Tag Archives: Tasks

Concentration: Misconceptions & Tips for Improvement

We’ve all experienced difficulty concentrating at some point or another, but when it becomes a daily struggle, it’s time to start looking at things a little closer.

Misconceptions About Concentration

There are two main misconceptions about concentration:

1. “Good” students can concentrate for hours at a time.

Not true. The average concentration span for a student reading a textbook is around 20 minutes. This means that as a student you should be aiming for a 20 – 30 minute study  / work session before taking a 5 minute break in order to refresh and refocus.

There is the misconception that long hours of sustained concentration result in high productivity. Instead studies have shown that extended time at a desk or with a textbook reduces productivity, and regular short breaks are needed to re-energize and regain focus.

2.  Some people naturally concentrate better than others. 

Again, not true. Concentration is not an instinctive ability, but rather it is a skill that can be learned and with practice student can get better at it.

Attention vs. Distractions

Attention (or concentration) and distraction are opposite ends of the same continuum. Studies show that it can take between 15 to 20 minutes for a person to regain their full attention on a task after having been distracted.

Anthony Funnell, in his article on distraction in an “attention economy” (2016), writes that there are five ways for dealing with distractions:

  1. Getting distracted isn’t the issue. You can’t avoid distraction. Rather, what matters is how you respond to the distraction. Do you get caught up in it and neglect what you were originally focused on; or do you acknowledge the distraction with the intention of addressing it only once you are done with what you are currently doing?
  2. Avoid multi-tasking. By working on a variety of tasks simultaneously, you are in fact doing each poorly than if you were focused on one at a time. Even if you are focused on a single task but you stop to check your phone every few minutes, your concentration and focus are poor, making productivity low.
  3. Don’t think of paying attention as a battle or a negative task. A negative attitude about concentration will not help in improving it. As soon as something is viewed in a negative light, it is difficult to change one’s opinion of it. The same with distractions, by asking yourself “what is important at this moment?” and bringing your attention back to the primary focus, a different type of effort is engaged compared to pushing and fighting with one’s attention and distractions.
  4. Analyse your personal online behaviour. Be aware of the instinctive need for gratification. Cell phones and social media provide us with instant gratification and so easily distract us. The reward of reading a message, swiping left or right boarders on addictive and wins over other tasks almost every time.

How to Improve Concentration

How often have you found yourself reading and re-reading the same section of a textbook, simply because your mind keeps wandering off? Below you’ll find a variety of strategies to help improve your concentration and reduce distractions.

Nutrition & Exercise
  • Drink water – It may sound odd but what many people don’t realize is dehydration causes you to feel tired, sluggish and irritable – all things that impact on your ability to concentrate. Staying hydrated is a simple way of improving your concentration.
  • Move around – Sitting at a desk for hours on end is counter-productive especially for one’s concentration. Take regular, short breaks, getting up and moving around to help refresh your mind and focus. Why not go to the kitchen to get a glass of water?
  • Eat – It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re hungry. Eating regular meals, with healthy snacks in between, can boost your ability to concentrate.

The environment in which you work or study plays a role in your ability to focus and concentrate. By creating a comfortable environment the more likely you are to remain in it and stay focused.

  • Desk and chair – Your bed and couch are associated with relaxation and leisure, they are not conducive to a focused, work orientated state of mind. Find yourself a desk (or table) and comfortable chair in a quiet, low traffic area.
  • Distractions – Shut out noise and distractions as much as possible. This may mean putting your phone on silent, switching off all apps, or even leaving it in another room. Listening to instrumental music may also be helpful – avoid listening to your favourite band and being distracted by singing along to the songs.
  • Traffic – Try not to set up your study area in a high traffic environment – somewhere where people are always walking past, stopping to talk, or where others gather to socialize, like the lounge.
Mind Set
  • Don’t multi-task – Focus on one task at a time. By changing your focus every few minutes to check your phone, send a message etc. you are lowering both your focus and productivity.
  • Prioritize – Having too much to do results in distraction which in turn causes procrastination. If you find you have a number of tasks due but you aren’t sure where to start or what to focus on, take a few minutes to draw up a To-Do List and then prioritize the tasks on that list in order of importance. You can find more information on Time Management and To-Do Lists here.
  • Switch between high and low attention tasks – After an extended period of concentration, such as working on a particularly intricate design, give your brain a break by doing something less intense for a good 10 – 15 minutes, such as filing your lecture notes, or revising your To-Do List. This allows you to recharge your energy and refresh your focus.
  • Distracting thoughts and worry – You may find that your concentration is disrupted by constant worrying or distracting thoughts – an approaching submission date, for example. One way of dealing with this is to keep a pen and notepad handy, write down what it is that is worrying or distracting you and then schedule in time to address it. This way you are no longer holding the thought in your mind, instead it is sitting on the notepad waiting to be attended to when you are ready.
  • Reward yourself – If you’ve been working steadily for 50 minutes on a single task, reward yourself with a 5 minute break, a cup of coffee, something that motivates you but won’t distract you.
  • Take short breaks – You need to refocus and re-energise at least every hour. Try dividing your work / study sessions up into hour long periods, with a 5 – 10 minute break between tasks. You should take a longer break, 20 – 30 minutes, every 2 – 3 hours.


