TIME Books

29 Books That Will Enrich Your Inner Literati

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Answer by Cristina Hartmann on Quora.

For anyone who wants to attain the vaunted title of “being well-read,” it’s more about breadth than depth. (As for feeling well-read, read the postscript.)

To “feel” well-read in literature, it’s all about the categories, not the books themselves. Read a few books in a few different genres, time periods, points of views. I’ve thrown in a few controversial books, just so you know what all of the fuss is about.

Here’s how you can feel like a regular literati!:

Western Classics (Ancient & Modern): to give you a good foundation for the who’s who of Western literature.

  • The Odyssey (Homer): epic of a dude who just can’t get home without a little help from the gods. (Extra credit if you read the Iliad, too!)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens): the quintessential story of the French Revolution, love, and longing.
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen): the story that started the “hate at first sight turning into love” trope.
  • Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): Very long. Very melodramatic. Very Russian. Very classic!

Dystopia: the stuff of our worst fears and nightmares.

  • Nineteen-Eighty-Four (George Orwell): the book that introduced “doublethink” into our lexicon.
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): another classic dystopia. Gammas, Deltas, oh my!
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood): a feminist spin on the genre.

Science Fiction & Fantasy: we can’t overlook the geeky cousin of the classics, can we?

  • The Lord of the Rings series (J.R.R. Tolkien): this guy made the epic (also called high) fantasy genre. Be warned, it’s a bit of a dry read.
  • The Foundation series (Issac Asimov): some of the pioneering stories in science fiction, natch!
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson): here’s something a bit more modern. Plus, you just can’t beat “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” as a snappy first line.

Great American Novels: these zeitgeist works practically defined a time period of U.S. history.

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald): you can’t think of the Jazz Age without thinking of “old sport.”
  • Bonfire of Vanities (Tom Wolfe): the terrible movie nonwithstanding, this book captured the self-indulgence of the 80s NYC crowd.
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck): I dare you to get into a conversation about the Great Depression without thinking of this book. I dare you.

Literary Heavy Hitters: books that make people go “Whoa, dude!” when you say that you’ve read them.

  • Ulysses (James Joyce): stream-of-consciousness writing plus an unhealthy sexual obsession with an orphan with a limp equal literary greatness. True story.
  • Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace): fractals, man! Fractals!
  • Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon): lots of stuff happens that a lot of people pretend to understand.

Popular Fiction: those guilty indulgences that everyone has read (but won’t necessarily admit to it). Warning: this is U.S.-centric, feel free to indulge in your country’s guilty pleasures.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin): hey, there’s a popular HBO miniseries about it!
  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins): better than Twilight.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James): be torn between hilarity and despair in this BDSM spin-off of a Twilight fan fiction. Who knows, maybe this’ll spice up the bedroom.

Immigrant Experience (U.S./U.K.): ah, the magical experience of being thrust into a new culture.

  • Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri): say hello to our recent Indian arrivals! (For our tea-drinking cousins across the pond, try Monica Ali’sBrick Lane.)
  • Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan): the book that inspired a movie and furor in the Asian American community about stereotypes and Tan’s possible self-loathing. (For a less controversial read, try Ha Jin’s Waiting–and yes, there’s a lot of longing and waiting there.)
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez): how four sisters start to forget their Spanish and their native homeland of the Dominican Republic.

Non-Western Classics (Ancient): if Westerners get theirs, so should the rest of the world.

  • Ramayana (India): this is THE Hindu epic. Full stop.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China): a bit of Chinese history, highly romanticized and dramatized. Kind of like “A World Turns.”

Non-Western Classics (Modern): the stuff that you should read to feel worldly and well-read. (More applicable if you’re from the U.S. or Western Europe.)

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): this novel single-handedly legitimatized Latin American literature in modern times. Too bad you don’t know who he’s talking about half of the time.
  • To Live (Yu Hua): getting banned in China just adds to its street cred.
  • All Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe): the sad tale of colonialism in Africa. Definitely merits a frowny-face.

Satire: throw in a little giggle into your reading list.

  • Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut): some say Slaughterhouse-Five is his best, I say this one. Also: Bokononism!
  • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller): come and see what the catch-22 is. I promise you, it’s gorgeously ironic.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): you kill two birds with two stones here: sci-fi and satire. Whee!

