The Missing Piece

November 30, 2009

Myths about time management: part 2

Earlier, I wrote about how when it comes to completing a college application or advancing a work goal — myths about time management are many.
Here is part two of the blog post which tries to interpret time myths that may keep us from project productivity.
Myth 3: Important tasks take a long time
Important tasks that we are passionate about doing can consume most hours of our day, but if we are compiling information on a deadline for college or for a professional report, then we want to quicken the time it takes to complete the tasks.
What I learned from journalism is that important tasks can be done in faster paces if you can outline the beginning and end of that task. It’s what one news professor who used to work for a daily paper where reporters had to write three-to-four stories a day, told me:
 “I’d be out in the field, reporting a story, and before I arrived back at the paper, I’d outline the entire story in the car, the beginning, the middle, the end, and who said what. Once at the newspaper, I could just write and save lots of time.”
Myth 4:  Avoiding problems saves you time
When I was applying to Columbia University’s graduate journalism school,
I took three months to write my personal essay about my life and interests–
three months because I had a big problem: deciding what parts of my life
were essential and compelling to tell was a huge exercise in deciphering
a million big and little events.
The problem grew bigger and bigger as I shared my essay with different friends and accepted their criticism that my essay drafts were “all over the place” or “not clear.”
At first, I tried avoiding the problem by writing differently, but in reality, I had to get confident in selecting just one storyline from my life and committing to it.
When I faced down my problem of deciding what to write, instead of writing around my indecision, I completed my biographical essay in three hours and handed in my application, which was successful.
The ultimate essay was about how my hair, coiled and springy, was a metaphor for my childhood of tangled identities and talents, which unlocked their potential the more and more I gained pride in my hair and my direction. So I say, if you have a problem, meet it face to face. Working through problems will empower your time with the speed of
finding solutions.
–Malena Amusa

November 10, 2009

Applying to college and time management: from myth to power

busy, time

When it comes to managing our time, and for special projects such as applying to college or advancing work goals, myths about time and productivity abound.

I love this quote by Thoreau because it encourages us to think about how we use our time, and to realize that not all work is productive work.

Here, I want to talk about some of the myths related to time management that I have studied as a business journalist, English facilitator in Dakar, and project coordinator.  

Myth 1. Working alone provides more focus.

Many of us isolate ourselves when we want to finish an urgent task — but in historic cases — when people are on deadline and are producing a very important project, they tend to work in groups. Think about newspapers, or the cooking of Korite dinner.  Why work alone on an essay or application when you can gain the input and support of a group of people? People inspire us, give us great ideas, and also monitor our execution of tasks. People are our allies and mentors. And they range from professional guides such as college admissions advisors at Chez Alpha, to everyday friends and family.

A good approach to working with others is to talk with your allies and discuss your need for their help. Gain the consent and interest of your allies,  and talk about times you’ll anticipate and engage certain activities.

Myth 2:  More information is better than less

Recently, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s stunning  book “Blink” about making decisions in quick splits of time, particularly using organized thought, intuition, and human feeling to make better choices. In one chapter, he studies doctors who have to diagnose heart conditions in the emergency room and learned that many of them in a Chicago ward, guess wrong, and send patients home who actually need intense immediate care. 

Gladwell found that these doctors don’t have a set method of diagnosing  heart patients. Rather, these doctors spend several hours running dozens of soft and hardcore tests — when really, to decide if a heart problem is urgently serious, a specialist can perform just three targeted tests and greatly approve the accuracy of their diagnosis.  In that Chicago hospital — administering three heart tests– and not a dozen systems of investigation, that is —  less-not-more — has saved many lives.

Likewise, we can create a method for making decisions regarding which college to attend,  and what jobs to join or create. That procedure can include just three things we’re looking for in a successful university or job. For college, that may be attending a school with an excellent writing program, notable faculty, and in a diverse city.  We can make stronger decisions by looking at the way things can meet our most essential goals.

And sometimes, decisions require a swift understanding of our feelings — and that’s all. So if you find yourself writing an admission essay or cover letter that does not excite you — it’s probably best to stop and re-consider why you don’t feel good about the project. When our heart is a guide, we tend to work faster, harder, and passionately toward a goal.


Next week, the Missing Piece will publish part 2 of this blog.

For now, I’d love to read from you. What myths about time management are you changing?

–Malena Amusa

October 27, 2009

Going to business school? What’s your start-up idea?

startup inc

Check out start-up success stories at Inc.

