Archive for January, 2009

5 Tips to Help You Get Productive

Like most students you probably find yourself the least productive at the moment you need to be the most productive. For example, I noticed that whenever I should be studying for finals I suddenly felt the need to clean my room (though I didn’t do that the rest of the quarter)/play Text Twist/do something extremely time consuming like try to make a stop motion film.

Does this sound familiar?

Thought so. Anyway, when you finally do buckle down and decide to get productive, here are a few great places to start streamlining your lifestyle.

1. Schedule Email Time. I bet you would be amazed at how much time you waste by constantly checking your email. (If you want to know exactly how much, you can track it using free time-tracking software like RescueTime !) One of the best time-management tips I can give you is to schedule time for your email–both to read and respond to it–and leave it alone for the rest of the day. Good luck. 😉

2. Keep Important Docs Online. Stop worrying about carrying your laptop or a flash drive with you everywhere (or worse, emailing yourself) so you can work on your essays whenever you need them. Instead, switch over to using an online doc management system like Google Docs so you can access your favorite excel spreadsheets anytime, anywhere.

3. Turn Off Distractions. When you’re working, work. The best way to actually do your work is to turn off your phone, IM, TV, iPod, and pretty much anything else fun. Stop looking at Facebook and Failblog. Also close your door, and if you need to, ask your roommate to put on headphones. Take 10 minute breaks at regular intervals (every hour, or every 30 minutes if you’re going nuts) to keep your brain moving.

4. Make Lists. One of the BEST ways to make sure you hit all your deadlines is to keep a running to-do list AND a schedule (see how to build a semester study calendar ). I have a running list of things I definitely have to do weekly broken down by days (i.e. Tuesday I do laundry, work, and clean the bathroom). Then I fill in the rest of my to-do list (work on essay, study, meet friends for lunch) around those definite items. It takes a while to get used to writing it down, but after a while it works great.

5. Just Do It. Nike was right: productivity and procrastination can never be BFFs. The biggest secret to getting things done is to just DO them. Make this your motto and you’ll be productive; desert it and all you’ll have to celebrate at the end of the day is the completion of a Project Runway marathon (I should know!). So when you see socks on the floor, pick them up instead of stepping over them. When you see your textbook on your bed, flip through it instead of turning on the TV.

Happy time managing, my friends. (And please share your own secrets if you have them!)

photo: Pencils by TouTouke

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5 comments January 30th, 2009

5 Life Lessons for College, Courtesy of Ferris Beuller

It’s easy to pass off Ferris Beuller (famed for his Day Off) as the ultimate slacker, but with this opinion I must beg to differ. In fact, I personally feel that most of us have a lot to learn from dear Ferris. Allow me to enumerate the many life lessons exemplified by his very awesome ideals.

Do Your Research.

Ferris was no dummy. When he decided to take on a big project (his day off, of course), he planned. He prepared. He researched. He chose the day, selected his accomplices, and even worked up a very believable illness (complete with clammy hands). And because of his preparation, his very excellent schemes were (mostly) successful. And that, my friends, is why you should study up before you write your midterm papers.

Take Risks.

Sure, Ferris planned carefully, but he also knew when to take a risk or two. (Like visiting Wrigley Field where he ended up on national TV, or dancing on that float at a parade near his dad’s office.) I’m not going to recommend you borrow a Ferrari without asking, but I do advocate taking risks that would improve your life–like trying out a daunting class, finally asking your crush out, or studying abroad in a foreign country. Ferris would do it.

Be Cultured.

A wise teacher once said, “The point of an education is to get the joke.” And oh, that is true. (Example: I can’t tell you HOW many jokes I catch on the Simpsons that I would have missed without paying attention in English class.)

I believe Ferris would agree. He did not skip school simply to take in a movie. Oh no! He visited real, meaningful venues like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade. He experienced lasting parts of our culture. So be like Ferris, and next time you’re trying to think of a way to spend a Thursday afternoon, hit a museum instead of a Starbucks. So you, too, may “get the joke.”