This is where I reach the end of my endurance. I haven’t even gotten into the non-fiction stuff, but alas … I must eat.

With this list, you’ll feel like you can dominate the Trivial Pursuit literature section! Life is good.

Postscript: since this question is more about sentiment than reality … I hate to break it to you, but if you’re truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They’re always on the lookout for their next book—that category that they’re missing—to add to their impressive list. It’s a Sisyphean goal, really.

If you feel well-read, you’re probably not.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What books should one read to feel well-read?

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Read next: 15 Life-Changing Books You Can Read in a Day

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TIME Culture

What It’s Like to Get Nominated for an Oscar

Producers Helen Estabrook (L) and Couper Samuelson (R) attend the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif. on Feb. 22, 2015.
Frazer Harrison—Getty Images From left: Producers Helen Estabrook and Couper Samuelson attend the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif. on Feb. 22, 2015.

No matter how unlikely the odds of winning, you still hope for your name in the envelope

Answer by Couper Samuelson, Executive Producer of Whiplash, on Quora.

I was an executive producer of Whiplash so technically I wasn’t nominated for an Oscar (only the producers are nominated).

But basically the experience is very strange. First of all, you spend years trying to make the movie. That involves lots of little decisions and lots of little milestones. For instance, in our case: we failed to raise money for the film so we took 17 pages out of the screenplay and shot it as a short. We hoped it would be good. It was. Then we submitted it to Sundance. We hoped it would get in. It did. We hoped it would win an award so that it would be easier to market Damien Chazelle as a director to potential financiers. It did. Then we went back to all the institutional financiers. Only two offers came in.

Then you kill yourself to make the movie and make it well. Then you hope it gets into Sundance. Then you hope that it gets a good slot at Sundance (no film has ever broken out of Sundance while playing late in the week). Then you hope it gets a distributor (in our case we only had two offers for distribution).

The point is– you spend a lot of time making decisions and hoping the decisions are the right ones. Then the movie’s done and there’s nothing else you can do and it just bounces into the world and you don’t know what strange things will happen to it and what ‘narratives’ will attach to it. Unlike big Hollywood tentpoles, specialty films need to be more than just a good movie, they need to have a ‘narrative’ that can propel them through an awards season. Basically a story that will make the very few arbiters of what’s good (Academy voters and urban critics) feel good about voting for the film.

In our case, the narrative that emerged from Sundance was that JK Simmons was a beloved actor who had done a great job in small roles in great films but who never had gotten his own ‘aria’ until now.

So we the filmmakers all sat back and sort of watched that narrative calcify into the conventional wisdom.

The other strange thing that happens in awards season is– well, here you’ve spent years fighting to get a movie made and to make it well. Which is so much work. And then the movie’s done and there’s nothing to do–but you realize that in order to get credit for your work you have to fight for it. Can I get into the WGA awards? Can I get a ticket to Cannes? Can I go to to the head of the studio’s Academy cocktail party? Can I be the one who does the Q&A at the producer’s guild. There are squadrons of publicists will all kinds of competing incentives working on “positioning” one of the film’s participants.

Among producers that is especially true because the definition of producing is so porous and ephemeral. But it’s also true of directors who direct an actor to an acclaimed performance and yet don’t themselves get a directing nomination (“did that actor direct themselves to that performance?!”).

This process of trying to grab credit really kicks into gear in the fall—a full year after we had made the film. That’s when the 6,000 members of the Academy started to watch the movie and this peripheral buzz started to build. We hoped it would crescendo at the right time and enough Oscar voters would express their advocacy of the movie to each other that they would feel “comfortable” voting for the movie. All the critics awards the precede Oscar voting give the voters a kind of permission to vote for a film. Remember that the industry views the Oscars as an annual opportunity to market itself to the world. So for instance a great film like Edge of Tomorrow has already been marketed to the world—the Academy doesn’t feel a need to, even though it’s probably more difficult to make a masterpiece tentpole than it is to make a masterpiece art film.

