Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, Written by James

Addicted to Procrastination

Are you aware of the most recent addiction sweeping the university? Its like a plague, moving from one student to the next. Thousands of marks have been lost because of it. It’s name… procrastination!

Alright, slightly melodramatic, but also technically true. Procrastination is a normal part of life, both in university and beyond. While you might think it a typical ‘student’ thing, any experience in an office or in the field should show you that people are just as likely to get nothing done and something done. The good news is that your experience with beating procrastination in university gives you an extremely valuable set of skills. Just like planning skills, avoiding procrastination where possible can help you save time. A person who cannot manage their money will always be poor, no matter how much money they earn. Similarly, a person with poor time management skills will always be short on time, no matter what they’re doing.

The 301 Service has a workshop dedicated to beating procrastination you can find where available here, along with the rest of the workshops we’re offering that term. If you fancy popping in, there’s also some worksheets available in reception, and where available a 1-1 tutorial can focus on time management. Here however, I’ll summarise the techniques I’ve found the most valuable personally. Your mileage might vary! I’d encourage you to try out as many techniques as possible to find one that works.

And remember that you are only human, nobody expects you to avoid procrastinating entirely! Procrastination is something to be managed, but not something to be entirely eradicated!

1. The Pomodoro Technique

A classic and proven method of avoiding procrastination, the Pomodoro technique has you work in intervals with breaks in between. There are many apps, free and paid, which have built in timers and diaries to help you in using this technique.

The science behind it is that there is no such thing as true multi-tasking. Sure, you can do two things during the same time period, but the brain cannot focus on two tasks at the same time. Instead, you constantly swap your attention back and forth between the two tasks. There is an opportunity cost to this, and you will never use your full cognitive ability on any one task, instead working inefficiently. I’ve tried during my PhD to split writing tasks with playing specific games or watching television. This might be fine for very practical, tedious tasks which don’t need your full attention. For everything else, you’ll either spend time watching the TV, or you’ll ignore it entirely. There is no in between.

The Pomodoro technique allows you to avoid multi-tasking. During, for example, a thirty minute period, you will focus on one single task. Distractions, such as wanting to check your phone, sending or replying to an email, booking an appointment etc. should be written down on a notepad next to you. When the timer is up, you have a short break to address these smaller tasks and distractions. With this, you can hopefully keep the minor distractions to a minimum, as these often become larger distractions. One moment checking my email and I’m online. These machines are designed to make you pay attention to them for as long as possible. With the Pomodoro technique, you can train yourself to avoid that slippery slope!

Social Smoking is Still Smoking… So is Social Procrastination

Do you know somebody, it might even be yourself, who claims not to smoke or drink, but will indulge themselves in a few when they’re with friends who are doing the same? Often, this is just a cover to make ourselves feel better about the activity, which we know might not be socially acceptable. For example, drinking alone often tends to be a sign of alcoholism, but there are just as many people with drinking problems who only drink when they’re in a social setting, and therefore don’t believe they have a problem. Its just that they constantly seek out such social settings.

The same can be said for procrastination. Studying can be a lonely activity, so often its a good idea to form study groups, formally or informally. Don’t get me wrong, this can be a great idea. Not only can it keep up your morale , but you can talk about each other’s work, correct each others mistakes and generally help each other not to procrastinate! However, be wary of falling into the trap of social procrastination. You’re all there to study not to relax in the pleasant surroundings of the Information Commons. Before you know it, your five hour revision session only included about thirty minutes of revision.

Consider taking a set of headphones so that you can cut yourself off from the group conversation in general with music. Then, you can select when you want social interaction. Consider pairing this with the Pomodoro method or similar scheduling systems. You can work together, but also break together so that you stick to working during work time, and enjoy the company in social times. If a group just isn’t working out, then you might consider working alone or with a different group. Just like any other addiction, some people are enablers, and will tempt you (knowingly or unknowingly) against your better nature to procrastinate with all the tools of peer pressure, usually to make themselves feel better about their own. The best way to beat this sort of procrastination is to remove yourself from temptation!

There is no ‘Perfect Mood’, but there are ‘Bad Moods’

Some people like to only study when everything is perfect. The room has to be just the right temperature. One must not be too hungry or too full. There should be snacks of just the right sort, and coffee must be drank at just the right time before the session begins. It must be placed just before other obligations. Two hours before the lecture? I just won’t have enough time to focus. Two hours after the lecture? I’ll be too tired by then. And what if I have to go out tonight? I might as well just watch Netflix instead.

