Fall 2009: Semester in Review

Better late than never:
  • I started off the semester by ruthlessly pruning and declining activities. I stopped playing and refereeing intramural sports and I also stopped working out. This gave me lots of time every day; I went to the Athenaeum about twice a week, went to sports games, and read books for pleasure. Later in the semester, when I felt more comfortable, I added writing for the CMC Forum and coaching youth basketball.
  • I took a trip to Scotland for a week and still did well in every class. I overestimate the necessity of being on campus during the semester. I need to take more weekend and week-long trips. Especially because travel stimulates the brain; I was productive the whole time I was in Scotland and after I got back.
  • The decision I made that led to the most productivity was deciding to blog once a day for over a month. Blogging once a day got me in the habit of writing and thinking about things in terms of writing posts. I soon started submitting posts to CMC Forum, and landed a paid position. Within about four or five weeks I had more posts up than any other writer.
  • When I set my own hours for sleeping, I tend to sleep for at least nine hours, and/or take naps during the day. The optimal amount of sleep is between six and eight hours; not only am I awake for an extra hour but I don't feel as tired during the day. When I am sleeping in a room by myself I sleep longer; when I'm sleeping in a room with other people I get closer to the optimal amount of sleep. For optimal productivity I should probably live with a room-mate.
  • In my long and illustrious academic career, the grade I'm most proud of is an A- in Algorithms this semester. That class was really hard, and I skipped most of the prerequisites, and I was the only CMC student in the class. Furthermore, the teacher held office hours right after class, instead of before it, so if the assignment was coming due and you had questions, you could be stuck. I solved this problem by working on the problem sets for two to three hours immediately after class finished. This way I could ask the teacher when I got stuck. I also learned how to use LaTeX, the formatting language.
  • I used a binder for each class to stay ruthlessly organized, with sections in each binder for Notes, Homework, Handouts, Tests/Quizzes and blank paper. I filed every sheet of paper that was handed out. This saved a lot of time when it was time for exams.
  • The best purchase I made this semester was a pair of plaid Chuck Taylors, which drew a bunch of compliments and which are probably now my favorite pair of shoes. I made a lot of non-purchases that were also good, see below.
  • I'm finding that it's extremely difficult to deliver on everything I promise to do. Many people promise to do things because they want to signal reliability. The people they promise to may expect them to follow through, and then again they may not, because of the planning fallacy and because many people promise many things. I have cut down on the number of promises I make in the hopes of following through on all of them, signaling be damned (then again, writing this on my blog is also a form of signaling. My words are not reliable; hopefully my actions will soon begin speaking for themselves).
  • I started drinking coffee this semester. I only really noticed a difference in my energy level on two occasions. Maybe it prevented me from being sleepy but on most occasions it did not make me feel particularly energetic.
  • Probably my favorite two parts of my week were going to breakfasts with the same group of friends every day and going bowling on Wednesday nights. Scheduled activities with friends are excellent for my happiness. I should ensure that I have scheduled activities with friends wherever I am.
  • I took a tennis PE class. I'm much better at tennis. I also can bowl with spin now, and my scores are soon going to be higher than they were when I was bowling straight on.
  • I skipped only one class all semester. I missed three breakfasts. I completed every single homework assignment.
  • For the second semester in a row I did not buy any textbooks. I politely asked each teacher at the beginning of the semester to put the textbook on reserve at the library. Others I borrowed or checked out through Link+. When you are not sure how much you are actually going to use the book, don't buy it.
  • My biggest enemy continues to be my own head, which tries to seize on any awkward moment, missed call, Internet criticism or forgotten invitation and construct an elaborate scenario, ignoring the vast majority of data points and focusing only on a few. Most nights are good and then some nights it's hard to open the dorm room door and talk to anyone. This semester was probably my best yet in terms of mental health.
  • I wasn't very successful in my goal of finishing every paper, and studying for every test, at least one day in advance. I did push out planning and work ahead of my usual schedule, which is do it all at the last minute. Next semester hopefully I will be able to move up deadlines. Betting people money, or putting money on the line is still the most successful policy for getting work done. If I could automate the process of making the bets, so that every time I have a paper or test, my friend knows that I have to finish a day early or pay up, I would probably be much more productive. I don't stress much.
  • I had two large projects at the end of the semester that I did not manage very well. These projects were more or less the first time I had a month-long exercise that I had to complete myself. I am now aware that I need to work on time management for projects.
  • If you had to graph my effort for the semester it would look like this: A all the way through Monte Carlo/the day my controversial Forum article comes out, then about D from Monte Carlo until the Wednesday of Finals Week, then A+ for two straight days until I finished finals. This is good; I now know that I can work hard for exactly twelve weeks, which is up from previous semesters. With practice, in the future I will be able to push this number higher.
  • Cold calling is an excellent way to make sure students are prepared and following along. I have never prepared for a class more thoroughly than I prepared for Professor Meulbroek's case studies, because if I got called on to begin the case, I needed to be prepared.
  • Teachers should be much tougher. For the second straight semester, I was positively surprised by the grades I received. I know people are drawn to teaching because they love students and watching kids learn, but students would be better off if they received a message that told them they weren't working hard enough, than a message that says, "Your current work rate is acceptable." I know that us students should be responsible for monitoring ourselves, but outside motivation never hurts.

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