Whiplash had a small but vocal advocacy among Oscar voters which we hoped would put it at an advantage (the Academy uses a preferential voting system that rewards movies that a fewer people love passionately as opposed to movies that many people mark as a 3rd or 4th choice).

We all felt we had a shot at Best Picture if the Academy nominated 9 or 10 films (there can be up to 10 movies nominated).

It is easy to forget after a year of being congratulated for Whiplash that there is no precedent at all for an Oscar outcome like this. No movie at this budget has ever won 3 Oscars. No movie at this budget level has ever won an Oscar for sound OR for editing, let alone both.

So Oscar night was especially surreal. In the first 90 minutes of the ceremony the movie won three Oscars.

And there’s one thing that anyone who’s ever been nominated for an Oscar will tell you: no matter how unlikely the odds of winning (in Whiplash case, they were pretty close to zero for winning Best Picture), you still think somewhere deep down that maybe your name is going to be called when Sean Penn opens that envelope.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What is it like to get nominated for an Oscar?

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TIME Education

How to Memorize a New Alphabet

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Learn the order of how languages are written and read

Answer by André Müller on Quora.

I memorized over 23 writing systems so far, starting from those very similar to Latin, like Cyrillic or Greek, over quite distinct ones like Arabic or Devanagari or Tibetan, up to quite foreign scripts like Burmese, Thai or (some) Chinese and Egyptian. I even learned Tengwar (you know, the Elvish script)! And I find it very easy to learn new ones…

I don’t have a special trick for it, but these procedures might be helpful to you:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the system of writing. Not just with the letter shapes but with the way the alphabet is used. There are different ways. Some are based on syllables, some are based on consonants and vowels, some only write consonants and long vowels, others write vowels on top of the consonants, some connect their letters, some stack them in blocks, others do it differently again. With some, you need to memorize a lot of extra rules, while others can be straightforward. Learn the order of how they are written and read.
  2. Learn the sounds these characters represent. This is trivial. You need to know this of course. To memorize the characters, I recommend to know how the corresponding phonemes sound, e.g. associate ค not with an abstract “kh”, but with a concrete sound, like the first sound in the word “cat”. Or better, both! Getting familiar with the pronunciation helps.
  3. Use the alphabet to write familiar words. Names of people, places, languages, or even whole words in your native language. Feel free to use the alphabet as a code for English. That way you get writing practice. It can also help to look up the spelling of those proper nouns on Wikipedia, if the article exists in that language.
  4. Use mnemonics to memorize letter shapes. If you find it hard to memorize the letters’ shapes, use mnemonic methods, like associating letters with familiar objects that you can also associate with sounds. E.g., “რ is r, because it looks like a radio”; “架 means shelf, because it’s made of wood (木), is square-shaped (口) and needs to be strong (力), and it’s pronounced similar to 加”; “ง is ng, because it looks a bit like the IPA character ŋ”, and so on… the crazier, the better. I believe Memrise has a lot of sets to memorize different letters and scripts, try it out! You can also use Anki to practice characters, or later, vocabulary in your target language.
  5. Transliterate a text from that language. Look for a text written in that alphabet and keep a letter-pronunciation table next to you. Now try to write the text in Latin letters. Many foreign scripts have an official or common transliteration system, I recommend to use that one. You will also come across words you can recognize… probably.
  6. Also read about special rules of this script. You can find a lot of additional information about this particular script and the language on the respective Wikipedia page, or on the Omniglot page.

Every person is a different type of learner. Some can learn new scripts very quickly (I usually need less than a day), some others need graphical help, or just practice, or need funny mnemonics. Try them out, and you will find your way. Good luck!

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some tips for memorizing a new alphabet?

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TIME Etiquette

8 Ways to Get People to Listen to You

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Explain why it is important to you and worthwhile for them

Answer by Howie Reith on Quora.

While definitions may vary, when I think of nagging, I tend to think of giving passive-aggressive orders for someone else to do something, repeatedly. That being the case, I might suggest the following.

1. If it is important to you that this get done, is it something you can just do yourself? Why are you not doing it yourself? I’m not saying there isn’t a good reason, but I think it’s important to have a reason why you are demanding someone else do something that they apparently consider less important than you do.

