Find Your Focus: The 18-minute time management technique

November 8th, 2016 by

Are you losing focus during the day and finding it hard to stay on task? All you need is 18 minutes set aside throughout the day to get back on track according to Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners and author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

Here’s how to use this technique and get things done:

Take 5 minutes in the morning to get organized. This is your time to sit down and think about what you need to get done during the day. The key is to be realistic about what you can accomplish and what will make the day successful. Make a to-do list, then put those into a calendar or daily schedule you can follow.images-2

Check in once an hour for a whole minute. Set an alarm every hour throughout the work day and take a minute to refocus. Have you been productive throughout the past hour? Are you on track to finish your daily to-do list? Taking a moment to breathe and evaluate the time you’ve worked so far can help you get back on track and prevents you from getting lost in the eight-hour work day.

Take 5 minutes in the evening to evaluate. Turn off your computer and put your work away, then review how the day went. Reflect on how you feel, what you learned and whether you finished everything that needed to get done. This reflection period can be helpful the next morning to be more realistic about can and cannot get done in a single day.

Need a little more help managing the work day? Next Step Academy has you covered with our “Time Management” course.


The Dos and Don’ts of Productivity

October 10th, 2016 by

You arrive at work coffee-buzzed and ready to get to business. Then sometime after lunch the caffeine wears off and the end of the work day seems further away than it did in the morning. Even if you love your job, it can tough to stay motivated and productive. Here are a couple of ways to stay on-task and focused during the day.

Do: Take regular short breaks

It may sound counterproductive to take breaks in order to be more productive. However, a quick walk around the office or chat at the water cooler helps break up the day and gives your mind a rest. No matter what, always take your lunch break to refuel for the afternoon.

images1Don’t: Reach for another cup of coffee

Drinking coffee in the afternoon can affect your quality of sleep, causing you to wake up feeling sluggish and drinking more and more coffee to compensate. This creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep and caffeine consumption. Studies show that the optimal time to consumer coffee is three to six hours after you wake up. If you wake up at 6:00 in the morning, drink coffee between 9 and 12, but cut yourself off in the afternoon.

Do: Create a to do list and stick to it

At the beginning of each work day, spend a few minutes creating a to do list. Assess how long each project will take and be realistic about how much time you have to complete your list. A checklist can help you remember all the little things you need to do and keep you on track throughout the day.

Don’t: Multitask

When you start a task, make sure you finish it. Do not go back and forth between different projects or try to do multiple things at once. Nobody can truly multitask and it will just leave you feeling burned out. You’ll most likely spend more time working trying to multitask than if you start and finish one item at a time.

Do: Avoid distractions

Keep your work area clear and don’t open up browsers unless you need them. You might say you’ll only check social media for five minutes, but that can easily turn into half an hour. If it helps, there are browser extensions such as Work Mode for Google Chrome that can block websites for a set amount of time. This way you won’t be tempted to check your feed or watch the most recent viral video.

Don’t: Stay late

Finishing up a project after normal work hours once in awhile is okay, but don’t make it a habit. You should have a set time where you pack up and leave everyday. You’ll be more productive and realistic about how much work you can get done in a day if you give yourself limits. If you work from home or have a flexible  schedule, make one for yourself and stick to it.

Need more help staying productive? Take Next Step Academy’s “Time Management” course!


Three Notetaking Methods to Help You This Semester

September 7th, 2016 by

If this is your first semester in college, or if you haven’t been in school for some time, then your note taking skills may be a little rusty. Here are three of the most popular note taking methods to help you start the semester strong. Remember, different note taking methods work better for different types of learners. Try out a couple and see what works best for you.

Outline Method

Ideal For: Taking notes from presentation outlines provided by the professor, such as a slide show; Taking notes from written material

With the Outline Method, notes are written in an organized layout based on indentation that mimics an outline.

First you write the main topic or general points of the lecture. Then indent the line below the main topic and write subtopics, indent again and record supporting details beneath each subtopic. When the professor introduces a new main topic, go back to the left side of the page and start again.


Ideal For: Content heavy lectures; Lectures with an unknown structure

The Mapping Method is similar to the Outline Method, but is visual and nonlinear.

Use boxes, bubbles or other shapes to outline main ideas, then draw arrows to subtopics and supporting details. This method makes it easy to highlight important points and show direct relationships between information. It works really well for visual learners and allows you to separate topics and information by shapes and color.

Cornell Method

Ideal For: Producing summaries and remembering key ideas; Studying for exams

The Cornell Method has you divide your note page into three sections, providing you with space for note-taking and review.

The first section is created by drawing a horizontal line 2 inches from the bottom of your page. The remaining space at the top of the page is divided again by drawing a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left hand side of the page.

The largest section is where you record notes during the lecture. Within 24 hours after the lecture, use the bottom section to summarize the material and the main points covered. The section on the left is for writing key words and ideas that can be used to create a study guide. You can also use this section to record questions you have for the professor.

Need more life skills hacks? Check out the life skills category at Next Step Academy.


How To: Mentally Prepare For An Interview

March 8th, 2016 by

junge frau im bewerbungsgesprchIf you’ve never been on an interview before, you might not know what to expect and that can be nerve racking. Then again, people who have been on several interviews may still find themselves jittery before hand. While it’s natural, and perhaps even good, to be a little nervous for your interview, you’ll still want to mentally prepare yourself and build your confidence before heading in.

Take a Drive                                                                                                                                            A day or two before your interview, drive there.

It might sound like a weird thing to do, but trust me, it will reduce your anxiety. There’s nothing worse than being stricken with panic on your way to an interview when you suddenly realize you have no idea where you’re going. By mapping your route before hand, you’ll be more familiar with traffic patterns, the parking situation and the amount of time it actually takes to get there. On the day of your interview, it will be one less stressor to deal with.

