The best time to work is the worst

headphoneslibraryA while ago I wrote an article called The Straight A Students Time Management Secret. The answer seemed simple: get your work done during your school day.

High achievers do report having this habit. When they’re working, they just work. They don’t spend much time inefficiently –half-doing work and half-socialising at the same time.

The benefits are pretty obvious. More completely-free time in the evenings, they can get more sleep and they can socialise guilt-free and stress-free.

But, actually implementing this advice can seem hard. At work/school, all of our friends are there. It’s distracting. And then suddenly the entire day has passed and we’ve made no progress.

Here are a few techniques that work:

  1. Block out some set-times every week just for working by yourself. Maybe Thursdays at lunch you go to your secret, private spot in the library and work on Math questions. Stick to your own schedule.
  2. Get massive headphones and wear them when you’re working. Obviously, you don’t even need to have music playing. I sometimes listen to waves
  3. Put your phone on silent and shut Facebook, etc. Social media isn’t your friend right now.
  4. Write down three tasks at the beginning of every day that you want to get done that day and don’t leave school/work until they’re done.

Please do me a favour and share this post on Facebook or Twitter!

But then get back to work. 🙂

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The Roots of Procrastination


We all procrastinate for our own reasons.

Often we don’t think about where it’s coming from. We think of it as “laziness” and leave it at that. But ending procrastination requires we honestly face the reason (or the emotion) behind it. Once we know what’s really going on behind the scenes, we can get over it and get on with our work.

The main causes of procrastination:

  • Inability says “I don’t actually know how to do this.”
  • Fear says “I can’t do this.” or “It won’t be good enough.”
  • Perfectionism says “I can’t make any mistakes with this.”
  • Confusion says “I don’t know where to start.”
  • Disagreement with the task says “This doesn’t matter. It’s not going to help me.”
  • Overwhelm says “I can’t even focus. I’ve got so much going on right now.”

Assignments can push us out of our comfort zone. They reveal our weaknesses and stir up emotions like insecurity or doubt. But if we need to get our work done, we have to face the underlying problem.

Life is about progress, not perfection. We don’t have to be perfect or do perfect work. And sometimes the path forward is just being still for a while and reflecting on what’s going on inside.

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Simplify with the Daily 10

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 12.11.48 pmHere’s a simple technique that can simplify your life a lot. I’ve been doing it for about a year and it’s worked for me:

Every day, throw away 10 things.

Here are my personal rules:

  • Obvious garbage doesn’t count.
  • It still counts if you take a picture of it and then throw it away.
  • Mystery electrical cables from the junk drawer count.
  • Books I know I’m not going to read again count.
  • A file folder full of old health insurance forms from Belgium counts as one.

I drop a lot off at the Salvation Army. 10 a day seems to be the right number.

It’s done a lot for me:

  • Less clutter
  • I know where things are
  • I spend less time spent trying to find things. If I don’t have it I realise it quickly and it’s never been a problem.
  • I’m more organised

We’ve all heard stories about immigrant families who arrive with almost nothing and achieve amazing things. I think that the fact that they don’t have a lot of baggage actually helps them.

Having fewer belongings helps with focus. It’s a good reminder that it’s not what we have, but who we are. That’s a fact that we’ve all thought about, but I’ve found this habit to be a helpful reminder.

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target“What single activity would keep you fascinated and motivated for the rest of your life?”

Do you know what that would be?

It’s not simply sitting on beach, doing nothing. Not for the rest of your life, every day. And it’s not just something that pays well, because we’re assuming you could do anything. And it doesn’t have to be something you already do. There are no rules here at all.

Think about it.

This is a powerful question. In fact, this question is worth as much time as it takes you to find your answer. Because you can (if you want) start to organise your whole life around it. You can start doing more of your one activity and doing less of things that aren’t that. You can slowly start to become so good at your One Activity that it becomes your job –if you want to. That’s the kind of world we live in these days; we have room for all kinds of specialists. Everyone admires focus. And everyone admires a person who knows what they want. Some people make their money playing video games.

