Give Yourself Every Possible Advantage

Giving myself every possible advantage (legal and ethical advantages only) is a personal principle that has emerged in my 20s.

In my graduate studies at UCF, I have so many advantages. I’m a native English speaker. My writing and math skills are superior. I am not burdened by children or a job. I happen to be blessed with excellent faculties and no learning challenges or disabilities. I can type as fast as you can speak. My skills in copy editing, writing prose, using APA style, and computing are exceptional. As a Graduate Teaching Assistant I have already been tasked with copy-editing grant proposals and manuscripts.

When preparing for the Education Ph.D. program over the summer, I listened to many hours of podcasts, watched numerous videos, and read hundreds of articles and blog posts about being a Ph.D. student.

I avoided transitions by going to the same institution and continuing to live with family. While this can also be a disadvantage, it cuts out a lot of work (e.g., paperwork), prevents me from having to establish new routines, and greatly reduces costs. I also don’t have to go home to visit family on the weekends, because I live with them (I am also advantaged by being an only child).

When I eat meals, I often load a video on YouTube, relevant to a problem I am facing in daily life, to watch while eating.

When driving, I listen to educational podcasts (currently Freakonomics and the Productivity Show).

Financially, I avoid high-interest debt. I buy or rent textbooks online, not from the campus bookstore. I avoid fees and seize opportunities such as promotional offers and incentives. I follow through and don’t miss deadlines, using tools such as text message alerts, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, and Gmail filters and tags.

At home, I have a fast PC with fast Internet and triple monitors, allowing me to minimize needless window switching and get more work done faster. I wouldn’t even attempt to do academic work on a dinky laptop with one monitor and the crappy built-in keyboard.

I leverage strategic procrastination to do things not too early, not too late, but at just the right time… if you do things early, often new information emerges later that nullifies part of your work. For example, professors have a habit of making assignments easier close to the deadline, in response to student inquiries or due to changes of heart. Doing work too early is counter-productive.

When I use dating apps such as Tinder and OK Cupid, I just click “like” on everyone and filter people out later, based on mutual likes. For men who are only moderately attractive, this is a great strategy that eliminates wasted time looking at profiles of women who wouldn’t even want to hear from us.

I enjoy staying up late and getting up around 11 a.m., so whenever possible I schedule classes and meetings in the afternoon. I even tell friends and associates that I am unavailable in mornings, because I know having to get up several hours earlier would diminish my productivity for the whole day.

I use tools including Evernote, G Suite, LastPass, BackBlaze, SyncBackFree, and a ScanSnap scanner to keep my digital files and workflows useful and organized.

When choosing topics for course assignments, Master’s Capstone projects, etc., I choose topics that are very interesting to me. This helps me maintain interest and motivation. I pick synergistic projects that build on my prior or concurrent works.

I organize references into EndNote X7 and am often searching this database to cite academic articles again in newer projects. I have nearly 500 references that I have read or skimmed in my EndNote database.

If I have a choice of professors, I check their ratings, biographies, syllabi if available, etc. I usually pick the professor who is “easier.” I’ll end up learning quite a bit either way, but having an easier professor is less stressful.

I went to public colleges and universities in my home state, rather than expensive and inferior private institutions.

I have a performance-approach goal orientation and am working on developing a growth mindset. My thoughts are probabilistic. I pander to rubrics. Rows of the rubric become Level 1 headings in my assignments. I read carefully. This is relevant even for professors. Grant proposals don’t get accepted if you disregard instructions. I know I can learn and improve with effort.

I use metacognitive strategies. I constantly question assumptions. What is important? Why? When experts say something “must” be done a certain way, I don’t take it at face value.

Giving yourself every possible advantage sounds unfair, but you are being unfair to yourself if you unnecessarily handicap your performance. When are you going to get serious? When are you going to take control? Your blind spots are my free lunch.

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