If these sound like excuses, its because there are. If we all waited until the ‘perfect’ time to start working on a project or goal, nothing would ever get done. It is a fact of life I have struggled to internalise that often I will not be in the most productive mood, but most moods can be productive-ish. I might not write one thousand words in one sitting, but I will write one hundred, and ten times that I’ve done just as well as I was when I waited. Recognise those thoughts for what they are, the essence of procrastination. You don’t want to work, so you are grasping for any reason to avoid it. Don’t fall into this trap!

This being said, please don’t work yourself to the bone. There will be times where the work you produce will not be of a good enough quality to justify the pain you’ll inflict on yourself. Your time is better spent on rest, recovery and self care. Procrastination is when you avoid doing work for poor reasons, not when you take the rational decision to take a break from work you would like to do soon because you simply aren’t up for it. There is a happy medium in deciding when to work, and when to take a break.

Planning to Work is not Work.

Planning is an essential part of good time management. With large academic projects, time spent planning is often time saved later down the road. But often, planning to do something can be a way of avoiding actually doing it.

I once knew a friend who would take great lengths to write long plans, colour coded, with time assigned for each element, all first in a planner, then online, then on her wall. She would highlight each reading meticulously and then transfer that to written notes. All this before a word was put to paper. Yet, when it came down to it, all that planning was overkill, a way for her to feel like she was doing a lot, when actually she was avoiding the harder task in favour of one she could do easily. Just like in office settings we criticise the idea of forming committees and having talks and action plans regarding relatively straightforward tasks, so should you recognise when you’re planning for the sake of it to avoid the challenging task of academia.

Avoid Talking Too Much About What You’re Doing

Similarly, you might find yourself eagerly talking to peers about your goals, what your study schedule is like etc. yet find yourself not doing that at all.

Personally, I’ve found myself waxing poetic about the fact that I’m doing a part-time degree as well as working, and how eternally busy I am, while at the same time I tend to spend more time than I’d like to admit relaxing and working on personal projects rather than my academic work. This is because it is a proven fact that we tell our peers about our work seeking validation. Once we receive this validation that we are indeed hard-working people, we have no psychological incentive to actually follow through with our claims. Receiving validation for planning to do something is a replacement for the validation one gets from their peers when they actually have done it. To keep yourself motivated, recognise when you’re talking too much about what you’re going to do, rather than what you have already done.

This doesn’t mean avoiding any discussion of what you plan to do. Rather, recognise when it becomes unproductive to do so, and when its more for the sake of your ego than for any practical reason.

So in summary…

Procrastination is something that everybody does, but like any vice, it can become a problem. I’ve found myself in trouble I shouldn’t have been because I didn’t plan properly. I should have been using these techniques years ago. Sadly, I didn’t, any I’ll never get some of that time I wasted back. Learn from my mistakes and the work of the scholars who have identified these ways we procrastinate and ways we can avoid it, and make the most of your time at university!

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Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, student life, Written by Arinola

Making the Best Use of the 301 Workshops

Upon first finding out about 301 and the variety of workshops on offer, I know that the first instinct many of us have is to pick the workshops that seem relevant and sign up to all of them in one fell swoop. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that by itself. However, a couple of things can make that strategy problematic and I’ll share some advice on what you should be doing instead.

If right now, you’re having a look at all the Exam Techniques and Exam Revision workshops we have available and thinking, “sign me up!”, you will find this blog post useful for ensuring that you can utilise the information you gain from the workshops – and smash your exams, of course! 🙂

  1. WHY: Yes, yes. I know you know why you’ve chosen to attend a particular workshop but think about it. Say you don’t have any group work this semester and have always been really unenthusiastic about the prospect of doing assessed group work, so you sign up to attend a workshop on that here at 301, I’m sure you’ll find it useful because I did myself. Now that’s different from signing up to attend that workshop and 9 others because you just like the sound of them. There are a ton of workshops to pick from and they are all great but it is worth considering your reason for attending the workshop and having in mind that your interest will affect how seriously you take the workshop, your willingness to engage with the material and your drive to get the best out of it.
  2. HOW MANY: I touched briefly on signing up to 9 workshops at once and I’ll now elaborate on why that may not be the best idea. Quality over quantity applies a lot here but it’s not the quality of the workshop that is in question at all. It’s the quality of information that you can feasibly get out of, and then apply to improving or developing the skills that the workshops aim to provide support with. How realistic is it that after attending 9 workshops in a semester you’ll be able to successfully
    • get better at presenting;
    • reading quickly;
    • taking notes effectively;
    • working well in a group; and
    • planning your dissertation

and do all of that within 12 weeks! I mean, if you can, fair play to you and please…

