Category Archives: Hacks

Minimalist surfing with chrome

A few months ago, I did a post about minimalist web surfing. Back then, my primary browser was Firefox, although I was using Chrome intermittently.

Since Chrome released extension support, I’ve fully switched over and have been happy with Chrome for a few months now. Here are the extensions I use to keep surfing minimal.

1. AdThwart. A very intuitive ad blocker. With this extension you can also block particular elements of a page, even if they’re not ads. For example, I like to block chat/twitter boxes from sites, as well as wordy sidebars and footers. I’ve even managed to block the Facebook ‘Like’ button from websites by adding my own filter in the options menu.

2. StayFocusd. This extension does a pretty good job at keeping surfing time to a minimum by making it hard to change the amount of time you’ve allowed yourself to diverge for a day. During my exams, I let myself have 8 minutes maximum per day on sites such as facebook. If I wanted to increase it or went over it would kindly remind me that I have better things to do!

3. Simplified Gmail. Behold the minimalist glory:

Unlike HelvetiMail for Firefox (below), Minimalist Gmail actually get’s rid of even more buttons as well as the header at the top of the page. The search bar appears only when you hover over it. You can also use your own custom theme (I chose white and blue).


^ Not-as-minimalist gmail in Firefox

4. For Google Reader users you have the choice of Google Reader Compact which gets rid of all the extra text, Lucidica which changes the (ugly) default blue theme for a minimalistic white or Helvetireader 2 which goes bare minimal with a silver theme. Personally, I recommend Lucida, not because I need the buttons that Helvetireader gets rid of, but because it’s better looking. Shallow, I know 🙂

^ Original Google Reader


^ Google Reader Compact extension

^ Lucidica extension

^ HelvetiReader 2 extension

Just a quick note about going minimal with browsing, you’ll probably have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to do the kind of things that the buttons were there for, but in my experience just learning one or two is enough, I haven’t run into problems at all because of this.

Have you got any more ideas? I would love to hear your tips to make surfing more minimal!

Update: For gmail and Google calendar I now use Minimalist for Everything (Chrome) and for Google Reader I use Reeder for Chrome. Beautiful!

5 inspiring ways to feed your soul

After working on the same boring thing all day, no one can blame you for taking a well deserved break. Distractions can be valuable because they give your brain a chance to recharge and concentrate even better when you continue.

With the amount of content and information now accessible to the average person, choosing what to have has become like trying to have a snack at a buffet table. There’s so much out there that, unless you’re very picky, you’ll be missing out on some great stuff.

When you consume content, you are feeding you soul. And feeding your soul good and wholesome food is as important as doing so for your body. So what’s good and what’s not so good for you?

Junk food for the soul

1. TV dramas/sitcoms. Think back to the shows you were watching last year. Has it contributed to you as a person today? Did you learn anything valuable? TV shows are entertaining whilst we’re watching them but it’s not until it finishes or gets cancelled that we realise what kind of things we could have accomplished if we spent all those hours differently.

Studies have shown that filling your life with trashy TV about people arguing, cheating and lying, can lessen your sensitivity to the consequences of doing so. Watching shows about crime, murders and blackmailing can make you more paranoid and afraid than the reality.

I’m not saying all TV is bad, or that we should cut it out altogether. I am a big fan of a few series (ahem, Grey’s Anatomy), and of course a lot of documentaries are very informative, but TV is supposed to be ‘entertainment’ – meaning something to occupy you for a few hours a week. It’s not supposed to be a part time occupation or a way to numb your brain.

2. Evening News. The news obviously cannot report everything that happens in the world, so it has to be selective. Unfortunately, more people are interested about robberies and murders than charity runs. The news has become a medium that dramatises negative events to increase audience ratings. Just check out the front page of any news site and count how many times the word ‘death’, ‘dies’, ‘killed’, ‘stabbed’ and so on appear.

Again, of course we should be aware of what’s happening in the world around us, but in my opinion there’s no need to know about every single thing. Sometimes, it feels beautiful to be disconnected. If another Michael Jackson dies, you’ll hear about it, don’t worry, you don’t need to keep looking out for it.

3. Facebook. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends, but how much do you need to know about them on a daily basis? Most people have hundreds of friends on facebook, so it’s simply not possible to keep track of what they do anyway. A lot of the time, people live in fear of missing out, so they think their lives would be better if they know what’s going on all the time, but deep down they know that this is simply not true. Letting go of the need to always know what’s going on at this very minute is the key to freedom. Ignorance is bliss.

4. Repeats. This year, I’ve made a quiet promise to myself that I will try not to watch any repeats – especially films. One of my friends is a media student and they’ve opened my eyes to just how much there is out there that it seems silly to watch another rerun. There are literally thousands of fantastic independent films, classic films, controversial films, historical films and breakthrough films that I’ve yet to see, why should I ever re-watch something I’ve seen before?

