Throughout the month of November, The Learning Hub will be discussing how undertaking preparing and cooking the turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner is like going through the various stages of the writing process. This video? Carving and Serving your turkey – it’s like going through the revising and editing step of the process, and Patrick goes over Office 365 and Microsoft Word’s grammar assistance functionality.
After polling UIS students throughout the month of March on which writing issue they found the most frustrating, we were very surprised to discover that “Staying Motivated” was the top choice. Considering that some of the competitors it faced were “Thesis Statements,” “Structuring a Paper,” and “Finding Sources,” all of which are more specific, writing-related issues, we never thought motivation was going to be the cherry on top of this frustrating writing sundae.
Maybe it’s because Dana was our photographic representative. Not many people can resist the charm of a dog, much less one as cute as this black lab baby.
But we like to think that students voted based on the actual issue itself, rather than how cute the mugshot to show it off was.
Anyway, given that Staying Motivated won, The Learning Hub’s writing staff wanted to develop a resource for UIS students so that they can find that motivation to write, to read, to study, or do whatever they need to do to succeed in their college classes.
So what did we come up with? Well, motivation is a hard one. It’s not something you can just snap a finger and suddenly develop. Nor is it something you can follow a step-by-step process to attain. Rather, it’s intrinsic. Something that’s inside you, and that pushes you to keep going. Often, motivation comes from the desire to do the task. If you are enjoying yourself, you’re likely going to keep going. However, much of the writing, reading, and studying we do at the college level is on things we may not find particularly interesting, and so it’s hard to feel invested in that work. So motivation can be hard to come by. And even harder to force it on yourself.
So way to go, UIS. Way to pick the most intangible of all the writing issues on our bracket, and one of the hardest to try and find resources or advice to inspire it in all of you.
But we’re going to do our best. Because motivation is internalized, and difficult to manifest in another person, we’re going to try something different. What we have done with this post is to gather seven different websites or apps that will help you to stay on task, and stay motivated. Rather than digging into yourselves to find motivation, we’re going to try and find external technologies you can use that might help to train you to be more organized, to think of learning in ways that are more fun, or to keep working in spite of a lack of motivation. All of the sites and apps listed here are free (although some have paid options), and so they are accessible for you to use RIGHT NOW to help you with motivation and that may help you become a better college student. We hope you find this list helpful!
Any.do is a checklist, task-based software that allows you to create lists of things you need to do, and then check them off as you do them. You never need to worry about forgetting something, because everything you need is right there in this cross-platform interface. It is free to use the checklist feature, but if you want to upgrade to a premium account, it’s only $2-3 a month!
OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office suite, and as a UIS student you have access to Office 365 for free, so you can already use this software for free! It’s a note-taking system that helps you organize by class, by lecture, and even by topic. You can insert pictures, videos, icons, and all other sorts of things to make your note-taking and your studying more interesting. If you have a tablet or convertible, you can even write out notes by hand and then convert them to typed text later on. It’s a very versatile program, and should help to get you motivated in your coursework!
One of the most tedious and difficult parts of the writing process is editing. Catching all the grammar, style, and typo mistakes in your work takes a lot of time, and sometimes you may miss some issues. If this is something that resonates with you, then consider using Hemingway App. It is a software you can use in a browser for free, or download as a desktop app for only $20, and you use it by typing into it. In “write” mode, you type as you would with any other word processing software (Word, etc.). Then, once you’re ready, you can switch over to “edit” mode, and Hemingway App will show you everywhere that you have any issues. It’s much more accurate than Microsoft Word’s grammar and spellcheck feature, so it’s a handy helper for you and your writing! Hopefully, this app will motivate you, because it will save you time and energy!
Another part of the writing process that really trips up a lot of students is planning out ideas. I don’t know about you, but outlines are not really any fun. But if you don’t have a solid plan for your writing, it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a successful paper. So finding a way to organize is important. If you’ve never tried mind mapping before, then you’re in for a treat. MindMUp is a wonderful web-based system of mind-mapping, where you can create webs, storyboards, and other graphic representations of your ideas and how they relate, link up, or flow from and into one another. The basic mapping app is free, and you can create an unlimited number of maps through it. Check it out as a creative way to amplify your writing process!
Another significant reason why students lack motivation is that they are easily distracted. Who can blame them? With all the apps, websites, and streaming out there, it’s amazing any of us get anything done anymore. Luckily, there are apps and programs out there than can help to cut through the noise, and force you into productivity free from those pesky distractions. One of those is Forest, a free Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox extension, but also a $1.99 app for Apple and Android users. Once you set the 30 minute timer, a tree starts growing. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’ve grown a tree that is added to your forest. If you grow enough trees in the app, you can grow an actual tree in a developing country in the real world! The catch is that you cannot exit the app during the 30 minute time frame. If you do, your tree will wither and die. This app makes productivity a game that has great payoff, so check it out if you find yourself picking up your phone or checking your social media often while you are trying to work.
Another great way to avoid distractions is with a dedicated website blocker that, when enabled, will not let you visit any of the common sites you check out when you’re ultra-procrastinating. There are many out there, but one that works well is Cold Turkey Blocker. It’s free (many blockers are not), and, as a bonus, it can block programs and applications on your computer, too. Also, it doesn’t just put up an error message when you try to go to one of the no-no sites. It gives you an inspirational quote you can take with you as motivation to keep going and to finish your task. The basic program is free, but for $25-29 you can get all sorts of other features, like a scheduling system for your studying, break intervals, and other things. It’s pretty neat – give it a try!
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? It’s a style of studying or working in which you set a timer for 25 minutes, and when that’s done you can take a 3-5 minute break. Then you work for another 25 minutes, then break again for 3-5 minutes. Then work for a final 25 minute span, and finally you get to take a longer break, usually 15-20 minutes. Then you start the process again. This technique can be very helpful if productivity or motivation is lacking, because it gives you breaks where you can get a little procrastination out of your system before diving back in. It also pushes you to break your work into smaller, more manageable tasks. All in all, it’s an excellent way to stay motivated. Marinara Timer is an easy-to-use website that makes this method super easy and painless to try out.
We hope you have found this list of websites and apps helpful. Please check them out and see if they will help you to stay motivated in your reading, your studying, and your writing.
If you still struggle, though, please consider making an appointment with our Academic Skills TA in The Learning Hub. She works with issues like Time Management, Study Skills, Note-Taking, and, yes, Motivation.
For more tips, see the Learning Hub’s handout on writing introductions below, visit the Learning Hub’s website for more handouts on writing skills, make an appointment with a tutor, and keep your eye on this blog!