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Not quite sure what is going on today but I am easily distracted. This might not help but it’s funky.

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Quote of the day

At the moment I’m in the middle of writing my dissertation (with a week to go before my first draft is due and a month before the final  deadline), as well as working on two other assignments and preparing for a job interview. Needless to say, I have been stressing out about everything and I even made myself a day to day schedule of the ‘targets’ I need to hit from now until my last deadline. Pretty crazy!

Having manned up and moved on from the “why have you left everything until the last moment” lamentation, I resolutely set out to work all day every day without interruptions and be as productive as possible! Needless to say, it didn’t work. Despite having the whole house to myself, provisions of healthy and unhealthy snacks, and determination on my side, the old enemy, PROCRASTINATION, reared it’s ugly head. If you’re a student yourself, you will be very familiar with the irresistible itch of having to check your email, facebook, or any other number of social networking websites every few minutes. Coupled with my irrational urge to google anything that goes through my mind while I’m trying to do work, clean my room or do any other household chores, by the end of the second day, I had not gotten very far with my schedule and was once again in panic mode.

Luckily, feeling like procrastination was winning over concentration, I accepted an invitation from a friend to go over for some drinks. We spent the evening talking and of course our common enemy, work, worked its way into the conversation. Complaining that I couldn’t seem to concentrate on my work for any significant period of time, my friend proposed to me the most simple, obvious and frankly genius solution: a work method where you concentrate for two hours and then take a one hour break.

Thinking about it, I realised that of course trying to work throughout the whole day without any real breaks didn’t have any chance of success because the human concentration powers are not that great. However, by imposing myself a finite and relatively short two-hour work period, with the promise of a real break at the other end, I was able to truly concentrate and get a lot of work done. Today I managed to do four two hour blocks and then another hour before taking the evening off! That’s nine hours of actual work, something that I think has never happened before in my life. And the best part is that I didn’t feel stressed during the day, because I was taking regular breaks.

Today was the second day of my experiment with the ‘two hours on – one hour off’ work method and so far I’m loving it. I would recommend it to everyone, not just students. The best part is that it’s not some kind of fantastic innovation, just a smarter way to work. I think frankly people have unfair expectations of themselves and their ability to do work. I think it’s ludicrous to expect to be able to work straight from sunrise to sunset, even when you’re feeling the crushing pressure of deadlines. So if you’re in a situation similar to mine, do yourself a favour and try this method for at least one day. You might find that concentration can sometimes conquer procrastination!

I don't usually like these pictures but in this case it illustrates my point very well!

Last week I went on a short city-break to Stockholm, Sweden. I’d never been to a Scandinavian country before and despite the freezing temperatures, I enjoyed my time there very much. I don’t want to write a long-winded travel article type of thing, just highlight a few things I was particularly impressed with and what I think is worth doing, as well as some travelling tips:

1. Local knowledge – this applies to any holiday, especially if you’re trying to get as much out of your limited time as possible – it’s good to research the place you’re going to and seek out the main attractions and things to do, but nothing beats local knowledge! The main reason I had such a good time was because by asking locals about the best museums and areas to visit and the best places to eat, we were able to see a lot more of the city than we expected, have some great meals out (for decent prices) and get a real flavour of the place.

2. Stockholm transport – the Metro system in Stockholm is very easy to use. It has only three lines, trains come often and, shock and awe, it runs throughout the night! After having experienced the capricious London Underground, this was a breath of fresh air. Don’t waste your money on pay as you go if you’re planning on using the metro at least a couple of times a day. You can get one day, three day or weekly travel cards which make it quite affordable.

3. The archipelago – Stockholm is very different to other cities I’ve visited before in that it’s build on a series of islands. For example, the old city Gamla Stan is on a self contained island. There is a whole island dedicated to museums, an amusement park and a natural reserve. And so on. What is interesting is that when you go from island to island, the differences in architecture are quite pronounced and often you feel like you’re visiting a series of small cities. I found this very interesting and it definitely kept things fresh.