5. Other internet black holes. Mindless surfing on fail blogs, lolcats sites, youtube and so on is just another way to take our minds off things that really do matter. Life is short, and there are better ways places we can go to take a break…

5 Ways to feed your soul the right stuff:

So what should you do when you want to sit back and relax? Prepare for the link fest.

1. Read brilliant blogs. When I first accidentally stumbled on personal development blogs, I didn’t know that they would change my life. They opened up a whole new (better) world for me that connected with my real world over time. Since then, I’ve become a greener, healthier, more productive and happier minimalist. Over time I’ve read dozens and dozens of different blogs, but I there are a few I always go back to:

Balance in Me – well written tips about how to find balance in a busy world.

Change your Thoughts – redesign how you think about life.

Daily Mind – Eastern wisdom brought to the west.

Marc and Angel Hack Life – how to be more productive and happy, one of the best blogs I’ve ever found.

Stepcase Lifehack – a collaborative blog full of great tips from successful bloggers.

Zen Habits – who has never included Leo’s blog in a ‘best of blogs’ list?

For the minimalist in me:

Becoming Minimalist – contains some pure gems.

miss minimalist – We would definitely be best friends if we ever met.

mnmlist – another great creation of Leo Babatua’s.

stonesoup – combining my two loves: minimalism and food.

Other great blogs:

Lifehacker – …needs no explanation.

The Peak Condition Project – my favourite fitness blog in the world. Patrick knows what he’s talking about.

Zen to Fitness – simple and quick health tips.

Scott H Young – hundreds of articles on life and productivity  for students.

2. Follow daily reminders. These get a category of their own because they are so inspiring.

The Mindfulist and The Mindfulist’s twitter – reminding you to be aware of the little things that matter.

Makes Me Think –  thought provoking life stories in one sentence.

Thought Questions – asking the right kind of questions.

3. …and so does TED. Talks that simply blow your mind. Just some of my favourites:

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian

4. Listen to Podcasts. I’ve mentioned podcasts before because I can’t recommend them enough. (iTunes links)

Buzz Out Loud –  a technology podcast I’ve been following for years.

Nutrition Diva – dispelling common myths about what is good for you and what isn’t.

YOGAmazing – Great yoga instruction videos

Yoga Today – more yoga videos

Zencast – A comprehensive collection of Buddhist talks.

Zen is Stupid – Gwen Bell and Patrick Reynolds (also creators of the Mindfulist) are my heroes

5. Read great books.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens – the book that started it all.

Young Guns – by Robert Tuchman, a guide for fearless young entrepreneurs.

The Art of Happiness – one of HH Dalai Lama’s most widely read books.

The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle, changed the way I thought about thinking forever.

The Way of Zen – by Alan Watts, who was one of the first people to demystify Zen and bring it to the west.

The Definitive Book of Body Language – by Allan and Barbara Pease, a down to earth and humorous guide.

What Every BODY is Saying – by John Navarro, an ex FBI’s tips on reading body language and detecting deception.

How To Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie, simply classic, which is why it has stood the test of time.

Despite what a lot of people are saying these days, consumption of media and information isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What really matters is doing it right and mindfully choosing the best kind of things to feed our soul with can make all the difference.

5 minimalist principles to help you study

Right now, I’m in the midst of exams, so you could say they’re on my mind. I thought I’d share some ways minimalism helps me make studying easier.

1. Get rid of the unnecessary. Use the 80/20 rule as a guideline: probably only about 80% in the syllabus will actually come up in the exam. That means that if you study everything, roughly a fifth of it would be a waste (if your goal is purely to pass the exam). Because of this, try to identify which areas are the most important, using tips and clues given by the lecturer and look back at things you have covered extensively in class. Don’t just work blindly memorising from the textbook, be savvy and try to get your hands on past papers and become familiar with exactly what they’re looking for.

2. Simplify. Make life easier by breaking things down into small manageable steps. Draw mind maps using different colours to lay everything out. Mind maps are great because the general rule is that you can only use one or two words per branch. Spread out, try not to cram too much on one page and embrace the white space. Giving yourself room calms your mind and allows it to think with more clarity. You might even find recalling things easier if you can remember the layout of your notes.

Download mind mapping freeware here.

3. Know the fundamentals. Even if you don’t think you know everything in terms of scope, taking care of the essentials is just as important. Lecturers tend to set questions that seem complicated, but they are really just testing if you know the basics. Make sure you know them like the back of your hand. You can even make an activity out of it by making a poster summarising the formulae, key points and basic steps and putting it up by your mirror.