Funnell, A. (2016). How to Deal with Distraction in an “Attention Economy”. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/how-to-deal-with-distraction-in-an-attention-economy/7497196. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Murray, B. (2016). Distractions: Are They an Addiction? Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/blog/distractions-addiction/. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].



Time Management – Important vs. Urgent Tasks

Good time management results in the effective and efficient use of one’s time, and reminds us that: many tasks are important, but not all are urgent.  


Time pressure is a prevalent source of stress both at college and in the world of work – it is the result of having too much to do, and not enough time to do it all in. The Eisenhower Principle is a prioritization method which allows for the categorization of tasks in a straightforward, no gray areas manner. The principle helps you consider your priorities and then decide which tasks are essential (or important) and which are distractions.

However, before we can continue, we first need to understand the difference between what it means for something to be “important” and for it to be “urgent” – the authors at Mind Tools have defined it well:

Important activities have an outcome that leads us to achieving our goals, whether they are professional or personal. 

Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.”

According to the Eisenhower Principle tasks fall into one of four categories:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Not Urgent but Important
  • Not Important but Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

Each category is then assigned a recommended plan of action:

  • Important and Urgent – Do it now.
  • Not Urgent but Important – Decide on when to schedule it in.
  • Not Important but Urgent – Delegate it to someone else.
  • Not Important and Not Urgent – Delete it.


How to Apply the Eisenhower Principle

The application of the Eisenhower Principle is quite simple provided you are able to make a decision regarding the categorization of tasks, and then stick to it.

STEP 1: Select a task and decide whether or not it is urgent. This will help you in deciding whether immediate action is necessary or not.

STEP 2: Using the same task as for Step 1, decide whether it is important or not. This will help you decide whether it is something you need to do yourself, or whether it can be delegated to someone else.

Priority 1 Tasks

priority-1These are tasks that are both urgent and important. These tasks need to be seen to immediately and by you personally. They will be assigned the highest priority on your to-do list.

However, if you are spending the majority of your time on these types of tasks, you are being reactive, rather than planning your work and actions ahead of time.

Priority 2 Tasks


These are tasks that are important but not urgent; they need to be attended to personally but not immediately, so you need to schedule in time to address them. It is helpful to assign these types of tasks a beginning and end date – this will also help you with assigning them a priority rating on your to-do list.

Ideally, most of your tasks should fall under Priority 2 tasks.

Priority 3 Tasks


These tasks are urgent but not important, so they require immediate attention but not necessarily from you. These tasks are usually someone else’s priority, not your own. If at all possible, delegate these tasks to someone else, or decide whether they are in fact a Priority 4 task.

Priority 4 Tasks


These are tasks that are neither important nor urgent, and so are mostly a waste of your time. These tasks should be dropped as they add no value to your productivity.

How Does Eisenhower Fit Into This?


The story goes, that in a speech in 1954, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower quoted the president of a U.S. university when he said:

“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

This is apparently how President Eisenhower arranged and managed his workload and priorities…thus, becoming the Eisenhower Principle.


Eisenhower’s Urgent / Important Principle: Using Time Effectively, Not Just Efficiently. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm. [Accessed on: 21 February 2017].

The Eisenhower Method. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://thousandinsights.wordpress.com/articles/on-productivity/the-eisenhower-method/. [Accessed on: 21 February 2017].


Group Work – Getting Organised & Started

Now that you’ve got the skills to work in a group, it’s time to get started on organising and working.


Setting Parameters

If you think of any team sport, be it netball, soccer or hockey, without rules and parameters the game would disintegrate into chaos and a free-for-all. The same goes for group work, there have to be agreed upon rules, roles and deadlines, not only in order for the work to get done but to ensure that everyone is contributing and working towards the same end result.