If you get stuck with this question, here are some tricks. Consider listing the things that you definitely don’t enjoy. This can point you in the right direction (away from the bad stuff). Or, simply start to pay more attention to what you enjoy. Start to record moments of the day that you felt more engaged, more alive, or determined. Noticing these moments can point you in the right direction too.

Please share this question with your friends using the and let me know (in the comments below) what you think.

To go further:

  • The One Thing by Gary Keller. Basic Lesson: Figure out the most high-leverage, high-impact, high-value activity you could be doing and spend several hours doing that every single day.
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins. Basic Lesson: The key to being great is being honest with yourself and figuring out your core activity, which is at the intersection of these three questions: What do you have the potential to be the best in the world at? What you can make money doing? And: What are you passionate about?
  • And Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Basic Lesson: time spent practicing and getting lots of accurate feedback is what really builds amazing skills.
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The May 2016 ToK Essay Titles

perry the platIf you are completing the IB Diploma Program in May 2016, the official Theory of Knowledge essay titles you’ll be working with have been released.

I’ve created some videos to help you if you’d like. Click the orange button below and I’ll email them to you. And we have ToK Essay Facebook groups. We have one group just for students and another one just for ToK teachers. We’d love to see you in there.

There are 6 Official Titles for May 2016

1. “In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection.” How useful is this metaphor?

3. “The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?

4. “Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.

5. To what extent do the concepts that we use shape the conclusions that we reach?

6. “In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity.” Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.


Watch Free ToK Videos!

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Advanced Business Extended Essay Research

Advanced Research TechniquesIn this post, I wanted to share with you a resource straight out of latest online course: Business EE Mastery. I know a lot of you are working on your Extended Essays at the moment, so I thought you’d probably appreciate some extra help.

If you’re interested, you can try-out my Business EE Mastery video course online for FREE at the moment. You might not need any more help, but if you do this works and I’m happy to help.

Either way, here is some info that will help you with your research:

The ability to research effectively is all about two things: 1) Efficiency and 2) Thoughtfulness.

You need to know how to get the information you’re looking for quickly and also, be willing to think about what you’re looking for.

Normally people look for the wrong information.

Wrong information is information that has nothing to do with your research question. And EE students use information like this all the time. You can use some information that doesn’t really relate to your RQ (for example when filling out a SWOT analysis), but you want to get and use as much highly-relevant information as you possibly can.

I’ve already talked to you guys about using a variety of research sources. That is a big part of this. It really is worth spending some time exploring different types of sources –rather than just the first page of Google results.

A few techniques to improve the quality of your research:

1) Break your RQ into sub-RQ’s

If your question is, “Should we invest 1 million dollars in X?” ask yourself (and people at the company) what are the questions that need to be answered before that major question can be answered. For example maybe, for this business, the questions are: 1) Can we afford it? 2) Is it going to improve the satisfaction of our customers and 3) Is it going to help us improve our market share?

For another business, they might be more interested in improving their efficiency, or brand image.

The sub-questions help you focus your research and make sure you’re seeking out information that is relevant. Sub-questions also help you justify the Continue reading

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How to Make Stress Work for You

This is a guest post written by a very old friend of mine, Phil Meehan. Phil is a professional counsellor, with his own practice in Singapore. Among other things, he helps teenagers deal with stress. I told Phil I’ve been a bit worried about the stress levels faced by my IB students, so he was kind enough to write this for us: 

First thing’s first – stress is not a bad thing. In fact, it is how we know we’re alive. Stress is anything that shifts your balance. It is the excitement of a crush and it helps get things done when a deadline is looming.

For over a hundred years, a simple way to see the relationship between stress and productivity has been the Yerkes Dodson curve (1). Think of an upside down U.

