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

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