Things you may want to consider at your first group meeting include, but aren’t limited to:

  • General group etiquette – Some ideas to consider: cell phones are put away and on silent during meetings; do not interrupt someone when they are speaking; always be respectful in your tone and manner; no screaming, shouting or temper tantrums; arrive on time for meetings.
  • When to meet – This may be difficult to arrange but short-term, personal compromises may need to be made for the benefit the greater group e.g. coming to campus on a day you have no scheduled lectures, forfeiting your lunch break. You should not however miss a class in order to attend a group meeting – lecture attendance is non-negotiable.
  • Where to meet – Select a place that is accessible to all members, often campus is the best and easiest solution. Also consider finding a quiet, comfortable place to meet – trying to have a group meeting in the middle of the parking lot with cars and other students passing by is not conducive to a calm and productive meeting environment.
  • Keeping in contact with each other – It may not be feasible to physically meet as often as the group would like, that is what technology is for – together, agree on an additional form of communication e.g. e-mail, WhatsApp group, something that everyone has access to. Also ensure that all messages sent via the the chosen form of communication is a) sent to every member of the group and b) read / picked up by every member of the group , so there are no excuses of “I didn’t see it” or “I didn’t get it“. This can be done by applying a “read receipt” to e-mails or checking on notification status of messages.
  • A realistic schedule – The best way to do this is to work backwards from the submission date, that way you can identify important milestone dates, conflicting dates etc. Once a schedule is agreed upon it is important that each member of the group commit to it. They only way you will get group buy-in regarding milestone dates is if those dates are negotiated and agreed on by all the members and not just a select few.
  • Minute your meetings – This is a common practice in the working world and a good way of keeping record of: who was present / absent; what was discussed; what was agreed on; who was assigned what task etc. [Remember: if you aren’t happy with the mark your group gets and you want to appeal the decision you will need evidence to back your argument, minutes of your meetings may hold information and proof to support your request.] Appoint one member of the group as the “scribe”, it is this persons responsibility to accurately note any decisions, task allocation etc. made during the meeting, to write out / type out the notes and distribute them to all members of the group within a reasonable amount of time i.e. 2 – 3 days after the meeting.


Making the Most of Meetings

Meetings need to have structure in order for them to be productive, without a pre-set list of goals or topics for discussion, a meeting can easily degenerate into a conversation about next week’s campus talent show and the new lecturer’s hair colour.

  • Either during the first few minutes of the meeting or else a day or two before the meeting (via e-mail or WhatsApp) agree on items for your agenda – what needs to be discussed, what feedback needs to be given etc.
  • Use the agenda to keep the group focused during the meeting – when people start going off on a tangent, you waste time, others will lose interest and your meeting becomes unproductive.
  • End your meetings by confirming that everyone knows what is expected of them and what needs to be done / completed / ready for review by the next meeting. Be sure that your group scribe notes all this down and circulates the minutes timeously, so that there can be no comebacks of “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do“, “That isn’t what I was tasked with“, at the next meeting.
  • Agree on the date, time and venue of the next meeting.


Appointing Roles & Organising the Work

The appointment of roles and organisation of work can make or break a group. This is where your communication and listening skills really need to come into play and where compromises, for the greater good, may need to be made.

Dividing up the work 

It is important to know a little about the members of your group, particularly in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, before you decide on who will be doing what; you don’t want to appoint the final verbal presentation of your assessment to someone who has a phobia of speaking in public.

Be sure to include everyone in on discussions, decisions and work allocation. People are more co-operative, productive and willing to take responsibility, if they have been included in the groundwork that led to the decision.

Everyone should be given a chance to speak and “pitch” for specific jobs (if the assessment brief is that way inclined), listen to what they have to say and keep the group agenda, not your agenda, in mind when making final decisions – what is best for the group?

Group Roles

The way in which the work has been divided may automatically assign people to particular roles, or you may need to assign specific roles over and above the work that has been assigned.

Some common group roles include:

  • The Leader – leads discussions using open-ended questions; they facilitate discussions by clarifying and summarising group comments and decisions; they guide conversations, keeping them on track and positive; they check for consensus and / or questions from group members.
  • The Organiser –  schedules and communicates meeting dates, times and venues; ensures that meetings follow an agenda; records and distributes notes of the meeting (incl. important items that were discussed, decisions that were made, tasks that were allocated); monitors the project timeline and keeps the project on track.
  • The Editor/s – compiles the final piece of work from parts received from different members of the group; ensures that the final product flows and is consistent; edits completed work (i.e. spell check, grammar, formatting etc.)
  • The Presenter/s – if applicable: works with the group members to compile a cohesive and articulate presentation; presents the presentation in class.