Networking will get you far, both in and out of school. Ferris was so tapped in to his high school’s web of students that no sooner did he show up “sick” than the whole school knew–they were doing a “Save Ferris” fundraiser by the end of his day off. So if you want to open up potential job opportunities early on, get to know your peers, your professors, and others in your industry.

Occasionally, Take a Day Off.

Work hard in school, at work, and at your relationships, but every now and then you need to give yourself a break. Take a Saturday to just enjoy the fresh air, see the sights, do something you’ve always wanted to do.

And if you haven’t yet seen Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, I would highly recommend it–it is so choice.

Until next time,

photo: kidney bean by nisey

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7 comments January 29th, 2009

Keeping Yourself Safe (because Moms and Grandmas Want You To)

Every now and then my mom will call to check up on me–she wants to make sure I’m not walking around alone in the dark or otherwise putting myself in some kind of danger. As unnecessary as it may be (I’ve lived on my own for a few years now), it is a good reminder to keep myself out of potentially threatening situations.

So in tribute to worried moms everywhere, I thought I’d write up a little list of tips for keeping yourself safe when you’re out and about. These are all about preventing bad situations.

The Basics

  • The Buddy System. Yep, all these years later the tried-and-true field trip rule of having a “buddy” is still a good idea. You don’t have to hold hands and walk in line formation anymore, but it is a good idea to have a friend with you when you’re going out at night.
  • Checking In. When you’re at home, you have parents and siblings to worry about you if you don’t get home at a normal time, but away at school you have to ask people to worry. So if you’re going out–especially alone–let your roommate know when you’ll be back and ask him/her to text & check in if you’re not back by then. It’s a good “just in case” practice (AND your roommate won’t care if you text back that you’re going to stay out for a few more hours like your parents might!).
  • Plan Ahead. As much as possible, plan to be in populated, well-lit areas.

Safety Alone & at Night

I took a self defense class with my mom before I went away to school, and in addition to teaching me some handy moves to pull in a dire situation, the instructor also told a few tips about staying safe if you are out alone, especially at night. So here are your night/alone safety tips, courtesy of my instructor:

  • Stay OFF Your Cell Phone. Talking on the phone is distracting and can leave you unaware of your surroundings.
  • No Ponytails. Ponytails are easy for attackers to grab, and they often target people with ponytails for this reason. (Who’d have thought your hair made a difference?)
  • Walk Tall. Stand tall and walk confidently–this is supposed to deter potential attackers who usually go for someone who looks timid and less likely to fight back.
  • Prepare BEFORE You Get to Your Car. Have your keys out and ready before you get to your car, and be sure to check beneath the car and in the back seat before you get in. Lock the doors as soon as possible.

Take a Self Defense Class!

I loved taking a self defense class (they taught me how to flip a full grown man onto his back to protect myself!) and it only took a few hours on a Saturday morning. You can often find one at local community centers or on campus.

photo: Downtown by stephmck99

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2 comments January 26th, 2009

Cheap + Chic for College: Decorating With Freebies

Ah, the internet: your ticket to fabulous furniture freebies. You can find all kinds of great stuff in your area, from used pianos to desks, couches, lamps, and more. Keep a sharp eye out, and you could probably furnish your entire place for free (but you might want to plan on making some renovations to the freebies you find). A little DIY sure beats paying the price tag for customized furniture (like the cubbie cabinet above, from A Colorful Place).

Treasure Hunting

I hear these sites are a great place to search for the freebies of your dreams:

  • (Choose your area + click “free” under the for sale category. Keep in mind you can often find super cheap furniture in their other categories if you’re willing to spend a few bucks.)
  • The Freecycle Network

AND, if you live in an apartment complex, don’t forget to scour each floor at the end of the month (when people typically move out) for discarded goods! People leave behind good stuff! (Case in point, we left behind a TV cabinet and a huge TV because we couldn’t sell them and didn’t want them in our new place!)

Also, don’t forget to let family & friends know that you are available to take their hand-me-downs.

Trash into Treasure

Once you’ve got your freebies, all you have to do is schedule in some weekend DIY time. For lots of furniture, a simple paint job or even just updating the hardware (like drawer pulls, for example) can completely change the look of a piece.