4. Focus. Decluttering your desk can make all the difference in your concentration levels. Clear everything off and only put on what you need for the next hour. Chances are you’ll only need a book or two, a pen and paper. If you’re not using your laptop, it might be best to hide it that as well so you’re not tempted to get distracted.

5. Disconnect. Now that I’ve switched to Chrome, I use the StayFocused extension to cut down on the time I spend on facebook and twitter. I finally found an extension that actually works and does a pretty good job at keeping me on track. It even has a ‘nuclear mode’ which blocks all websites for as long as I want. I also turn off my iPhone or at least put it on silent. I have never encountered a situation when I got a call or text that had to be answered immediately anyway.

I hope these tips helped! If you’re in the middle of exams too, I wish you the best of luck. If you have any more suggestions, please share them with everyone in the comments!

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5 tips to create and maintain a minimalist desk

Despite many aspects of university education becoming digitalised, students are still not completely free of paper. And it will probably be a long time before we are completely done with it, if ever. Paper – worksheets, assignments, data, sources, references, extracts, forms and letters obtained from professors, coursemates, friends and our own research – can be one of the main culprits when it comes to desk pile up.

Not to mention other things that can contribute to a cluttered desk, such as books, mugs, a computer or laptop, pens, a lamp, knick-knacks, folders and if you’re really messy even clothes or food(!).

why you need a clear surface

If you live in a single bedroom with limited space, desks can get very cluttered very quickly if you don’t consciously keep it clear. A desk packed full of stuff can:

  • Create a distracting environment
  • Encourage procrastination
  • Be off-putting to creativity
  • Make it difficult for you to find things you need
  • Encourage cluttered-ness in other parts of the room

By far the simplest and easiest way is to literally take everything off your desk and put it on the floor. Then one by one put things back only after you’ve carefully considered why you need it. You’ll find that you’ll have to relocate a lot of stuff, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find a home for it if you’ve kept your drawers and shelves pretty minimal.

how to maintain a minimalist desk

1. Dispose immediately. If you think you’ll probably never use a sheet of paper again, just chuck/recycle it. If you leave it to mix with the stuff that you do need, you’ll be put off organizing it because the pile looks bigger and scarier. The worst that can happen afterwards is that you look on your university portal for an electronic copy or borrow off a course-mate. A lot of sheets only have a one time use, keeping them will not benefit you so it’s best to clear it out as soon as you can.

2. Organise. Use fileboxes, trays or folders to store papers that land on your desk. Only you can work out a system that works for you, but for me I find a simple ‘Urgent’/’To Do’ /’To File’ method works perfectly.

Everyday, I deposit all of the sheets in my thin folder into the appropriate boxes/folders (after I’ve done step 1). Sheets that have to do with upcoming deadlines obviously go into the ‘Urgent’ box/folder. General things like homework sheets and long-term assignments go in ‘To Do’, and sheets I want to keep for revision but have no immediate use go in ‘To File’.

Instead of filing one sheet at a time, which can be time consuming, when the ‘To File’ pile gets to a certain level, I sort all of those sheets into labelled boxes. Once everything is sorted out, it’s much easier to identify what and how much you need to deal with at any particular moment.

3. Inbox Zero. Once you’ve deposited all of the things you need to deal with in once place, try to reduce everything in it to zero everyday or every other day. This will help you gauge your workload and do everything in an according pace. In other words, if you see that your work is beginning to pile up, you know that you it’s time to do block out some time to get it all done before you fall behind. If the ‘Urgent’ box is empty, celebrate!

4. Clean. If you must eat at your desk (I do sometimes when I’m watching TED), clean up as soon as you can after finishing and don’t leave it overnight. Clean dust away often and wipe off coffee mug rings. Be adaptable and try moving things around so that you have as little on your desk as possible. You can use bookshelves to store non-urgent folders or things you don’t use often such as reference books. Many people like to keep this stuff on their desk but actually they don’t use them very often anyway.

5. Get rid of knick-knacks. A lot of people keep photos or little figures on their desks which can be kinda cute, but also a little distracting. I used to find myself daydreaming whenever I looked up because I would see a picture of my old friends which got me thinking of home, and sometimes I would find myself on facebook a moment later to check up on them! Also, most of the time you don’t need an entire pot of pens, even if they look ‘professional’ sitting on your desk top. I moved all of my stationary to my top drawer, and since then I’ve stopped getting distracted by highlighters and the hole punch (like a six year old!).

common pitfalls

Once you’ve obtained a beautiful minimalist desk, you’ll have to be careful not to let things creep back on one by one. Also watch out for these other pitfalls:

Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t be tempted to hide stuff by putting it away in boxes. I used to be very guilty of hiding sheets in file boxes without organising them, and in the end they overfilled the box in no particular order and in the end it took hours and hours to sort out during exam revision time. If I had spent just a minute putting the sheets in the right place, I could have stopped myself from wasting time and getting stressed out.