4. Museums – as is most often the case on a city break, museums are at the top of the list of things to do! Stockholm is not lacking in them: according to one of the brochures I brought home, there are over 84 museums in the city. Pretty impressive but with such a large number, it’s hard to narrow it down. I would definitely recommend the Skansen museum, which is part zoo, part heritage museum. It’s set in an extensive natural reserve and the zoo, which consists of spacious enclosures, gives you the opportunity to see some of the most iconic Nordic animals, such as wolves or reindeer. The heritage part consists of various buildings from different periods, including farm houses, workshops and mills which provide a capsule history of life in Sweden throughout the ages. Visiting Skansen can take up as much as half a day. In terms of choosing other museums, I think the best idea is to ask locals what they enjoy the most. We also visited the Fotografiska museum which is a modern photography museum at the recommendation of our local hosts. This was one of the best museums I have ever been to. The exhibitions were fascinating and they were cleverly combined with multimedia elements such as films. The view from the museum cafe over Stockholm is also unbeatable!

5. Budget – for anyone thinking of going to Sweden and Scandinavia in general, the prices will shock you even if you’re coming from somewhere like London. I would say on average things were at least twice as expensive as in London. The most pronounced differences were in meals out and drinks. Also, museums charge quite high entrance fees in Stockholm (around 100 KR or about £10). However, with a little bit of local knowledge you will be able to get the most out of your money. On a recommendation, we went to a wonderful Lebanese restaurant which was delicious, had great atmosphere and was decently priced. The main lesson is that you shouldn’t panic, try to assess which places are clearly geared at the gullible tourist and avoid them.

I think that’s about it for now. In conclusion I had a really enjoyable trip, got to experience a new culture and see beautiful architecture, and last but not least had some great meals. If you have any specific questions please feel free to comment and I will answer based on what I experienced. I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Stockholm!

Gamla Stan (The Old City) with it's narrow, pebbled streets

Fotografiska museum

Panoramic view of Stockholm

Today I was reading an article about clothes swaps as a way of being more environmentally friendly. According to a source, UK shoppers purchase 2 million tonnes of clothes and throw 1 million tonnes away every year! In an attempt to turn this into a more sustainable system, clothes swaps are gaining popularity. I’ve heard of clothes swaps before and even of ones happening close to where I live. However, the article went on to mention the term collaborative consumption, something I hadn’t heard of before.

So I decided to research this a bit and ended up on this web page: http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com, a website dedicated to explaining the movement and offering a really good range of examples of collaborative consumption practices. Collaborative consumption basically describes a movement which has been gaining popularity in the past few years, involving people engaged in the sharing, trading, bartering, swapping, renting and gifting of goods and services. These practices have been around for a long time, but collaborative consumption involves engaging a vast number of people – a critical mass – in them, through the use of technology, in particular new media and social networks.

For people who are reading this and thinking they’d like to get involved, chances are you already have! If you’ve ever bought something from someone on Ebay for example, you’ve participated in collaborative consumption!

Car sharing services are one of the areas where collaborative consumption has had its biggest successes. When living in big, congested cities like London or New York, having your own car isn’t very practical because public transportation is good and driving is a nightmare. That doesn’t mean that at times you won’t need a car to move something or do a big shop. Instead of having to invest in a car that you use once in a blue moon, car sharing services allow you to use and pay for a car for only as long as you need it. These kinds of practices are trying to fundamentally change the way people consume. Just because it’s ‘normal’ for people to own a car, as part of a consumer economy, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t alternatives. Indeed, when I lived in the US I was shocked that people considered it normal to change their car for a new model every couple of years, or even yearly, while hundreds of cars sit unwanted in second hand lots.

The car sharing example is a good one but tourism has also embraced collaborative consumption. Websites like Couch Surfing and Airbnb offer people the opportunity to put their spare rooms up for potential visitors (the first for free and the second for a charge) but are also social networks, where people can share their travelling experiences. In the long run, these offer a more authentic and life-changing travelling experience, an alternative to the package holidays which are often unimpressive and make you feel like you haven’t even left home.

