Your teacher says “It’s time to get serious”. But what does that mean?

At the beginning of the school year teachers attempt to get their students in the right frame of mind and motivate them for the year ahead.

“It’s time to get serious” I’ve heard many teachers say in their pep talks to students.

But as one student said to me earlier this week –

“What do they mean by this? What do I need to do to get serious?”

Firstly, here’s what I think your teachers mean when they say, “It’s time to get serious” –

Upper school is different from your other years of school in the sense that what you do now impacts on your future career and education choices. Want to go to university? Then, it’s time to knuckle down (i.e. get serious).

Bear in mind, even if you fail all your school subjects in Australia, there are other backdoor ways of getting into university and you can get a second chance (don’t expect many teachers to tell you this though).

But here’s the thing, why waste 2 precious years of your life faffing around? Get on with things I say. Give it your best shot.

This doesn’t mean that you need to walk around looking glum 24/7 with your head buried in a book. In fact, I firmly believe that you should have as much fun with your studies as possible. Why? It will make for an easier, more productive year and more effective learning.

At the same time, concrete action is required to move you closer towards achieving the things you want in life. To put it simply, if you don’t take action then expect mediocre (if not poor) results.

So if you want to get serious about your studies, here are 5 practical things you can start doing –

1. Boost your productivity: no more multitasking

Want to get more done in less time and boost your intelligence? Then focus on doing one thing at a time.

If you have a tendency to do two or more things at the same time (e.g. homework, Facebook and television playing in the background) you’ll find yourself feeling frustrated and anxious. Research indicates that you may also be up to 40% slower to complete the task at hand. In addition, you can expect to experience a drop in IQ more than twice that found in people who are high on smoking marijuana.

2. De-junk your environment

Being disorganised and working in a messy, overly cluttered environment can cause unnecessary anxiety, tension and heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Do yourself a favour, clear as much of your stuff off your desk as possible before you start your homework or study. This will allow you to focus intensely on what you need to do, which means you’ll be able to get your work done in less time.

3. Invest in time management tools

Managing your time more often than not involves managing yourself better. I highly recommend investing in the following 3 time/self management tools.

a) A diary: A diary helps you to capture all the things you need to do and when you need to do them by before you forget them. Let’s face it, there are limits to our short term memory. Research tells us that we can only hold 7 (plus or minus 2 bits of information at a time) in our short term memories and we can only hold it there for an average of 20 seconds. So if you overload your brain with too much information or don’t write it down witin 20 seconds, chances are you won’t remember it.

Have your diary (or a notepad) and pen close by so you can capture your ideas and the things you need to do when they come to mind.

b) A wall planner: The beauty of a wall planner is that in one glance you can see what you need to do for the week, the month and year. For this reason, you’re able to plan ahead and be prepared for particularly busy periods and make the most of quieter periods. They only cost a few dollars and will help you feel more in control of your life.

c) An electronic timer: These devices can help you track your time and allow you to easily work in focused sprints for set periods of time. If you tend to have trouble getting started with your work, use your timer to work in 8 minute power bursts. All this involves is setting your timer for 8 minutes, taking out your work and saying to yourself “I’m going to focus on doing this for 8 minutes. No distractions”. When the timer goes off you have two choices: 1) Go take a break (only if you’re really struggling though) or 2) Keep going. Most of the time you’ll want to keep going.

4. Be kind to your mind and body

If you don’t look after your mind and body, you won’t be able to study effectively. Being well rested with a good nights sleep (8.5 – 9.5 hours of sleep each night), having a good low GI breakfast and exercising to clear you mind and energise yourself are all pathways to study success.

5. Develop true GRIT

Grit is defined as the ability to persevere in the face of challenges and setbacks. In other words, it’s the ability to keep going when things get tough. Most of the time, when things get tough, what we tend to do is give up and do something easier and more enjoyable (e.g. go to the fridge to get a snack and log onto Facebook). However, if you have grit, you don’t do that. You feel the discomfort and you keep going. You push forward.

Grit has been said to be one of the major factors of individuals success in a variety of fields (sports, academia, chess, etc). It’s been suggested that it’s more important than an individual’s level of intelligence.

So want to become grittier? Practice working on a task with complete focus for 20 – 30 minutes (no distractions). When things get difficult, stay with the task. Don’t try to avoid it. Push through the discomfort. You may just find that after a short period of time, the discomfort subsides.

So next time your teacher tells you it’s time to “get serious”, consider asking them exactly what they mean by this or what practical actions you would need to take to achieve this state. At the heart of it I believe they are trying to say that they want you to do your best by engaging in the things that matter most and will move you forward towards a positive, bright future.

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