Just clearing the middle. I’ve seen desks that only have enough clear space in the middle for a laptop, and surrounding it are piles of paper and various aforementioned junk. One may be able to survive, but they wouldn’t be working to their full potential because they are being limited by their environment. You should give yourself plenty of room so that you can spread out and work more comfortably.

Since my desk only has my laptop on it when I’m writing, or one book, piece of paper and pen when I’m working, I’ve seen a marked increase in my productivity. I realise that there is a certain amount of motivation required for one to actually get going on the work after they’ve sorted it, but just try it, even for a week, I promise you’ll have less of an excuse to put things off and you’ll be one step closer to being a productivity black belt 😉

5 Ways to Reclaim Ten Minutes a Day

 

As a student, there is no such thing as ‘free time’. The time you think is ‘free’ – you could actually be using to do something else that is productive, such as finding a book on the course reading list, writing up notes or reviewing the last lecture. Every minute we are encouraged to cram more and more activities in, more socialising, more studying, but there are only so many minutes in a day.

As much as I advocate slowing down and doing less, sometimes it isn’t possible in a student’s hectic lifestyle, especially during exam times. I consider myself a bit of a minimalist, stuffing more isn’t really my thing, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so here are some of my favourite hacks to try to cram more minutes into each day.

1. Read when cooking. There’s a lot of waiting when you’re cooking. Most people flip the tv on, or have a day dream, but I recommend bringing a book into the kitchen and get a few paragraphs done whilst waiting for that pasta to become al dente. Also applies for toilet breaks and long queues.

2. Group activities together. Part of David Allen’s famous Getting Things Done method involves grouping tasks that are in the same context together to save time doing them. For example, if you have to boot up your laptop to do something, why not wait until you have two or three things to do and then you only have to turn on your laptop once to do them all. This may sound obvious, but it does require a little bit of organizational skill in that you have to think ahead to make sure you haven’t left anything out, especially if you’re going to make a trip to a particular place. It’s no good getting halfway back home from X and then remembering  you had one more thing to do! Which brings me to…

3. Write things down. Maybe it’s the people I hang around with (or me) but you’ll be amazed at the number of times I’m walking around campus with someone who suddenly ‘just remembered’ they had to collect or hand in something and turn in the direction we just came. One of my friends even spent one whole day mumbling “I know there’s something I have to do today…” (It turned out she had to ask our lecturer something important, but by then the lesson had already finished and we were on the other side of campus). By jotting things down on a daily basis you can save countless minutes from trying to recall all of the things you had to do.

4. Listen to podcasts. Ok, this one doesn’t save you time, but it’s a way to fill up those idle minutes. It’s no secret that I love podcasts. The best ones are educational and intellectually stimulating. They could be news in an area you are interested in, or debates and discussions around your degree. There’s so much stuff out there, I’ve dipped into so many different subjects, including (and not limited to) economics, astronomy, travel, philosophy, history, nutritionZen,…you can even learn languages via podcasts. They’re a great alternative to looping the same album (however amazing) on your ipod whilst walking or waiting for the bus. Please remember to look out for traffic!

5. Be minimalist. Yes, you knew it was coming. In this case by minimalism I mean having fewer things, which generally means you will be in a much tidier environment. You will save minutes if not hours if you can find everything and anything you need because it’s not lost under a pile of clothes or crumpled at the bottom of your bag. Find a place for all of the things you need everyday. For my keys, I actually hacked a key hook using some blue tak and a piece of wire (the kind you get wrapped around cables of electronics) shaped into a ‘J’. I stick it just above the handle of my door, so I always know where they are. Try to keep sheets and notes as organised as possible, or at least keep them all in one place, so you don’t spend ages looking around for them.

With these tips, you can probably save upwards of ten minutes a day, which doesn’t sound like much, but could add up to an extra hour or two every week.  At the moment, I’m conducting a bit of a hack-slash-experiment which I am trying to reclaim up to an hour and a half each day, but more of that coming soon…

If you’ve just joined Minimal Student, or just want to read more, why not have a look at my current series, The Recipe for Student Success, or check out the Most Popular MS Posts.

The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Four : A Curious Mind

“Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am”. – Rene Descartes

When it came to naming this ingredient, I considered calling it a ‘Great Mind’. But I thought that would imply that one needed to achieve or find ‘great’ things that rocked the world in order to be successful, when the truth is, success can mean so many things including, in my opinion, that you don’t necessarily have to make an amazing realization or discovery in order to be successful. Also, I realized that ‘great’ in a way means ‘better than someone else’. I am a firm believer that you do not need to trample or compete with others in order to be successful. And then the perfect term hit me. A Curious Mind.