2. Are you asking for it directly? “Hey, I’m busy washing the dishes, can you take the trash out?” This is better than “you never take the trash out” or “have you cleaned your room yet?” You probably aren’t, and I know why you aren’t — because directly asking for something risks a “no” or a confrontation, and it also puts them on an equal level to you, while nagging implies moral and social superiority. Lose the pride; it’s killing your relationship.

3. Openly share your feelings and acknowledge that they are just your feelings, which are based on your perception of things, which could be flawed. It is important that you acknowledge their desires, because they are every bit as important as yours. “Hey, I’ve been feeling uncomfortable with how we’re managing the chores and I’d like to hear how things are from your perspective, and see if we can’t work out a new plan.”

4. Is the thing you’re nagging about actually the thing that’s bothering you, or are you nagging about this thing because there is a bigger problem that you don’t feel comfortable talking about? I.e., you are nagging him about the dirty fork in the drawer because you aren’t feeling as emotionally connected to him as you used to, but you don’t know how to talk about it. If there is a bigger issue, bring up the bigger issue.

5. Nagging is implicitly a lack of trust. The act of nagging assumes that the person needs to be scolded and monitored or they will not do what needs to be done. Instead, show them some respect. Work out a plan and give them a good reputation to live up to, and compliment them when you appreciate stuff they’ve done. Sincerely. People pick up on cues and feel a natural pressure to behave as people expect them to behave. By nagging them, you are indicating you expect them not to do the work. You are also attacking their self-esteem and tearing them down. You’re being rude and callous to their feelings, so why should they be sensitive to what you want? Respect them and assume they are going to do what is necessary, and if they don’t think it is necessary, then hear them out.

6. Stop keeping score. Sometimes couples keep track of mistakes or annoying things their significant other commits. This is used as ammunition in the next fight to win moral superiority and capture “territory.” If this describes your relationship, stop. Stop keeping score. Stop preparing for the next fight. Forget about bad things and emphasize good memories. You only need to talk about big issues.

7. Explain why you are asking for something. Stop giving orders. They’re an intelligent human being. You can persuade them to understand why doing something is in their best interest, as opposed to insisting they do it just because you’re saying to, and you will nag more if they don’t. Otherwise it’s a relationship built on threats, and it’s only natural for them to resist your authority.

8. If they are unwilling to talk about problems, alter their habits, or show any sensitivity to your needs, then you should leave. Clearly the two of you have very different values and it is a path of frustration. Leaving the relationship is an option, though I would only suggest taking it if they are truly unwilling to work with you on all of this. Yes, nagging is a bad way to be dealing with problems, and it’s immature to be doing it, but the other person isn’t wholly innocent. They haven’t taken any measures to resolve the nagging situation either, and I don’t just mean by acquiescing. You’re both going to have to work out a solution.

In short, respect them more, give them a reputation to live up to, trust them, and explain to them why it is important to you and worthwhile for them.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do I quit nagging?

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TIME Education

How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

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Give your audience a clear call to action

Answer by Mira Zaslove on Quora.

The biggest tip to improve your public speaking? Think less about yourself, and more about your audience.

Specifically, focus on 3 main things:

1. Who are you speaking to?

Research ahead of time as much as you can, as to who your audience is. Tailor your presentation to them. Cut out anything that doesn’t directly pertain to them. Be ruthless.

People have short attention spans. Stick only to what is necessary, and focus again, not on yourself, but rather what will be most useful for the audience.

2. Why are you giving the speech?

Why have people showed up? Why do they care? Give the audience what they came for. People have showed up for a reason. Keep that in mind.

Tell the audience clearly why you are there, and why you are excited to speak to them. Speak to what is relevant to them, and tell them why you believe it is relevant.

3. Wrap it up quickly. What now?

Don’t ramble on. After you’ve told the audience what they need to know, give them a clear call to action. End the presentation with summarizing what you said, why you said it, and what they should do next.

Don’t assume that your audience is automatically going to know what to do with what you told them. And don’t just hope that they will remember to do it later. If you are selling something, end with specifically asking them to buy. If you want them to sign up for something, have the sign up sheet ready. Be prepared to get what you want. Make the call to action easy, immediate, and seamless.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some tips and hacks for public speaking?