Meet the Team.2

Characteristics of an Effective Group

  • Everyone understands and acknowledges that the assessment cannot be completed without the contribution and co-operation of all the members.
  • All members are given the opportunity to share their ideas and express themselves. They are listened to carefully and without interruption, and useful points are acknowledged.
  • Differences or issues are dealt with directly with the person or people involved. It is up to the group to identify what the problem/s is, everyone is given the opportunity to give input, and together the group come to a decision that makes sense to everyone.
  • The group recognizes hard work and encourages each of the members to take responsibility for their tasks and / or roles. There is a shared sense of pride responsibility.

In the next post we will be looking at how to overcome the challenges of working in a group, as well as how to handle group conflict.


Effective Group Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/StudyResources/Seminars/sta-groupwork.aspx [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Sarkisian, E. (n.d.). Working In Groups: A Note to Faculty and a Quick Guide for Students. Retrieved from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/wigintro.html [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Tips for Working in Groups. (2008). Retrieved from: http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/groups/smallgrouptips.html [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Working Effectively in Groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from:  https://uwaterloo.ca/student-success/sites/ca.student-success/files/uploads/files/TipSheet_GroupWork_0.pdf [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]


Time Management – Effective Use of To-Do Lists

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do? Do you sometimes totally forget to do something important, or even miss a deadline altogether?


These are all symptoms of poor time management which could be rectified with the implementation of a prioritized “to-do list”. By creating a “to-do list” you are ensuring that all your tasks are noted in one place. By then prioritizing those tasks (from most to least important) you are able to plan the order in which you will address them, thus ensuring that those with the highest priority get your immediate attention.

To-do lists are particularly helpful when you are dealing with multiple deadlines and are feeling overloaded as a result. By using them effectively, you’ll find that you are better organised and you’ll experience less stress, knowing that you haven’t forgotten anything. In addition to this, if you prioritize properly, you’ll be focusing your time and energy on high value tasks, making you more productive.

Creating a To-Do List
Step 1:
  • Write down all the tasks you need to complete for the upcoming week or month.
  • If there are large tasks break them down into smaller tasks / steps .
  • Ideally a task or step should not take more than a few hours each to complete.
  • It may be helpful to compile a to-do list per subject you are registered for, or one for personal tasks and one for college tasks. Try different approaches and see which best suits you.
Step 2:
  • Read through your list and allocate each task a priority rating i.e. “A” for very important or urgent tasks, “B” for moderate / ordinary tasks and “C” for unimportant, low importance tasks.
  • If you find that the majority of your tasks have been allocated an “A” for high priority, re-do your list, with a realistic and critical eye looking for what really is high priority and what can be safely demoted to moderate and low priority.
Step 3:
  • Start making use of your list by working through the tasks in order of priority.
  • Once you’ve completed a task in full, tick it off or draw a line through it.
  • Once a day (either in the morning or the night before) spend 10 minutes revising your list  – adding anything new that has come up, re-assigning priorities should things have changed etc.


Prioritized to-do lists are exceptionally helpful with:

  • Reminding you what tasks need to be done for a particular time period.
  • Organizing what order your list of tasks should be done in, so that you don’t waste time on low value tasks.
  • Maintaining stress levels by moving focus away from unimportant, trivial tasks.


To-Do Lists: The Key to Efficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_05.htm. [Accessed on: 16 February 2017].

FOCUS ON: Grief and Coping with Loss

How you cope with the loss of a loved one is a personal  experience, unique to each person. Despite what the media may portray or what theorists may write, there is no “recipe” or “map” to follow when it comes to grieving. 

Three candles on dark background

There is no right or wrong way of coping with a death. There are however, a variety of factors which may impact the grief process a person goes through following the death of a loved one, these include:

  • your personality
  • the amount of support you have
  • your cultural and religious background
  • your coping skills and mental health history
  • the relationship you had with the person who died
Grief: The normal process of reacting to a loss.

Bereavement: The period following a loss, during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs.

Mourning: They process by which a person adapts to a loss, and is often times influenced by cultural customs, rituals, and societal rules for coping with loss.

Mad with Grief

For those who have never experienced a significant loss this may sound odd, but it is important for those who are grieving to know:

  • Grief is chaotic
  • You are not going crazy
  • What you are experiencing is normal
  • It may feel like everything is out of control but it is temporary and you will be okay

Common or “normal” grief reactions include: disbelief, shock, anger, denial and numbness combined with a variety of intense emotions, resulting in all sorts of moods and reactions that impact differently on different parts of your life. See what I mean when I say that grief is chaotic?

Grief is most often expressed through crying, feelings of intense sadness and a longing for the deceased. These and other reactions vary in intensity and duration – no two people ever grieve the same; and so when in the midst of grieving, it is helpful to know and to remember that what you are experiencing is normal.