A Curious Mind is unique. It’s not a passive thing that happens in your brain, neither are you born with one, you have to actively desire it and train yourself in order to obtain one. A Curious Mind is:

1. Hungry. A Curious Mind always wants more. It never gets tired of being fed, and will take a starter, snack, main and dessert when it comes to learning. It loves to discover, especially things it has never considered before. It lives on the edge of what it knows and what it can do, and endeavours to push itself even further.

2. Open. A Curious Mind is always open to new ideas and ways of seeing things. Sure, it can have opinions, but it allows others to have theirs, and will always try to see things from their point of view.  A Curious Mind considers many possibilities before deciding which path to follow. It is open to changing attitudes and doesn’t let others dictate what it believes.

3. Balanced. A Curious Mind tries to keep a balance between all of the things that concern it. It will have interests, and can focus on those, but will not neglect other important things either. It is calm, yet sharp. It thinks before it leaps. It’s decisive yet it considers other options. It is can make rational and logical decisions, but it can also be passionate and creative.

How to Cultivate a Curious Mind

1. Read. The single most important thing you can do to cultivate a Curious Mind is to read. Not only books, but also blogs, websites, Wikipedia, ebooks, magazines, newspapers and textbooks. In fact, reading is so important, here are three further tips to help:

  • Diversify. Try reading things outside of your comfort zone to expand your general knowledge. Can you imagine not having tried chocolate before? You would be missing out! There is so much knowledge out there, it doesn’t make sense to only stay in one area. Who knows, you may end up finding something new and fascinating.
  • Focus. Having said that, it might also be good to have a subject that you concentrate a bigger proportion of reading time to. If you spend between 30-45 minutes a day reading, that equates to about one book a week, which can make you an expert in a subject in a year. If it sounds too much to you, even two or three years isn’t that long if it means being a pro at something. Sometimes it helps to have a solid foundation of knowledge as well as a good general knowledge, otherwise you might end with too many half-eaten cakes. (Ok, obviously I am very hungry right now).
  • Write it down. As much as I don’t like to admit it, we tend to forget most of the things we read. Keeping a reading notebook can really help you retain some of the information you invested those hours into. It doesn’t have to be entire chapter summaries, sometimes a few quotes or lines that you liked will suffice to remind you of a fact that surprised you, or an interesting plotline or a character you liked.

The same rules also applies to listening to podcasts. Podcasts and audiobooks are fantastic ways for you to ‘read’  and gain knowledge if you feel you don’t have too much time to physically sit down with a book often enough.

2. Meet people. Try to meet new people who are different from you, make friends with them and ask them about their background, opinions and ideas. Don’t be too nosey if they feel uncomfortable, but most of the time people are more than happy to talk, chat and debate. Don’t ignore cultural differences, use them to your advantage to open up your mind to new ways of thinking.  A lot of the things we believe in are because of the way we were raised, our society or our early education. We were conditioned to think that way, so we hadn’t had the chance to make up our own minds, until now. Experiences like this can turn things you were so sure about upside down, and that’s a good thing.

3. Meditate. Sometimes, our minds get slowed down from jumping from thought to thought constantly. You can get a more balanced mind by clearing up some of the clutter. There are lot’s of different types of meditation, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t about pushing all thoughts out of your head. Instead, it is about becoming aware and acknowledging when your mind has wondered off and bringing it back to the centre. With practice, meditation can help you control your mind to be calmer, more stable and less easily distracted.

4. Sleep. In a way, your mind is like your body, you have to wake it up in the morning, feed it and let it grow. But you also have to let it rest. Olympic athletes have the healthiest bodies in the world, but even they don’t spend all their time training. They have to let their bodies recover and rest often, and your mind works in a similar way. Sleeping and napping can help you feel energized, and make your mind more receptive. Sleep can also greatly help with retention and recall.

Fairly obviously, we are here at university as students to grow our minds. However, there are two ways of going about it, one is passively letting knowledge seep into our minds, with only what people decide to tell us making up what we know and think. Or, we can seek to develop a Curious Mind, one that pro-actively seeks to find things that build discipline, character and imagination.

I’d love to hear what you think, do you consider a Curious Mind important to success? Let me know in the comments!

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The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Two : Perseverance

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark”.Charles Spurgeon

The second ingredient to student success is Perseverance. On the surface, perseverance and passion may seem alike.

Perhaps you’ve experienced it before. You quickly develop passion over something, a new hobby, project or interest, and you fervently try to find out as much as you can about it. You buy all of the equipment, the books, you watch videos and read how-to’s. And then you try doing the thing you are passionate about. And then, you find, you’re probably not that good at it. “That’s ok”, you tell yourself, “it’s because I’m a beginner”. So you keep trying… but you keep failing, or it doesn’t work out quite how you wanted it to. After a while, you can’t use the beginner excuse anymore, and so you conclude that you’re not good enough, or it wasn’t for you, so you give up. And then you move on.