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TIME career

10 Ways an Interviewer Prepares to Meet a Potential Employee

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A successful interview requires completed homework from both sides

Answer by Auren Hoffman, CEO of LiveRamp, on Quora.

Preparation by the interviewer is the key to successful interview. While you are evaluating the candidate, they are evaluating you. Just like you’d ding the candidate for not doing homework on your company, the candidate will ding you if you do not do your interview homework.

Here are ten tips for how to best interview a potential employee:

  1. Review the resume and thoroughly prepare your questions before the interview. You should never walk into an interview without first spending 5-15 minutes thinking about the person and the questions you ask.
  2. Set an agenda for the interview. “We only have 30 minutes for our meeting and here is what I’d like to cover.” Give the person a clear understanding of what you want to get out of the interview. Leave ample time for questions because most mid-career candidates (and 100% of good executives) will come prepared with questions for you.
  3. Do a problem solving exercise with them. Give them a scenario from your work and ask for their input and advice. For instance, you can ask a potential sales executive: “I’m putting together the sales comp for our different salespeople, how have you designed sales comps in the past? Given what you know about our company, help me design a better sales comp.”
  4. General bio questions are not great. No need to just ask a question that can be answered from their resume. You can instead ask a probing question about the business metrics in their last company. One question I like to ask about: what a past company they were at could have done differently to be more successful. You might also want to ask the candidates about why they left a particular job.
  5. Dive into their technical knowledge and learn something. Dive really deep into an expertise area of the candidate. Get them talking about something they are passionate about. Get them to teach you about a new area — have them explain something really complex to you so you learn the basics. I once interviewed a sales guy who was also a chess master — he clearly taught me the core strategy of chess [we hired him]. Even in the scenario where you determine the candidate is not right for the job, at least you learned something.
  6. Know the flow of who at your company interviewed the candidate before you and who is coming after you. This will give you a sense of how the candidate understands the company and what questions have already been asked.
  7. Make sure they have a good experience. A surprising number of referrals for other candidates and for customers will come from the candidates you interview. Make sure they have a really good experience.
  8. Let them do the talking. While you want to clearly answer their questions, make sure the interviewee is doing at least two-thirds of the talking guided by your questions.
  9. If the candidate is not right, end the interview early. You’re not helping the candidates by wasting their time. If the person is clearly not the right fit, end the interview early so they can use the saved time to pursue other awesome companies.
  10. Afterwards, input your feedback into your shared hiring system. So that you can gather all the feedback on the interviewee in one place for quick reference and decision-making.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are important keys to remember when preparing as an interviewer?

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TIME career

10 Behaviors to Avoid if You Want To Be Successful

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Success is not just about you

Answer by Brandon Lee on Quora.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, there are always exceptions, caveats, and nuances to lists like these, but here are a few things:

  1. Don’t take advice from people who do not have the results you are looking for (e.g. Asking Michael Jordan for tennis advice or getting financial advice from your broke friend). Study those who have the results you are looking for.
  2. Don’t instantly believe everything you hear. Trust but validate.
  3. Don’t feel like you need do everything by yourself; you don’t have to be the best or the smartest. It’s far better to have the support of a team, mentors, and friends who will watch your back.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of rest, play, and fun in the midst of all the hours you spend working — there is a place for both.
  5. Don’t neglect your physical, emotional, and spiritual health in your pursuit of financial wealth.
  6. Don’t be a bridge burner — don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t circumvent, don’t backstab, don’t take advantage of, don’t deceive, don’t steal credit — unless you want your future bridges to come pre-burned because of your reputation. Build and continually build bridges and others will help build them for you.
  7. Don’t build a reputation of overpromising and underdelivering. Underpromise and overdeliver.
  8. Don’t focus on having the biggest slice of the pie. Focus on growing the pie so everybody wins.
  9. Don’t rush yourself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Think decades, not month by month.
  10. Don’t forget to thank those that have helped you along the way.

Bonus: When you make it, give back and help those that want to follow in your footsteps.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some universal things we should not do to become successful?

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TIME Media

American Sniper Screenwriter on the Challenges of Adapting a Book Into a Movie

AMERICAN SNIPER, 2014. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros

The book wasn’t a full picture of the man, so the challenge was finding out who he was, and what the sacrifices he made entailed

Answer by Jason Hall, Screenwriter of American Sniper, on Quora.