In an age of fast-growing start-up companies, it may be hard to convince a business school admission why you need a business school education to launch a company– if indeed that’s what you want to do.

You can start by discussing the merits of your business plan and how a degree will set off your start-up? But first let’s look back.

A start-up is a new and limited operating company under fast development. Unlike big corporations, start-ups tend to do what corporations can’t like provide better customized experiences for clients and reach intimately niched markets. A start-up can be as focused as managing a team of washers to do laundry for families in Dakar.

If you want to start a company from a fresh idea and with a small group of people? Then you want a start-up?

Now why do you need business school?

Perhaps you’re looking for a specialized network a business school can provide or the chance to learn a noteworthy skill in business school that can launch your start-up which needs intellectual support. It’s up to you to answer: how will business school push my great start-up idea?

Some experts say if you’re in business school — quickly decide if you’re a job-hunter or a business-starter. There’s a reason. If you want to start a company, it’s a good idea to start in college. The Business School Journal reports:

A business student is someone that goes to business school, takes courses, graduates and looks for a job. An entrepreneurial student is someone that starts their own business while still in business school.

Some people are natural entrepreneurs, even students. Numerous successful business powerhouses – such as Dell Computers, Microsoft, FedEx and Apple – got started in college. You don’t have to be a geek, but you do need some basic accounting, advertising, market research and business skills, and a specific salable skill (how you’ll earn your income). College is actually an ideal place to start a business because students tend to be bright-eyed, passionate and unjaded. As well, classmates tend not to mind other classmates promoting their business.

Having a few start-up ideas can expand your purpose in business school and enrich your experience, particularly by mastering how to design products, services and income.

–Malena Amusa

October 22, 2009

Talk your way into opportunity: a life of networking

The power of knowledge is the ability to share knowledge with other people. What better way to share knowledge than through networking.
Pic: Human Capital Institute
Networking is a method of communication used for many different purposes. However, the main purpose of networking is to keep in touch with people through conversations.

Conversations are the key to networking. Every conversation is an opportunity to meet new people, exchange ideas and share information – an opportunity to network. So, whether you are networking professionally or personally, use your networking skills beyond the company’s annual conference.

Make networking a part of your lifestyle.

It’s easy to collect business cards, names and phone numbers. However, following up with contacts is another story. While it’s difficult to stay in touch every minute or second of the day, finding the time to contact people at least once or twice a year is a good start. Use a special event (i.e. Birthdays and Holidays), as a perfect excuse to contact people or keep in touch.

I haven’t mastered it myself but I do envy people who are able talk themselves in and out of conversations. Holding an interesting conversation is a skill – one that takes practice. So, don’t wait until the company’s annual conference to network. Practice networking every chance you get. The supermarket, library and post office are all places you can practice networking.

However, remember, you can’t do all the talking. Successfully networking also requires listening. You can’t hold an interesting conversation without listening and vice versa.

There are many different ways to network and different types of networking. The key to successful networking is conversation. Every conversation is an opportunity to meet new people, exchange ideas and share information – an opportunity to network. Try practicing your networking skills today.

–Makeysha Durham

October 12, 2009

Studying the best & using what you got to get there

So there is action — motivators and advisors agree. Action is your best friend when it comes to planning and applying for college, or pursuing a new job opportunity.

But what else can help us secure our direction?

Well, when I talk with my English students, who are all experts in their respective fields, from politics to economics — they often mention their heroes –the people whose work they try to emulate.  Talking to my students I see the power of sharing knowledge. When we study the best performers in fields we want to pursue, we dedicate our dreams to reality.

When is the last time you’ve had a close conversation with the life of a role model?

In my own personal study of top career performers from Barack Obama to Warren Buffet, what I admire the most about their lives is how they accomplished a lot with a little. In fact, if you look at the stories of most blazing stars, prominent intellectuals, and business people — they persevered despire a lack of resources and found ways to make things work. As I do myself, I encourage you to see your every lack as an opportunity to initiate a bold plan.

Now here is an excerpt from my favorite lifestyle design blogger Tim Ferriss — he’s a global inspiration and an example of how to turn ideas to successful action. About starting your dreams without resources, he writes:

Look for dark horse role models. “I can’t start a company — I’m too old.” Coronel Sanders started KFC after 40. The excuse doesn’t hold up. Can’t compete in sports because of a bum leg? Sprinter Oscar Pistorius has no lower legs and is aiming for the Olympics. You? For each reason for inaction you come up with, ask: has anyone overcome these or worse circumstances to do what I want to do? The answer is: of course.