The passion was long gone. But what would have happened if you had persevered? You never know, you may have been great at it. How many things have you started, had you not given up, you would have been brilliant at? You could have been amazing, fantastic even extraordinary.

You need passion to get you started. But after the passion has died down a little, and the voices of criticism start to creep in, that’s when you need perseverance to pull you through. When everyone, even yourself, is telling you to give up, to stop wasting time, as long as there is a tiny voice still inside you saying “I don’t want to, I’m onto something”, perseverance will drive you to your destination, if you let it.

I wish there was an easy five step method for making up some perseverance. But the truth is, there isn’t. The only thing that can help you during difficult times is simply sheer willpower. Just knowing that if you carry on, keep going and practising, that you’ll eventually get there. But, here are five great people that I would bet you’ve heard of. Each of them failed many times, but you know their names because their perseverance pushed them to greatness.

1. Michael Jordan missed more than 9000 shots in his career. He has lost almost 300 games and was trusted 26 times to take the game winning shot but missed. And yet he is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it”. – Michael Jordan

2. Bill Gates invested his own money into his first business, a project called Traf-O-Data. The project flopped. After many trials and tribulations, Bill Gates when on to create, well you know, Microsoft.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure”. – Bill Gates

3. Thomas Edison made thousands of wrong attempts before he was able to create a working light bulb:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. – Thomas A. Edison

4. Abraham Lincoln failed in business many times in his life, as well as having lost nominations for political position half a dozen times. Not to mention the loss of his sweetheart at the age of 26 and suffering a nervous breakdown at 27.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”. – Abraham Lincoln

5. J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve publishing companies for Harry Potter, which went on to become the best known children’s (and adult’s) story in the world.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”. – J.K. Rowling

Some of the things you’re doing might be on the difficult side. Student life may be getting tough. You might not be doing so well, or you may be failing all over the place, but take it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, and don’t give up. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.

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Photo Credit : Tony Blay


The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient One : Real Passion

The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient One : Real Passion

 

“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen for you, to you and because of you.” T. Alan Armstrong

There’s no denying that going to college can get pretty expensive, not only in money but also in time. Firstly, there is the initial debt that comes from paying for tuition and accommodation, and then there’s the time we lose having to work to pay it back. Going to university is a huge sacrifice, the question is, is it worth it?

The answer, I think, is yes, if you possess what is one of the most important ingredients in student success – Real Passion, with capitals.

Real Passion is magical. It creates motivation, determination and perseverance. It gets you up in the morning, it energizes your day and it pushes you to the best of your ability.

In an ideal world, everyone would love the subject they’re studying. There may or may not be other reasons for choosing it, but the main reason is that they want to learn. Now, this may seem obvious but up until now, I’ve met too many people that have forgotten the reason why they came to university. They spend too many nights out, they skip lectures and cram in all the work in at the last minute. They’ve forgotten their purpose, which is very sad, especially when I see it happening to my friends, the people that I have really come to care about. Of course, I myself am not perfect, and every now and again I have a lazy night in when I don’t do a shred of work but eventually, I find my way back on track by finding my Real Passion.

What is Real Passion? This can be answered by asking what Unreal Passion is. Unreal Passion is lust,  it’s based on fickle things like beauty or money and it eventually burns out. If you’re doing a subject because of salaries and titles, your happiness won’t last. Real Passion means putting genuine love into everything you do, even if people tell you it’s stupid and it doesn’t pay well. It may not always be practical but as they say,

Do what you love and the money will follow.

Passion has many meanings, but the most crucial part of any kind of passion is desire. It may not be very ‘Zen’ of me to say it, but this kind of ‘desire’ is different. Here, it is the desire to quench an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a desire to do the best that we can and a desire to be happy.

I know it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, sometimes academic life is tough, and full of rough patches. But that’s ok, as long as deep down inside the passion is still there, then you can keep going. If you’re having trouble finding it, try:

1. Meditation and reflection. Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we leave things that are important but not urgent at the back of our minds. Quiet meditation, even for a few minutes, can help us find the reasons why we chose to be here in the first place and let them generate the passion that we lost from the stress of everyday life.

2. Reading. The essays, articles, posts, books and other works of the great experts can be really inspiring. They create goals that you can aim for, maybe even one day surpass. I can guarantee that those people didn’t get there without a dash of Real Passion.

3. Visualisation. Connecting the previous two suggestions, visualisation is a powerful tool. If you can visualise yourself in your dream job, you’re a quarter of the way there already, because you know where you’re going. You can figure out how to get there later. If you had no boundaries and no fears, where would you be in ten years time?