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Just bear in mind that you have at least 6 semesters in university and if you prioritise your skills needs every semester, the probability that you’ll leave university having gained all of the skills I’ve listed above is most likely a 100%. You can afford to take time and be deliberate about it.

3. THE FOLLOW-UP: From experience, this is the most difficult part. Nothing good comes easy, they say, but it is so tempting to hope that attending a workshop or 1:1 study skills tutorial will set you right up. You do have to make time and work with the advice you have received so that you can make progress. Revisit the slides you get sent as many times as you need to as well as any notes you take. Also make sure to use the resources recommended to you during the workshop. It’s normal to be eager for a marked improvement within say 2 weeks and to be frustrated if you don’t see any. Take your time and after a while you will be instinctively doing things a different way after making those repeated efforts initially.

I hope you find these tips useful and are having a fantastic Easter break whether that is being spent in the IC or somewhere a bit more fun catching some sun rays.

Posted in Extracurricular, student life, Taste of work, Written by Tom

An Ode to Stephenson: The Forgotten Library of Sheffield Uni

Today I will take you on a tour through a hidden gem of Sheffield University. Students who have studied here past and present have gone through here not even knowing of its existence. It is akin to the Chamber of Secrets, only with a more mysterious history. Lo and behold, the Stephenson Library!

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*A mystical choir sings in the distance*

What’s so special about it, you ask?

Imagine being transported back into time. Imagine knowing what being a uni student here in the 50s was like. Imagine being able to know what exam papers they took, and what kind of building they lived in. That is the Stephenson Library.

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The library is attached to the Stephenson accommodation, which is from the Georgian era. It is located across from Endcliffe, signposted from the Edge and on Endcliffe accommodation maps. Its a 5 minute walk from Broomhill.

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Picture the scene. You walk into the entrance to what feels like a hotel lobby. To the right of you is a reception which is always empty. Old painting adorn the walls. It has the smell of a very old carpeted hotel or building if , like me, you know that distinct and oh so intoxicating smell.

To your left, there is a large hall. It is a large space where an indoor sport could be played with multiple table tennis tables (is there a technical term for that?). You may see the odd soul playing it, but there are never more than a handful of people within its boundaries. You also see a piano on the other side of hall.

You go through the lobby, up the stairs. There are portraits of wardens hanging along the walls.

Wardens? An outdated concept now, they were what came before Residence Life mentors, those who oversaw the wellbeing of students and ensured they weren’t getting up to any trouble. You head straight on through a door to a large room surrounded by even larger portraits of wardens, ominously looking over you.

All old white men, they are products of a bygone era.  But the largeness of their portraits makes you assume that these people were central figures in student life, with the power to expel students for naughtiness under the stricter university rules of those times.

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The building currently has no computers, but this room did before they were sent to The Ridge in Ranmoor this year.

Stephenson is meant to be undergoing maintenance, explaining their disappearance. But no maintenance work has been done.  Maybe at some point some work will be done, my guess would be summer, but I am unsure for reasons I will give later.

There is a router in this room, so if your laptop, like mine,  struggles to pick up wifi in certain places, it will have no trouble working here. There are plenty of plug sockets in this room.

However, the true gems are in the side rooms. Accessible from both this room and the corridor you travelled through, these are two medium sized rooms with two massive wooden tables to work from. There are no plug sockets here so don’t station yourself here if you have low battery life for your laptop. However, the tables are perfect for group work with the tables easily having the space for A2 sheets of paper, which a group could brainstorm a mind map or project of the like.

