Do less and obsess

Morten Hansen, management professor at UC Berkeley, just released his new book, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve MoreThis clip of his interview with Dan Pink is just one minute long, but he shares one of the vital secrets he writes about in the book—top performers “do less and obsess.” They pick 2-3 things that matter most and hyper-focus on them. Interestingly, this is also one of the central hypotheses of study skills author Cal Newport’s book How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out).

Most high school students don’t have the luxury of picking just one thing to obsess about. But there’s a good chance you could do less. If you’ve got activities that aren’t paying you back with fun or learning, if you’re sprinting from commitment to commitment with no real time to dive in and make a real impact, if your description of your life begins and ends with “busy,” it’s probably time to make some room in your life to obsess about the things that matter most to you. And the first step towards this healthy obsession is to do less.

You can learn more on Hansen’s website about the book and about his work.

Help them help you

There’s a great scene in the movie Jerry Maguire where sports agent Maguire, frustrated with his lone client’s stubborn refusal to take his advice, pleads, “Help me help you!”

The actors play the exchange comically, but there’s an underlying truth in Maguire’s message.

Most successful students get help on their way to college. Teachers, counselors, tutors—whomever you’re relying on to help you accomplish your goals and get where you want to go, remember that they can’t do it for you. You have to help them help you.

Some students sit back and passively hope the help will magically intervene. They wait for their counselor to seek them out to talk about college. They let their struggle in a particular class drag on and then ask for extra credit to raise their grade. They sit through their tutorial sessions but their mind is somewhere else.

But the students who lean into their help are doubling down on efforts to improve their situation. They seek out the help, they bring their attention and preparation to the exchange, and they embrace, rather than abdicate, responsibility for the outcome.

Best of all, the ability to make the most of your help isn’t dependent on your GPA, test scores, or your accolades on your resume. It’s a benefit that’s available to anyone willing to give enough to take advantage of it.

Ask for help, sure. Then do your part to help them help you.

What to do next

If you’ve got big goals for 2018—higher grades, more patient parenting, better performance at work, etc.—you may already have the blueprint to make those changes.

Think back to those times when you did the very things you’ve resolved to do. That time you got the A on the big test you studied so hard for. That time your own parenting made you proud. That time you made more progress or a bigger impact at work than you ever had in recent memory.

What was different about those days? What did you do—and just as importantly not do—that contributed to that result? And how can you copy that success again in the future?

Did you ease the stress by starting earlier? Did you get more sleep than you usually do? Did you ask for help, take meetings off your calendar, or lean into the project that actually excited you?

Yes, you can learn from what doesn’t work. But that just tells you what not to do again. Learning from things that worked, and copying that success, is a plan for what to do next.

For those needing—and granting—help

“Ask for help when you need it.”

It’s good advice, not just for students who need help from their counselor, but for anyone who needs occasional guidance or support. Nobody gets ahead alone. And one of the many traits of a successful person is the pairing of their drive, initiative, and work ethic with the ability to recognize when they need assistance.

In the past week, three different people have reached out to me asking for help with a scenario they were facing. A friend wanted some career advice about a possible job opportunity, a former student turned journalist wanted information for an article, and a Collegewise colleague wanted my take on a situation she’s facing at work.

The friend and the former student never said thank you. In fact, neither replied at all, not even with an acknowledgement of receipt. But the Collegewise colleague told me in person and again over email how much she appreciated and benefited from our time talking it over.

Of those three people, who do you think I would be most likely to help again if they needed it?

We should help people who are important to us without expecting an effusive thank you. The only better reward than knowing we’ve offered what we could is that of knowing the assistance actually made a difference. But it’s important to do so in a sustainable way, one that will let us keep giving our time and energy when others who matter to us need it most. And sometimes the only way to give sustainable help is to say no to some people.

And for those who need the help, please remember to thank the person who willingly offers it up. It’s the right thing to do, and it makes it much more likely that resource will be available again the next time you need it.

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.