4. Going home. If it’s possible, going home for a little while (perhaps for one weekend) can really help make you realise how far you’ve come since you left. I went home for the first time in months after leaving for college and I was surprised at how both the same and different everything seemed. Not much had physically changed, my home still smelt like home and even my old room was just as I left it, but I was changed. I had come so far in so little time, I was so amazed, I didn’t want to stop. When I got back I was completely motivated to keep moving forwards.

5. Focus. Sometimes we lose our passion for something because we spread what passion we have over too many commitments. We want to try out new things, make lot’s of friends, fit more things to do into our lives. Most of the time this a good thing, we should make the most out of the opportunities that we get in college, but every now and again being spread to thinly can make us forget where our real passion lies. Bringing it back to what we love best and focussing on that can help recreate the passion we once held for it.

All being said, it is important to distinguish between temporarily forgotten passion and passion that has died. When it is time to move on, it’s time to move on, and letting go of attachments to once-have’s and what-could-have-been’s can be just as important. Nevertheless, it all boils down to how greatly you need to have passion, how influential it can be and how crucial an ingredient it is in The Recipe for Student Success.

Do you think that Real Passion is important? What else do you think is vital in The Recipe for Student Success? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below!

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Image Credit : Xapa

5 Steps to Minimalist Web Surfing

It’s hard to live without the internet if you’re a student. Amongst many things, you probably need it for checking email, receiving updates from societies, arranging meetings with course-mates, keeping in touch with old friends, Skyping your family, getting in touch with your professors, checking out the library catalogue and of course, for research (maybe I should have put that one first).

If you’re planning on living a more minimalist lifestyle, consider letting that attitude flow into your web experience. Here’s how.

1. Firefox Add-ons. Perhaps it is a little paradoxical to claim that adding things on can help you become more minimal but if you use Gmail and Firefox, you will love an add-on called Greasemonkey which allows you to run scripts within Firefox. All you have to do is install it so that you can run little scripts such as HelvetiMail, which gets rid of all the words and boxes that just clutter up your inbox, as well as pasting a very minimal white theme on top. Here is the final result:

2. Adblocker. This is also a Firefox add-on but it is available in Chrome (known as Adthwart) and it so important that it gets its own step. Adblockers get rid of all the flashy ads that can clutter up web pages. As much as I want to support the sites that I use, I would never click on the ads anyway. I mostly ignore them, but I can’t resist how clean and simple pages look without ads.

3. Google Reader – If you read a lot of blogs, a great way to get them all in one place is to use Google Reader with the Greasemonkey script, Helvetireader. As minimal as Google interfaces tend to be, the Helveti guys make it even more simple. Also, having all of your RSS feeds go into one place saves time and makes keeping up with blog posts easier and more streamlined.

4. Time tracking. These last two steps might help if you want to minimalise the number of hours you surf the interweb. If you count them, you may be more inclined to reduce them. Extensions such as Meetimer or Time Tracker can help you see how much time you are spending and there are even tools that you can use to block particular websites after you have spent a pre-allocated amount of time on them.

5. Cut social networking. For me, social networking takes up a very large proportion of my web activity, and it is probably the most wasteful as well. Reducing the number of hours I spend on sites like Facebook and Twitter definitely counts towards a minimalist experience.

Other little things I like to do include keeping my inbox empty (see screenshot), cutting down the number of blogs I follow to a few high quality ones and if I’m really desperate, disconnecting once in a while.

A Student’s Guide to a Minimalist Diet in 5 Steps

what is a minimalist’s diet?

True to the minimalist mind-set, a MD (Minimalist Diet) is about reducing food down to what is essential. Although I refer to it as a diet here, in this case I mean diet in the case of ‘a way of eating’ or a long-term lifestyle, not a fad diet that claims you can lose several pounds in 30 days.

When it comes to diets, the important thing is to find a balance and to keep trying new things until you find what is best for you. Our bodies are all different in a thousand subtle ways; we all react to food a little differently. I am not a nutritionist, so please don’t take this as medical advice. I have also taken into account my current lifestyle, I am a student, with very little money to spend, so some of the steps have come out of necessity rather than choice.

For me, an ideal model for a MD is the traditional Japanese diet. Japanese cuisine is well known for the little cooking that is applied to the food. A lot of food is eaten raw or lightly vinegared, such as Sashimi, or otherwise just steamed or boiled. As for flavouring, the Japanese tend to season lightly, or use simple dipping sauces such as soy sauce. This doesn’t mean the food is bland and tasteless, it simply means that food is eaten the way it is, as close as possible to how it occurs in nature.

My take on a good MD is cutting down on too many foods that are processed and cooked for long periods of time. A lot of people cut out meat as well, and although a vegetarian or even vegan diet is definitely very ‘minimal’, you don’t have to abandon meat if you don’t want to.

what are the benefits?