Stress Graph - Phil Meehan

On the left you have low stress and low productivity. On the right you have high stress and low productivity. In the middle, you have what some researchers call “flow”, or the peak productivity. Can you remember a time when you were so completely immersed in something that you lost track of time? Maybe it was working with a group on a interesting art project, playing your favourite video game or programming? That’s the top of the curve. Now, it might be hard to reach the top studying for your next test, but how can you ensure that you are not at either extreme: bored or burned-out?

When I talk with people about stress, I often use the analogy of a bucket with a tap near the bottom. The bucket is your capacity to deal with stress. Your stress is what is filling the bucket and it can never be empty (because the tap isn’t at the very bottom, and if you have no stress, you wouldn’t be alive! 

Phil Meehan - Stress Relief Diagram

A quick self-analysis

This is a simple exercise and can be really helpful to look back on when you find your bucket nearing the overflow point:

A)   List the things that fill up your bucket. What goes on in your life that adds stress, both good and bad? It may be family, friends, school, extracurriculars, thinking about the future.

B)    Next, list the things that happen when your bucket overflows. When you have “had it up to here”, what do you do, what happens?

C)    Lastly, and this is the really important one, what are the things that you do or have done in the past to turn on the tap and empty your bucket? What are the healthy things that you do to relieve stress?

[Phil also showed me this quiz you can take to assess your stress level.]

When you write it all down, you might find patterns, like you tend to lose your patience with your sister less on days you have training for your sport. You also might find that you are better able to deal with unexpected stresses when you’ve spent a few hours taking photos.

When it comes to stress, balance is key. It’s important to understand what it is in your life that fills up your bucket, but also what you do, and can do more of, to empty the bucket.

As for FLOW, not many things that fall under “need to do” will get you into that really rockin’ space. But if you think about how you work as a relationship between stress and productivity, there are things that you can do to have stress work for you. Boring tasks can be pretty predictable, so the next time you find yourself preparing to work on something you know will put you in the “bored” range, why not add in a little bit of (good) stress?

Easy things you can try

  • try giving yourself a positive incentive to work towards once you have finished the task, like a piece of chocolate or 20 minutes of video games.
  • give yourself a consequence, like asking your little brother to come in when the timer goes off at the time you expect to be done and throw, I don’t know, his dirty socks at you if you are still working on XYZ. Ok, maybe that’s just gross, but probably a good motivator. And imagine how excited he would be!

I’m sure you can come up something that would work for you… I would love to hear it in the comments below!

Sources: (1)  Goleman, Dan. “The Sweet Spot for Achievement.” Psychology Today. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web. (2) Henden, John. “Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery.” Wiley, Jan. 2011.


Phil Meehan
Phil Meehan is a Canadian Certified Counsellor working in schools and private practice. He works with clients of all ages, helping individuals, families and groups discover solutions that work for them. He lives in Singapore and can be reached via twitter @meehanphil or through his website.


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The May 2015 ToK Essay Titles (And Some Help)

If you are completing the IB Diploma Program in May 2015, the official ToK essay titles you’ll be working with have been released. If you’d like some help approaching these questions and finishing your essay, I’m sharing a new set of resources. See the red button below.

There are 6 Official Titles for May 2015:

1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

6. “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

I can help you with that

Last year I got an offer to write a textbook. I was flattered and really excited to be approached like that. But I knew I had to say no. If I was going to spend that kind of time on a big project I knew it couldn’t be writing yet another textbook. I never hear from students that they need a new textbook. I knew I could use modern technologies, to make things easier for students. Books have been around since a little before 2014 BC, so I thought I’d try to do something more AD. So, I spent about 4 months and put together an online video program (and other support material) to cover every possible issue around you completing a great essay. You won’t need all of the resources I’ve made, but whatever you need is in here. You can get  all of the guidance and tips I give my own ToK classes and a lot of new things I’ve developed just for online –to make sure this really works.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve ended up creating an entirely new set of process to streamline how you write your essay. If you have any concerns at all, this program will handle them for you. And I’ll be right there in case you have a question I haven’t anticipated.

