The hidden cost of keeping your options open

Photo by visualpanic

Photo by visualpanic

This spring, college students will be making decisions about the future. Whether “the future” means this summer, the next year, or the next five years, such decisions are always difficult, loaded as they are with the weight of opportunity costs. In these circumstances, a seemingly promising strategy is to maximize the possibilities you’ll have in the future. After all, isn’t college meant to open doors for you?

While it is true that college opens doors, a number of sources indicate that it is best to close most of those doors. Keeping your options open has a cost. Continue reading

The Ebb and Flow of Motivation

Photo by Jenny Downing

At the start of the summer, I spent a good deal of time laying out my goals. I diligently set milestones. I pared down superfluous tasks, quickly deciding that learning a language and reading more than a handful of books would be infeasible with my summer internship and side projects. Even having multiple side projects was not the best, so I scheduled which months would be for what projects. I was ready to tackle the summer. Continue reading

The Key to Building Willpower

How often has this happened to you? You tell yourself that you’re going to work for the next hour, only to find yourself struggling after ten minutes. You remember hearing that breaks are good for productivity, so you decide to take one.

My ideal calendar

My ideal calendar

Two hours later, you reemerge from the Internet. You’ve “liked” your friend’s new profile picture, seen the new Dark Knight trailer, and learned why The Atlantic thinks women still can’t have it all in today’s corporate culture. If you’re really good, you might have also updated yourself on the latest developments in the global economy, cleared up your email inbox, and found the next book you want to read.

But you haven’t done your work.

Continue reading

Why Facebook is so addicting

Why is facebook so addicting?

Original photo by rahego

With the Internet constantly at our fingertips, many people lament that we are perpetually distracted, ignoring the outside world to focus on colorful little screens. The Internet is more addicting than ever—the web has an endless supply of evanescent entertainments, which multiply every day. Yet we don’t just aimlessly wander the Internet to find interesting diversions. Instead, we fixate on specific sites and wander within their borders—these sites either generate or aggregate interesting content from the rest of the web, saving us the trouble of finding it.

One of the most striking examples of this is Facebook. In March 2012, Facebook reported having 526 million daily active users on average.1 To compare, the United States has a population of roughly 311 million people, while the entire continent of South America has a population of about 387 million people.

But the addictiveness of Facebook is not just a statistic to me. Continue reading

The Science of Getting Things Done

Productivity philosophies always sound great on the outside

Photo by J. E. Theriot

Productivity philosophies always sound great on the outside, promising more free time, more autonomy, and a happier lifestyle. But not all of these philosophies deliver, and not everyone will like the same philosophies.

So how do you pick one productivity philosophy over another?

The typical answer is that this is a completely personal decision and you should do whatever works best for you.

We can do better than that. The typical answer doesn’t explain why systems like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) have such widespread popularity. While good marketing does play a role, I’ve thought of a more satisfying answer based on some recent findings in psychology. I’m talking about two concepts, ego depletion and decision fatigue, which are two of the most fascinating phenomena I’ve read about in the past year. Continue reading

Never forget anything again—the power of Collect and Process

When it comes to productivity systems like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), I often wonder whether or not they’re worth the hassle of setting up. But after seeing GTD referenced again and again on Lifehacker and elsewhere, I decided to give it a closer look, so I read David Allen’s book and began using a full implementation of GTD in January. Continue reading

Becoming a diligent person (part two)

Photo by jayneandd

In the first part of this post, I laid some basic groundwork for approaching diligence. I emphasized that you have a choice to be diligent or not each time you consider procrastinating, and that your moment-to-moment actions now will affect how you behave in the future. In this part of the post, I’ll list three common impediments to diligent goal-accomplishment and some ways to overcome each obstacle. Continue reading

Becoming a diligent person (part one)

How much of your work ethic is up to you?

Photo by olga.palma

In the movie Gattaca, Vincent Freeman is an “in-valid,” a genetically inferior individual in a society where “valids” are designed to have only the best genes of their parents. Handicapped by myopia and heart problems, Vincent must compete with valids for his dream job of being an astronaut, which requires exceptional intelligence, physical fitness, and (for some reason) typing skills. How does he do this? He studies for long hours at night after his day job. He does pull-ups using his dense astronomy textbooks as weights. He practices typing on a cardboard box. As a result, Vincent is able to at least blend in with his genetically superior peers through sheer effort. (Will he surpass them? Don’t ask me—watch the movie.) Continue reading

3 steps to actually being productive over spring break

Photo by Vince Alongi

Breaks are times to relax, of course, but there’s something deeply satisfying about having a relaxing and productive break. What makes a break productive? Being productive simply entails accomplishing something significant, something worthwhile—a goal. Often, people think that means something related to school or extracurricular activities, but it could also be an entirely personal project.

I’ve always tried to accomplish at least one goal over my breaks. However, I’ve only had real success over my last two breaks, and I attribute those successes to the steps I describe here. These steps have helped me to read several books, study Japanese independently, meditate, and begin a light daily exercise routine among other things. So without further ado, here are the 3 steps to being productive over spring break:  Continue reading