Timers, House Cleaning, and Student Success

Ish Stabosz - mop

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

PhD student Anjali Gopal recently wrote a piece for the GradHacker blog over at Inside Higher Ed called Setting Five Minute Timers.

In her article, Gopal talks about how the practice of setting short timers for herself has helped her check off to-do lists, get started on tedious task, and ignore the temptation to do everything perfectly.

Among Gopal’s experiences that I can relate to are the following…

  • Spending a half hour agonizing over the wording of an email
  • Ignoring the boring tasks (like tracking blog statistics) in favor of the enjoyable ones (like writing blog posts!)
  • Only taking 30 seconds to prep for a meeting (and maybe sometimes less)

Her solution to these problems is the five minute timer, the power of which she sums up as follows:

Using short bursts of high-energy work can be highly effective in finishing up stale tasks, getting started on daunting projects, and in giving thoughtful consideration to rushed decisions.

As I read Gopal’s post, I couldn’t help but think of FlyLady, one of my mother-in-law’s favorite internet personas. FlyLady encourages efficient and effective housecleaning and home organization to help her followers avoid “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome”. One of her mottoes is “You can do anything for 15 minutes”, which she uses as a battle cry to inspire overwhelmed homeowners to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day (she even sells timers emblazoned with the motto).

Okay, okay. What’s the point?

If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this on Forward Thinking, so am I.

No, just kidding. I’m getting there.

I’ve blogged about my 5-2-1-0 method for productivity in the past, but as I was reading Gopal’s post and contemplating the wisdom of FlyLady, I thought…

Wouldn’t it have been great to learn how to manage my time when I was a student?

Wouldn’t it have been helpful to learn how to organize a house before mine became a mess? (that is, exploded with children)

Seriously, I didn’t get productive until pretty recently.

I basically spent the majority of my life floundering around in all of my responsibilities until it became impossible to do so. That’s when I figured out how to get organized.

So, maybe I can do my students a good turn by helping them avoid the same pitfalls I fell into. I know I’m just an English teacher, but it shouldn’t be too hard to embed productivity tips into the course. One of the practices that Gopal mentions is to set a timer and then complete a task as if “that five minutes was the only time” she had to get it done.

That would be a quick and easy lesson to teach my students about rough drafts:

You’ve got an outline done? Good. Now pick one heading you want to work on. I’m gonna give you five minutes to write a paragraph about it. Pretend that’s the only time that you have. Ready. Set. Go.

And revision, students hate revision:

Listen up, kids. You can do anything for 15 minutes. We’ll practice it once in class today. But your final draft is due next week. Between now and then, spend 15 minutes a day revising your essay.


How about you? What are some ways that you can incorporate productivity lessons into your courses without losing instructional time?

 

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