The Missing Piece

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.

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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

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