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Or a group relax and chill

But what shines through are the other things that adorn this room. You have pictures of the classes who stayed here from as early as the 1950s! This is a true piece of history. Its quite interesting to see how male-dominated university was back then, but slowly and surely girl power crept in and the ladies begin to populate the benches.

giphy-6But not only this, the rooms contain the exam papers that Sheffield had since the 1950s. There are some true gems to be had here. Did you know Sheffield used to have an art course? Or that if you were to study Roman or Ancient Greek history, you’d have to know Latin/Greek? I’m sure that no matter what your subject is, it’d be incredibly interesting for you to see how much exams/your subject have changed over time. I think this is enough of a reason to visit Stephenson on its own.

And the final touch? A load of other magazines and books from ages gone by. Funnily enough, there is no way to borrow these as there are no library facilities. However if you want a break, or want to read something curious, then feel free to have a read while you’re here. You have copies of the Spectator and National Geographic from the 90s and earlier. A true treason trove.

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As you walk this building, you feel a connection to university days gone by. The fact this library is connected to Stephenson accommodation conjures up images/feelings of similarity of Oxford/Cambridge, where each college has both its own accommodation and library solely for the students belonging to it. Indeed, you almost feel like you don’t belong in this building. Some people live here (apparently) including Residence Life mentors. The lounge feels like it is used by the residents for big events.

But it just isn’t. That room with the warden portraits? The last two times I’ve been there, I was the only one in there for the many hours that I studied. Even in my first year when it was slightly busier, there were always spaces to study. It seems so strange that this place isn’t used considering its proximity to Endcliffe.

But therein lies the appeal of Stephenson. Its lack of activity is reinforced by the fact its reception is always empty. Indeed, its old paintings make it feel not only like an old hotel, but a haunted one.

But it, in a way, haunted. Haunted by a lack of activity. It was obviously bustling in its day, but the more modern addition of the Endcliffe village accommodation and The Edge has drawn them elsewhere.

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Curse you.

It is haunted by its former students and their exam papers, as I’m sure they were.

Its haunted by the wardens. They watched over their students then, and they watch over you now.

Its haunted by the inability to explain why its so empty, why students choose to go to the crowded IC rather than study here. Maybe its because first year students go to the library less…or maybe they stray due sheer lack of knowledge about it.

There isn’t any history of this available. Most of my thoughts here are simply observations, imaginings of the building. In a university dominated by high tech building, this building has been forgotten. Its been forgotten by the students. Its been forgotten by the university, for it doesn’t even have facilities to oversee its collection of antique books and magazine. I wonder if the computers will be forgotten, and it’ll be decided that they’re better used at Ranmoor.

But most of all, considering the antiquity of the building in its entirety, the Stephenson Library has been forgotten by time itself.

And that is why I love it. If the building maintenance actually happens and it gets renovated instead, we may see it get ‘sexed up’ by high tech facilities.

But it will never be the same. It will no longer be the distant portrait of time which you will find me in, shuffling my notes, as so happened half a century ago.

Posted in All things 301, student life, Written by Stefana

All about PASS: Peer Assisted Study Sessions

Coming to University after high school can be a bit overwhelming. The courses are taught differently and the amount of information you receive every week is greater than before. There are many services around the University to help you cope with work. One of them is PASS: Peer Assisted Study Sessions. If you like studying with other people, then PASS is for you!

The Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS) is a project developed by the 301 Academic Skills Centre in collaboration with a number of academic departments at the University of Sheffield. It provides help and support for students by having a higher year student from the same course share their knowledge and expertise. PASS is a popular learning model used around the globe and there is extensive evidence to support the benefit of studying in such an environment.

What happens during PASS?

All peer study sessions are department specific. A student in a higher level of study from that course will run the meeting. They are trained Peer Assisted Leaders that will help the lower level students during the session using their skills and knowledge. They help the participant students understand their work and reach their own solutions by encouraging group discussions. The informal environment helps students feel more at ease and enables them to engage in fun and interesting conversations with other students from the same department.

Why take part in PASS?

There are many benefits you can gain by taking part in PASS. Since peer assisted learning is a internationally recognised study model, there have been numerous studies that researched the impact of taking part in PASS. Some of the benefits include:

  • A smoother transition from high school learning environment to the University learning environment.
  • Development of communication skills, teamwork skills, and time management skills.
  • Improved academic results

Also, you can gain HEAR Recognition for attending the sessions.

Past participants talked about how PASS helped them be more confident in their own knowledge, achieve better results, and make new friends

If you would like to participate in a PASS session, ask your department if they are currently holding any sessions. If your department does not have PASS session, check the 301 website to see how you could start a PASS group.