Embrace your lack of resources, your weaknesses.

Far from a handicap, these are often the pressure points that will take you the furthest… if you’re able to use them instead of excuse them.

Malena Amusa

September 29, 2009

The college application essay: telling your story

Here’s a funny look at one man’s approach to acing your college admission essay.


The college essay is a major challenge for students seeking admission.  Students find the writing process intimidating. 

So students write about their achievements instead of personal experiences.  Students write using huge vocabulary words and complex sentences.  Students focus on their accomplishments and personal experiences without answering the essay question.

College admission boards use college application essays to learn more about students.  So students must use the college application essay as their personalized introduction to college admission boards. 

My suggestion is to treat each college application essay as if you were on a n important date.  You know, you meet that special someone and you want to make a good impression.  With that analogy in mind:

Step 1: Find a story to tell. 
Students writing a college application essay must use this opportunity to introduce yourself to the college admission board.  You don’t want to waste the opportunity listing your every accomplishment.  Instead, you want to discuss your personal experiences.  You can find a story to tell by asking yourself the following questions:
                        What do you want people to know about you? 
                        What makes you unique? 
                        What challenges have you overcome?  

Step 2: Write in your own words.  
It sounds cliché but be yourself.  The college application essay is not a test of intellect. You don’t need  to use huge vocabulary words and complex sentence structures.  Instead, write about yourself the way you would talk to that special someone.
Step 3: Focus on the essay question and be concise. 
Students failing to answer an essay question hurt their chances for admission.  It’s easy to lose focus telling a story in your own words.  So remember the purpose of your story in relation to the essay question and be concise.   
For prospective students, writing a college essay is a challenge but it can be achieved.  My suggestions are to find a story to tell, write in your own words, focus on the essay question and be concise.

–Makeysha Durham

September 22, 2009

The Reality Check: a look at paying for college

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 2:17 pm
How many times have I heard a student insist they want to study in US, Canada or the UK and then state with great authority that they can afford to pay 6,000 dollars per year.  Here is an update. 
 Realistically, 6,000 dollars per year will barely cover the cost of housing not to mention tuition, books, clothes, transport, and student insurance.
When it comes to college at home or abroad, to keep moving forward, many of us must adjust our goals and select programs we can afford. 
[Photo: Know How 2Go Ohio]
Here are three ways to think about the reality of your school selection. 
First: Be willing to search for alternative study options even if that means staying in your own country.  Look around and see there are numerous successful people in your country. Ask them where did they study and you may find many of them did not go abroad. Perhaps they wanted to but could not afford it or their parents did not support the idea.  With an open mind, begin to look seriously at study options at home or in a neighboring country.  Take note, the streets of New York are filled with immigrant taxi drivers.  Ask them how they came to America and over 50 percent will tell you they came to study and ran out of money. Many did not have the money to fund four years of college when they arrived.
Second: Be creative in reviewing your options.  When money is the biggest issue a student must be willing to take different paths. If you visit China, Malaysia, Singapore, or Oman, for example, you will find good students from various African countries. However, students from Francophone countries tend to focus on the big three destinations: US, France or Canada.  These countries are excellent options if you can afford them!  But if you do not have the money then begin to get out there and find a good program you can afford elsewhere.  Believe me in 2009 with an emphasis on globalization there are excellent and affordable programs on all seven continents. 
Third: If someone is sponsoring your education be clear about how much they can afford to pay and if they are serious.  If your uncle says he will help with your college fees, he may be thinking he will contribute 2,000 dollars a year.   You may assume he will pay up to 10,000 dollars a year.   At this point, you have a serious communication breakdown.  Your parent or sponsor who says they are willing to help with your education must also be willing to provide various official documents such as bank statements and in some cases, a copy of their work contract. Make  sure you and your sponsor are able to provide bank-statement-proof of your income and financial status.
Students around the world diversify their educational dreams every day.  Some students realize after finishing secondary school they must work one year to raise more money for college.  Students who want to start immediately at a bigger more expensive university decide to begin at a two year college that is much less expensive.  Some students choose to study part time and work at the same time. 
However, as you work your way through that reality check, the important thing to remember is that even when a dream has been adjusted it can still be achieved.
–Angela Franklin

Navigate college websites like a pro

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 12:48 pm

A college website is a wonderful information tool. It is a map that can take you anywhere you want to go if you know how to read it.

Many students struggle to find needed information.  And they may not take enough time to view the website and understand how to navigate the website. Luckily, many college websites are fairly similar. 