Some of the advantages of a Minimalist Diet are that:

You spend less money. You’re on a student budget, which, unless you’re very lucky, isn’t much. Processed food tend to cost more because the manufacturer needs to make a profit over all of the ingredients and chemicals they used to make it. Buying carrots and chopping them up yourself makes a much cheaper side dish than oven chips which the food company had to grow, chop, flavour, process, package, market, distribute and store whilst making money to stay in business.

It is healthier. Most food companies, and restaurants, don’t care about your health. They care about money. So, they make their food products tasty and convenient because that is what will encourage you to buy them again. But at what cost? The tastiest foods are packed full of sugars and fats. And the most ‘convenient’ foods are sprayed full of chemicals so that they can be stored longer and cooked in less time. Cutting out processed foods means you’ll be filling your body with natural foods, so there are fewer ‘sugar rushes’ or ‘oily breakouts’, which leaves you in a much happier mood and better able to focus and concentrate.

Moreover, I was in the supermarket one day and I noticed that a burger costs £1, whereas a bag of salad was about £1.50. The question occurred to me: What is in that burger that makes it cost less than a bag of leaves to make? A bag of leaves!?

It’s better for the environment. Eating foods that don’t come with copious amounts of packaging saves from adding to landfill. Plus, eating fresh food means it probably spent less time travelling, which saves enormous amounts of oil and carbon dioxide emissions. If you cut down on meat, you will be ‘saving food’, since raising livestock costs more plant material than the energy and nutrition you would get from eating the plants themselves. There is already a global food shortage problem, and although realistically you won’t make much of a difference by yourself, at least you would know you are doing you best not to make it worse.

how to get started

Here are a few steps you can take towards a Minimalist Diet:

1. Make your own. Takeaways are extremely expensive compared to the cost of making a meal for yourself. You don’t have to make a profit over the effort you put into making your own dinner. Of course, there is a need for one every now and again, but if you make meals in bulk then all you have to do is heat up a portion for the next night. One of the biggest money-saving things you can do is making your own sandwiches for lunch. A quick price comparison shows how much you can save, the average cost of a sandwich is £2.00, if you buy 4-5 a week that comes to almost £10. But a supermarket loaf of bread is only about £0.60 and even adding the cost of most fillings like tomatoes, cheese, salads and butter that will last you more than one loaf still makes bringing your own much cheaper.

2. Cut out junk. If you know you eat a lot of chips, biscuits, crisps, cakes, pastries and drink a lot of fizzy drinks, you don’t have get rid of it all straight away, otherwise the chances are you won’t last very long and you’ll be tempted to switch back. Instead, you can just cut down little by little, and substitute foods at the same time (see below) to make up for it. This step can be difficult, and I know it is easier said than done but it is one of the quickest to implement and the results can be very rewarding.

3. Substitute. Replace the junk you left out with healthier snacks. If you can cut out fries as a side part of you main dish, replace it with vegetables. Perhaps replace your morning cup of coffee with green tea instead.  Try stirring honey into your tea instead of sugar. If you really feel like something sweet, try a handful of grapes, they’re packed full of the fruit sugar fructose. Instead of taking a bag of crisps for lunch, switch it for an apple. Get creative!

4. Think simple. If you’re not very good at cooking, or can’t afford to buy much (I mean, we are students), why not just make something simple? Buy simple ingredients. When cooking, instead of going for complicated recipes, why not try methods like steaming and boiling? These procedures are fairly easy and usually don’t take very long either. One of my favourite tricks is steaming practically any vegetable, or even fish in a sieve over boiling water with a lid on top, what is more simple/frugal/MacGyver than that?

5. Eat less. Now, I’m not suggesting you go anorexic here. But if you are overweight, it may be worth calculating a rough estimate of how much you eat in terms of calories and seeing if you’re over your Recommended Daily Allowance. If there’s one thing that remains consistent between all diets, even those dreaded fad diets, it is that in order to lose weight, you should replace junky carbohydrate heavy foods with simple, protein rich foods. Consuming minimally can help you slim down, reduce landfill, save money and improve your overall well-being.

Please remember that all of these tips are just suggestions. There isn’t an ‘Official Minimalist Diet’ rulebook that states you should not eat meat, or that you must eat less than you do now and so on. These steps are a result of combining some of the things I have learnt as a result of having an interest in health, nutrition and of course minimalism. I do realise that some of these points apply to a healthier diet in general, but I guess that is what a MD really breaks down to. This is an approach to food that I have found to work for me, I hope it will help others but of course anyone can change it around as they like.

What does a ‘Minimalist Diet’ mean to you? Do you have any ideas about how to be more minimal when it comes to food?