Chris Kyle’s book didn’t fully encompass who he was. It was written at the time when he had just gotten back from war. He was angry, dissolute and fractured, in many ways, by these four tours of duty that he had done. It was the close to a decade of war and training for it that had consumed him. The book was dictated in a couple of weeks after that time.

There were lots of questions that the book asked, but didn’t answer like who this guy was, who he was before, and who he would become. There was a lot of anger in the book. I had met Chris, and I knew the book wasn’t a full picture of the man. So the challenge was finding out who he was, and what the sacrifices he made entailed. There was a lot of stress. You could read it in between the lines of the book, but it wasn’t fully explored in the narrative. That was my challenge — to get the full picture of the man. I did it the best I could with him when he was alive. I got a lot from him, and I also got to witness the change and softening that occurred in him over the couple of years before his murder. We got to become friends and the laughter started to come back. This is what happens with warriors — sometimes they find their way back and sometimes they don’t. But I was witnessing him finding his way back.

After his murder, his wife folded me into the fuller picture of his story. She was able to articulate the things that men sometimes don’t tell other men. She talked about who he was before the war, what a big heart he had, how gentle he was with her, and how he walked her out of the darkness and into the light. That story from her took on a narrative and painted a fuller picture of this man and what his sacrifice had been with this war. She also painted a picture of what it was like for him to come back, how he found his way back in the months before his death, fully returning in her eyes. The story she told was: months before he was murdered, Chris walked into the kitchen and she looked at him and realized that for the first time since he had been home, her husband was finally home.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the challenges when adapting a book into a movie/tv show?

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TIME advice

How to Avoid Procrastination

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Motivation is not a one size fits all issue, so it's important to figure out your own personal improvement regimen

Answer by Asa James Bunnett on Quora.

I’m not a former procrastinator. I’m not a recovering procrastinator. I’m deep in the unsatisfying slump of routine laziness and ineffective boredom. I’ve talked to doctors – it’s incurable. I’m not, and will probably never be, the poster child for making the most of what time I have.

On the other hand, this means when I notice something works for me, I really notice. I don’t like answers that sound like they’re selling me a self-help book, so here’s just what helps my disease out.

1) Go to bed early, get up early. And have a routine for the morning.

Giving myself time in the morning to get some tasks of personal importance to me really helps with motivation. The overwhelming stress of the afternoon, where time crunches seem to happen much more frequently, is nowhere to be found in the morning. Make plans the night before. If you have two hours, devote one to working out and one to making a healthy breakfast. So many goals can be completed before you need to go to work.

2) Give yourself at least a half-hour of boredom per day.

This sounds weird, I know. But the brain is given such easy stimulus so frequently, through social media, through entertainment, and through simplistic tasks at work or school or wherever, that it frequently gets sluggish. The same way your energy levels tend to drop if you subsist on a diet of Snickers and Mountain Dew, your brain slows down without something substantial and meaty. Without focus, it’s impossible to channel your energy and intelligence into something productive.

I used to try to overcome this by attempting to work on hard problems, like accounting homework or reading dense books. This had the exact opposite effect, though, as I would lose focus and get frustrated, my mind wandering even more than before. Almost inevitably, my free time would be consumed by Netflix binging or video games, as I simply couldn’t focus on anything more demanding.

Giving yourself a period of time where you can simply not be stimulated is nothing less than amazing, at least for me. This is best to do in the morning, when the world is quieter, stress is lower, and the things that demand your attention vanish. I sit on my dorm room couch. I don’t lie down – sleeping isn’t the point here. I usually grab a notebook, because as soon as you take away all the stimulus from your brain, it ironically becomes much more active.

If I knew anything at all about meditation, I might say the same principles apply here. Regardless, I almost always get my best ideas just sitting and letting my mind wander, and even if I don’t, I always go back to my life with much more energy and enthusiasm.

3) Like tasks go together.

There’s a concept psychologists call “flow.” It’s essentially becoming absorbed and invested in a task to the point where you are no longer conscious of the world outside you. Think of it like the feeling you get when you read a book, look up, and see that two hours have passed. If you have a job that requires a lot of continual focus and is at least somewhat mentally stimulating, you’ll probably recognize this state. This is the point at which you are almost inevitably your most productive.