Mock Interview                                                                                                                                     Recruit a parent, sibling, school counselor or someone else you know has been on interviews.

Provide them with a list of questions to ask you, but also invite them to ask you additional questions off the cuff. Why? Well, an interview is a balancing act. You’ll have some answers prepared for the more traditional questions, but you’ll also need to be ready to answer curve ball questions. The interviewer will look for you’re ability to think on your feet and how you perform under pressure.

Go through this process a few times and with different people if you can. The more you practice, the better and more eloquently you’ll find your responses, even on the really tough questions. Practicing your interview skills will build your confidence and in turn, you’ll be much more composed for the real deal.

Practice Tranquility                                                                                                                                An up-coming interview can create a lot of stress—schedule down time for yourself.

The night before and the morning of, spend five to ten minutes sitting quietly or with soft music if you prefer, but no phone, tablet, or other distractions. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. Let your worries melt away, maybe even use a mantra— try a phrase to raise your self-esteem and confidence like, “I am who they want to hire.”

Get Organized                                                                                                                                    Get your materials together.

Getting organized will help your mind slow down. Have a crisp folder with at least three resumes and three copies of references inside. You may also want to bring a professional portfolio with relevant samples of work or writing examples. Just by walking in with a folder or binder,  you’ll walk taller and  feel a whole lot more confident.

These tips will help get you started to a successful interview. For additional interview information take Next Step Academy’s Interviewing Skills course which you can find right here!


Let’s Get Started

December 22nd, 2015 by

young-game-match-kidsHi, I’m Jackie. And I have recently taken on the role of content and marketing specialist at Next Step Academy. In my own history, I’ve experienced a great deal of starting, stopping, re-starting and life changing-trajectories, especially when it came to my education, careers and lifestyles.

I’d like to share some personal insights with you about my journey, in hopes that it will help you with yours. And if you’re up for it, we’d love to hear from you, too.

The first step with any new endeavor is getting informed. Gather as much  information as you can. What do you already know? What do you need to know? Who are reliable sources? Even if you can’t find the exact information you need, by doing a bit of research, you’ll find that any questions you have will make you sound more knowledgeable. Asking smart questions is better than having no questions at all.

Secondly, get organized. If organization isn’t your strong suit, at least have a basic list of tasks to accomplish. The more organized you are, the more efficient you’ll be at meeting your goals. For those of you who are more organizationally inclined, I don’t need to tell you this can take some time. A word of advice here—be careful not to be so intricately detailed that there’s no room for change. There is an art to finding the balance between organization and flexibility.

Lastly, confidence is key. Being informed and having a plan will help with finding your confidence, but it doesn’t mean that it will just appear. Everyone’s confidence varies, and that’s ok. That’s what makes us all unique. You’ll find that people who are confident in their work, interests, or other areas of life, are generally happy to share their expertise and talk about their passion.

So, as you continue on your own journey, keep these three words in mind:

Information. Organization. Confidence.

They’ll serve you well.

If you have other suggestions for getting started and would like to share your story with us, we would love to hear from you! Send an email to or contact me directly at

Here’s to getting started!


How To: Increase Your Productivity (Right Now)

October 20th, 2015 by

Still trying to get that report done, six hours later? If your productivity levels are quickly and steadily plummeting to the floor, it may be time for a change or two. Sure, getting 8 hours of sleep every night will probably help, and changing your diet may benefit you eventually…but you need to get the led out ASAP. Here’s how you can increase your productivity right now…


Put your phone away.

Turn on silent mode, and put your phone in your purse, desk drawer, or under your chair—wherever it will be out of sight. Also, close the tabs on your browser that have Twitter and Facebook open on them. (If your job requires you to be on social media, then turn off the notifications for your personal accounts.) The internet is the ultimate distraction. Combine that with your nagging desire to beat level 181 on Candy Crush, and messages from your mom about family dinner on Sunday, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a seriously unproductive and distracted day. So do yourself a favor, and disconnect from your smart phone. The world won’t end while you’re away from Twitter, your mom won’t be mad, and you’ll be exponentially more productive.

Stop trying to multitask.

Seriously, stop it. We all love to think we are fantastic multitaskers, and we like to think that we are better at it than everyone else. Sorry, but you are not a special and unique butterfly (in this situation, anyways). The fact of the matter is that it takes us (yes, everyone) more time to complete each task if we’re trying to complete more than one at the same time, and the quality of our work suffers. It takes us time to refocus as we switch from task to task—about 1/10 of a second each time, and that adds up quickly. No wonder productivity is an issue! Instead of trying to get everything done at the same time, focus on one task at a time. You’ll get things done much faster, and you’ll produce a better end product. This will also benefit you long term.

Make a list.                                                                               

Physically write out (or type) a list of the tasks you need to get done for the day or week. Start with the fastest, simplest tasks. Or, you can start with the task you’re really dreading and get it over with (that way it’s not looming over your head and distracting you from your other responsibilities). Having a tangible list will keep you focused on the task at hand, and keep you on track for a productive day. As you go along and complete each goal, cross it off your list. The feeling of accomplishment after you cross off each task will keep you motivated, and thus, productive!

Reward yourself for each completed task.

Awesome, you finished that report! Reward yourself with a short break—about 2 minutes. Go walk around, eat a bag of Skittles, or listen to a song that makes you happy. But resist the temptation to get on social media. A “two minute” break on Twitter will turn into 20 minutes. We all know it’s true. Giving yourself a breather in between each task will keep you energized, prevent boredom from setting in, and motivate you to complete tasks, all of which leads to increased productivity!


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