Usually, there will be a tab called ABOUT US.  Here you can find the university history, mission and vision statements, and info about the Board of Directors. 

The ADMISSIONS tab, or PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS tab, will show you academic and admission requirements, including requirements for international students. You can also find the application form here. To apply, you can complete the application online or fill it out and mail it back later.  Most important, in the admissions section you can find tuition/fee information.

If you want to know what courses you can study there is a tab for ACADEMICS.  Here you can learn about bachelor and master degree programs available.  The academics section will often give detailed information about professors, and curriculum.  

STUDENT LIFE is where you can find information about student services, housing, cafeteria, and the library. 

If you have trouble finding  an answer, try typing that word into the search engine. Sending an email asking about a fact that is available on the website may send admisions the wrong message about your organization.    So take your time and really review the website. 

Admissions officers respond to hundreds of students a week.  Therefore, when you do need to communicate with the admissions office, ask specific well thought-out questions.   Organized information gathering and great questions will make a good impression.

—Angela Franklin

“Argument” is the magic of presentation

Filed under: Global education, cross-culture, communication advice — chezalphabooks @ 12:32 pm

One of my English students counts the day of his master’s thesis presentation as one of his harshest.  

My student had prepared his data for months. He had so much to share. But that day, he fell apart. He got nervous and tongue-tied. He just wanted to stop talking.

As he told this story, I sat and smiled. How many times have we all been in his shoes: wondering why suddenly, in the heat of a presentation, we’ve lost our way? 

Looking ahead, I went on a hunt to find the best verbal talks that rang with clarity, confidence, and vision.  

I landed at — a site full of lecture videos from the TED conference which gathers the world’s top ideas producers.  

Watching reminds us of the magic of presentations. Videos on this site transformed me on the spot.

Presentations can condense years of study into an instantaneous moment of awakening.  

Here are some tips I gathered from, for preparing your presentation.  

* Define your argument? What’s the compelling point of your talk? 

* Think phenomenally. Assuming your audience is as smart or smarter than you, in what ways can you innovate your ideas, your argument, your style? 

* Identify the great story that can ground your presentation of data and facts in human interest.  

* Be detailed and humorous. Be unafraid and challenging.  

* Ask questions and argue for bold solutions.  

* Win over you audience.

—Malena Amusa

September 18, 2009

When it comes to college, apply and diversify

Your deadlines are set. And you have decided which universities you want to apply to. Now, you sit down to fill out your numererous applications, for programs, for scholarships. This could take days, weeks…

But wait.

Here are five tips to keep in mind — to help you avoid common college application pitfalls.
1.    Presentation matters. An application should be typed or written with a superior pen preferably in black ink.   No application should be submitted with tomato stains or coffee mug rings. Nor should the application be sent by mail crunched and folded. A well prepared application submitted with the required documents will make a good presentation and will be noticed in the pile of wrinkled applications.

2.    Email addresses speak.  The address you share with all of your friends such as sweetpants@, thuglife4ever@, and yourthiof@ may not be the impression you want make.  Use an email that is professional for business.
3.    Passing grades vary.  Schools vary in terms of how difficult it is to get in and how selective they are. Although a 10 means you have passed the BAC it may not be enough to help you gain admission at each and every school of your choice.  You may end up competing against students who have completed their A levels, International Bac, Iranian Concurs, etc.  In this arena the passable on the BAC just may not be enough to gain your admission in the most competitive school of choice but it may help you gain admission somewhere else. This is where the expression “there’s something for everyone” comes into mind and you may need to find that something that is right for you.

4.    Get a plan A, B, and C.  Even if your dream is to study internationally you should have several plans for how to achieve this goal. Go ahead, apply to the school you have always dreamed of in Spain or the UK but also apply to a school in your home country. Have a backup plan. Therefore if you are refused admission to your school abroad (and students get refused everyday) you will still have a Plan B and when October comes around you will be in class.

5.    Scholarships are tricky.  Most schools will require students to complete a scholarship application and also write a personal essay. Writing in to detail about each and every personal and financial struggle you have may not always work to your advantage.  Most scholarships are not merely looking for poor students but bright, hardworking, articulate students who will benefit from additional support. The essay is a great opportunity to define your dreams and aspirations and tell how this scholarship will help you achieve your long term goals.  But begging in any instance or concluding your essay with a desperate plea such as “aidez moi, aidez moi, aidez moi” does not insure you will be considered for a scholarship.
The stages of college application are many, but you can excel at them all with great qualifications, application, and options.

—Angela Franklin

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