This is obviously the future of education: students connecting with the best possible learning experiences, regardless of geography.

So, if you are a student (living outside of Singapore), who would like some extra support as you prepare to write your essay, please feel free to join the program and we’ll sort you out.

[button type=”real” shape=”square” size=”small” href=”” title=”I’m interested”]Learn more here.[/button]

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8 Aspects of Successful Teaching

8 Aspects of Successful Teaching - Tim Woods

A new teaching year has started, so we teachers are coming back to work full of energy, enthusiasm and new ideas. So this is a post for teachers.

Two years ago I read some research which forced me to change how I teach. Dr. Ethna Reid’s research into the behaviours which successful teachers exhibited. Her priority was to uncover a manageable number of high-impact teaching activities. Her team is said to have spent thousands of hours conducting best practice studies with teachers. Ultimately, they identified eight teaching, which they felt would get the most out of students. They argue that the most successful teachers:

  1. Reinforce correct responses and positive behaviour
  2. Elicit rapid overt responses
  3. Closely monitor students’ responses
  4. Increase rate of responses among all students
  5. Expect learning mastery (83 to 100 percent accuracy)
  6. Reteach when students fail to learn
  7. Model for students during instruction
  8. Teach reading, writing, listening, and speaking in all fields

What I changed in my teaching practice

I made some big changes to my teaching after reading this.

  • I dramatically increased the number of questions I ask of students each lesson and how I ask these questions. Question and answer sessions (often peer-to-peer), with more challenging follow-up questions to go deeper, seems to help me to tick almost all 8 boxes a little better.
  • It also convinced me to reteach material. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t really used to do this. I used to sometimes say something like, “you were here when we taught that, so please go through your notes and let me know what you’re not clear on.” I used to put it back on to the students if they didn’t understand something. Now I’m completely happy to teach the whole thing again, in a different way. I probably end up explaining the gist of the most challenging concepts 6 times before they all comfortable that they understand it (i.e. one time explaining to the whole group, once to a smaller group and multiple times clarifying things to individual students as needed).
  • On average, going over previous material, in different ways, going deeper into concepts, checking students’ knowledge (often peer-to-peer), etc takes about a third of each of my lessons now. And this ‘trying to go deeper into thing is often the best part of the lesson because of the critical thinking going on.

Do you agree?

I’d like to put this question out to my fellow teachers out there. What are a few things you try to do every lesson? What works in your classrooms? What are your priorities? What have you learned recently that you think other teachers would benefit from trying?

Don’t think that no one will listen to you. I will listen. I’ll try anything (everything) you suggest and report back. The way my brain works, improvement always comes down to deciding on a few, carefully-chosen aspects focus on. So, I always want to try to be sure I’m focussing on the right teaching priorities for my practice, to best help my students.

Thanks and have a great year!

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How to Get Full Marks in Business Questions

I teach IB Business and Management. It can be one of the hardest IB subjects to score a full 7 in. Actually doing that might be impossible if you don’t follow an appropriate method for answering the long-answer questions.

Every year I hear from students struggling with this aspect of IB Business.

My passion is making this kind of almost-impossible thing completely doable. My students deserve that. Developing and sharing these kinds of efficient and effective approaches is what The Method is all about. So far I’ve tackled the TOK presentations and essays, the the Economics essay questions and the IA’s, and in Business I’ve looked at the EE’s and IA’s. (For a complete list, see the Resources link at the top). But the Business long-answer questions are especially hard. There are just so many different types of questions you can be asked. Businesses have a lot of moving parts. They’re extremely complex.

In a business question you can be asked almost anything about a business. And you’re expected to apply the relevant concepts from a very long textbook. The one I use is 673 pages long! Not easy my friend.

But let’s break it down. In this situation you need to do 3 things quickly:

Continue reading

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