It is only when these grief reactions remain unchanged in their intensity for a prolonged period of time and as such, prevent you from carrying on with normal life, that they begin to be viewed as abnormal and destructive.

Myths about Grief

1. Phases of grief

As a result of the work of popular grief theorists, such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and J William Worden, there is the widely held misconception that following a loss those left behind need to work through a fixed set of tasks (Worden’s “Tasks of Mourning“) or stages (Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Loss“). The truth of the matter is there are no studies to validate these grief tasks / stages. What we do know for sure is that grief never follows the same path, it differs from person-to-person in both pace and manner.

2. There is a time limit on grief

Sorry, but no. With time your grief may become more manageable or may feel different, but it is something you will carry with you forever. This may sound depressing and morbid but it really isn’t – if you think about it, you’ve lost someone you love deeply and you will carry that person and loss with you in some form always.

3. If you aren’t crying, then you’re doing it wrong

Really? There are 1000s of ways of expressing and feeling ones grief and crying is just one of them. Some people are criers and others are not – there’s nothing wrong with either of them.

4. You need to: move on / get over it / find closure

There is no final destination or endpoint with grief. Grief is not like attending a course that you endure for X amount of months and then on Y date you finally get to graduate and move on. Rather, grief is something you learn to carry with you in a healthy and meaningful way while you move forward with your life.

5. Your grief is different / less if the person who died was: old / suffering / you knew they were going to die

Grief is grief regardless of how the loss was experienced. No-ones grief is bigger or better or deeper rather, each person’s experience is their own and cannot and should not be compared to anothers.

6. You look okay on the outside, so you must be okay on the inside

Perhaps the most difficult thing about grief is that you carry it with you while carrying on with your normal life. Unfortunately in today’s “modern” world there is little time or space for people to mourn and grieve; there are demands on your time and life that you are expected to return to as soon as possible. So just because a person looks okay following the loss of a loved one, don’t make the assumption that they are feeling okay.

7. S/he wouldn’t want you to be sad

This has got to be one of the most annoying things to say to a person who is grieving, together with: s/he is in a better place; at least they didn’t suffer; this too shall pass; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; you are never given more than you can handle – the list is endless!

Grief Reactions

As already mentioned, grief phase theory is not supported by research however, what is generally agreed on are the reactions most people experience when dealing with a loss. What is important to remember here is that the reactions noted below are not always experienced by everyone, are not a blueprint for “how to grieve”, are not about working through and mastering.

  • Shock – this generally follows immediately after the death.
  • Reaction – comes when you start absorbing and processing what has happened.
  • Re-orientation – gradually return back to life’s duties

It is, once again, generally agreed that, for many, a way of adapting to and coping with a loss is by moving between the three points, alternating between addressing the loss and avoiding things that recall it.

Support After a Loss

For some grieving is an intensely personal and private thing, while others may actively seek out the support and company of others to help them through it. As already mentioned, there is no right or wrong when it comes to grieving. Sources of support you may want to consider following a loss include:

Family and friends – Often your friends and family want to help but don’t know how – tell them what you need, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to help with the growing mound of dirty washing.

Faith and religion – If you follow a particular religious tradition, draw comfort from the mourning rituals it may provide. Alternatively, you may find solace in spiritual activities such as praying, attending a service or meditating. If you find you are questioning your faith follow your loss, talk to a leader in your religious community.

Support groups – You may be surrounded by family and friends and still feel lonely. For some, sharing their experience with others who have experienced a similar loss can be helpful.

Counselling – If you feel that your grief is too much to bear, consider seeing a counsellor who can help you work through the intense emotions you are experiencing or obstacles you may be encountering.

Look After Yourself

Grieving involves immense emotional and physical stress, which you may not even be aware of; it is thus important that you remember take care of yourself.

  • Be honest with yourself, and others, about your needs.
  • Be realistic about how much you can take on.
  • Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise.
  • Practice saying ‘yes’ when someone offer to help or practice asking others for help.
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol as an escape from the pain or a way to lift your mood.

For more information about grief or how to support someone who is grieving please visit:


Dyregrov, K. and Dyregrov, A. (2008). Effective Grief and Bereavement Support: The Role of Family, Friends, Colleagues, Schools and Support Professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

E. Haley, E. and Williams, L.E. (2015). 64 Myths about Grief that Just Need to Stop. Retrieved from:  http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/64-myths-about-grief-that-just-need-to-stop/

Smith, M. and Segal, J. (2016). Coping with Grief and Loss: Understanding the Grieving Process. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm#resources

Sontag Bowman, M.A. (2011). Overview of Grief. Retrieved from:  http://www.helpwithgrief.org/index.html