 10% of your money into a savings account.
Stop doing one thing that’s no longer making you happier, smarter, or more productive.
Start doing one thing that will make you happier, smarter, or more productive.
Learn more about a college your counselor says will likely admit you.

At some point, you won’t have to remind yourself. You won’t have to find the time. You won’t have to do it like you’re checking an item off your day’s to-do list. It will just be a habit.

Most good habits start by doing something on purpose.

Find your fun

One of the worst symptoms of the college admissions arms race is the disappearance of downtime, frivolity, or anything else that can’t be directly connected to a college admissions advantage. Kids stop being kids and spend all their time resume building, measuring the worth of every potential choice with, “Will this help me get in?”

Here’s one deceptively simple way to combat that. Many colleges, and college interviews, ask the question, “What do you do for fun?” To not have a genuine answer that lights up would actually be an admissions disadvantage. You’re hurting your chances if you don’t regularly have a little fun.

Please don’t tell me you don’t have time. If that’s actually a true statement, you’ve just identified a problem. Now it’s time to change it.

And if you don’t have an answer to the “What do you do for fun?” question, now is the time to find one.

How to make calm application progress

I just might turn this past post built around Patrick O’Connor’s “What to Say When Your Students are Freaked About College Apps” into an annual September share here. O’Connor’s recommendations on how to make continuous application progress without over-planning, or worse, procrastinating, are both simple and sensible. And I can’t imagine any college applicant who follows it faithfully not enjoying both the thrill of application momentum and the wonderful calm that accompanies work done well ahead of deadlines.