Ready to roll up your sleeves? Check out these awesome tutorials if you need a little help…

Oh! And remember, even if you find a practically-mint piece, remember to spend some time on a basic cleaning job just to be safe–and to make your mom feel better about you picking up used furniture. 😉

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3 comments January 23rd, 2009

My Top Five: The Pay for College Blog

Many of you have probably popped over to our sister site, the Pay for College Blog, which is hosted by college funding expert Deborah Fox (of Fox College Funding –they actually won an award last year for financial planning excellence).

Though Ms. Fox’s site is mostly targeted to parents (you might want to teach yours about feed readers so they can subscribe) there are some great articles that are relevant to students, too. I like to help my readers stay in-the-know, so I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorites for you.

1. Creative Ways to Pay for College by Thinking “Outside the Box.” College is expensive, and a lot of us don’t have our parents footing the bill. I love the new and different ways students have come up with to cover their costs, and Ms. Fox’s reminders and tips about the basics.

2. Life 101: What Your Student Needs to Know Now. This is a great list of things you need to know how to do once you’re out on your own. You can ask the ‘rents, or check out articles around here, like this Ultimate College How-To Guide.

3. How to Pay LESS for Textbooks. Who else gets tired of spending hundreds of dollars on books you (sort-of) use for a few weeks? Ms. Fox shares some tips about how to cut costs on textbooks.

4. What You Need to Know About How to File the FAFSA.
I hate government forms. They are complicated and confusing. On the other hand, I like the opportunities that come out of filing them, like student loan offers or tax refunds. This is a great, simple prep guide for that dear, dear FAFSA we all love filing out every year.

5. 5 More Easy and Unexpected Ways to Find College Money. Did you know you can ask for a discount on some of your bills? Find out more tips to stretch your dollar in Ms. Fox’s article, and in my 50 Ways to Save Money in College.

Anybody have a favorite article to share with the class? 😉

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Add comment January 21st, 2009

You Can Do It!: Setting Goals You Can Achieve

I know it’s only been a few weeks since New Years, but who else has already broken their resolutions?

What is it that makes goal setting so exciting, and goal-achieving so…well… so seemingly un-doable? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and comparing the goals I am keeping with the ones I’m not. The differences are pretty simple, and they make a huge difference in keeping up that I CAN DO IT!!! attitude we all start out with.

Here are my personal secrets to success when it comes to setting–and reaching–my goals.

Write it Down.

Have you heard this before? It’s the same concept as “out of sight, out of mind” but reversed–if you write something down and see it every day, it sticks with you. It runs around in your head, it bothers you, sometimes even seems to mock you. And eventually all the pestering from those little thoughts makes you do something about it. So write it down. Easy.

Break it Down.

Sure, it would be great if you could just write down your goal to BECOME A MILLIONAIRE BY THIRTY and just leave it at that, but does that feel doable when you look at it that way?

Not really.

So break down your goals into smaller, more specific, more achievable goals. One of my focuses this year is to be healthier, but I don’t just expect that to happen. So I made mini-goals, like so:

    • Only eat one dessert per day (sad, but this is hard for me)
    • Eat healthy snacks instead of junk food
    • Walk more (like walking to class instead of taking the shuttle)

Be Realistic.

As part of my getting-healthier thing, I would want to work out every day at the gym. Except that I HATE going to the gym, it costs money, I don’t have time every day, and a lot of times I don’t have access to a car to get there. So that goal is ridiculous for me, totally unrealistic.

Instead, I’m going to make every effort to make my body work harder to do every day things. I’m going to go up and down stairs more often, skip the elevator and escalator, and do exercises at home on a regular schedule.

Be Consistent.

Make your rules for yourself, and stick to them. It is hard to do, but even harder to get back on the bandwagon once you’ve slipped.

Be Forgiving.

Of yourself that is. Yes, you want to be consistent. You want to stick with it. But don’t beat yourself up if you slip up! That will only discourage you. Give yourself a Get Out of Jail Free card, get over the guilt, and get back to working toward that goal!

photo: Focus by CraigP

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1 comment January 19th, 2009

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