It’s difficult to find flow, and very easy to break. We all have small tasks that can’t be ignored, and if one of these has to be done in the middle of another larger one, our flow is broken. If I stop writing a term paper to send an email, it’s going to be hard to get back to that fascinating treatise on the value of FASB codification.

As best you can, group all the small tasks together in one block of time, and save your larger chunks of available time to perform the larger tasks without interruption.

4) As soon as you think you should get to work, get to work.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted in the Reddit/Wikipedia/YouTube wormhole. And if every time I heard it I had simply listened to the voice in my head that said, “You know, 15 minutes is probably enough,” I would probably have accomplished a lot more by now.

That’s it. If you hear that voice, listen to it.

5) Know what needs to be done.

Prep work is king. Motivation sinks when you have no idea what you should be doing. Make a list, ask someone, draw up a planner, just do something to have a guide for yourself. Some people can effectively fly by the seat of their pants. The fact that I’m writing this and you’re reading it proves that we can’t. Make sure you have instructions, required materials, dates and times, and anything else that will help you avoid confusion later. Remove as many roadblocks as you can.

I can’t guarantee this will change everything for you – I don’t think motivation is a one size fits all issue. But hopefully it helps you figure out your own personal improvement regimen.

This question originally appeared on Quora: I am ambitious, talented and intelligent, but I lack willpower, discipline, and organization. I am an impulsive procrastinator of the highest order. What can I do to improve?

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How to Combat Restlessness

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Restlessness isn't necessarily bad, but it could be an important signal from your body or mind

Answer by Mark Schannon on Quora.

First, what is this thing we call restlessness? There is a range of emotional reactions to stimuli that range from pleasure to panic. Somewhere in that long, complex thread exist some reactions that we call restless; they range from mild anxiety, to not be able to sit still, to needing to do something physical or metaphysical (breathing, yoga, meditation) to alleviate the restlessness. What’s interesting is that we all intuitively understand the word, although it may mean something different from a phenomenological point of view to each of us.

Second, whence comes the restlessness? Is there a psychological or physiological cause—or a combination? Restlessness is most often seen as a psychological phenomena. Before going on stage, many actors experience extreme restlessness (e.g. anxiety, fear, stage fright). As a former actor in high school, college, and community productions, I was a nervous wreck before any performance, walking aimlessly, bouncing up and down, generally feeling an almost uncontrollable restlessness. However, the minute I went on stage, that fear, anxiety, restlessness turned into adrenalin which I used to invigorate my role. The same transition occurred numerous times in job interviews, where restlessness (isn’t it a form of anxiety?), which made it almost impossible for me to sit still, was transformed into a positive adrenalin rush when the waiting was over and the interview began.

However, there have been times when my restlessness wasn’t associated with anything concrete; it was a vague, sometimes overpowering sense of discomfort within my own body. Medication, activity, and time usually sufficed to make it go away. Other things mentioned here—meditation et al.—also can work.

But I believe there is a phenomenon that can be called physiological restlessness—you’ve no doubt seen or had yourself the experience of people just shaking their legs up and down, feet on the floor; or walking aimlessly and restlessly. It is sometimes psychological, but it can be attributed to an over-active nervous system, similar to fibromyalgia but without the pain. Medication such as Lyrica, which are not without side effects, can do an amazing job alleviating the feeling of restlessness. It is not anxiety, although it’s very hard to get most doctors to understand the difference; anti-anxiety medication has no effect on it.

Third, “supposed to do” suggests that restlessness is bad and therefore should be eliminated from the various issues going on in your life, as if there’s one and only one solution for anything perceived as a problem. Before you breathe slowly, do meditation, or take drugs, ask yourself the “why” question: What’s going on in your life that could be causing the feelings? Why are you feeling this way? It may be a signal that something wrong is going on. It could also be a signal that you’re like a race horse at the starting gate, anxious to get going. Restlessness isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s almost always (unless is physiological) an important signal from your body.

Good luck!

This question originally appeared on Quora: What am I supposed to do when I feel restless?

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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