From my reading, the areas where collaborative consumption is becoming a viable and established alternative to the mainstream are numerous. From solar power to textbook swaps to neighbourhood support services, the possibilities are endless. You can check out some of the examples and even discover something that you didn’t even know you were looking for by taking a look at this page!

As a final year university student, it’s hard not to get nostalgic at times. I’m going through a bit of that at the moment. It all started last Thursday half an hour before the closing of the vote for the Students’ Union councillors. I had not yet voted and was not planning on it…mostly because I had no particular attachment to any of the candidates and I hadn’t had time to read all their policies. As a student of politics I would never want to cast an uninformed vote…intentionally. So at 4:30pm I was walking to work and passed one of the candidates desperately trying to get some last minute votes in front of the Students Union. She asked me if I had voted yet and, not wanting further harassment, I said yes. As soon as I walked away I was struck by guilt…not only had I lied to this girls, but I was also forgoing voting in my LAST EVER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ UNION ELECTION. I panicked! SO I rushed to work and with only minutes to spare I cast a less than perfectly informed vote.

This story sounds a little over-dramatic and it is. But in your final year, it’s hard to keep the end in perspective sometimes. Bogged down by the mountains of work, you just wish the days away and every once in a while you have an intense moment of panic like the one I had last week. Every last brings melancholia but as soon as it has passed you return to the daily grind and forget all about the final year woes.

Today we have just started week 5 of teaching. There are 12 weeks of teaching in total (this excludes Easter break) and then it will be over. As I don’t intend to do a masters straight after, that means care-free university life is coming to an end for me. Even if I do decide to enrol on a masters later, I will probably not be in for the same kind of experience.

Because being at university is definitely and experience. Personally I am much better suited for the working environment and perform a lot better. At times I feel like I don’t know what university wants from me and how I can deliver, I feel like assignments don’t have a material purpose and am thus unable to fully dedicate myself to them. But for all the moaning, I have loved being at university and I am sure I will miss it once I am gone.

There are officially only 7 weeks of teaching left…and I have a part time job, lectures, assignments, a dissertation to write and extracurricular activities. I will be constantly busy. Which is why I felt the need to write this post to remind myself, and others in my situation, that enjoying my last few weeks of university to the fullest should also have a place on my to do list.

The wonderful University of Sheffield Students' Union

Facebook…two short words awkwardly stuck together that have come to be part of millions of people’s daily routine. And now Facebook has been valued at close to $100 billion! If you quickly think about what the substance of Facebook consists of, you can hardly help getting spooked. As the media has been alerting us over the past few days, investors will be paying top dollar for OUR private information. A title from The Economist read – Floating Facebook: The Value of Friendship.

And they’re not wrong. In the past few years I’ve seen a kind of transformation on Facebook. It started with likes…you could like pages of products or personalities you used or admired. Then we saw more and more businesses having a Facebook presence, and now it’s almost a sin to not be on if you want to get your ‘word’ out there. Being a final year university student, I was surprised to find that most graduate employment schemes have a Facebook presence! My amazement was quickly replaced by the ‘of course they do’ epiphany. So why is this all happening?

It seems that in this day and age, Facebook is the quickest and most effective way of reaching your target audience. Every once in a while I read something outrageous about how much private information Facebook has about me and how they use it. And I get angry. But then it passes and the next time I log on it’s all forgotten. The alarm bells are there…we know we’re being fed targeted advertising, we know that every interaction on the website reveals a little more about ourselves…yet we stay.

As attractive as conspiracy theories are, I am not convinced that the colossal networking site was devised by the CIA to covertly and cheaply collect people’s private information. Although if they had been trying to create something like that, would they have been able to think of something quite as simple and as incredibly effective as Facebook? Probably not!

The attraction of Facebook is also obvious. Having moved around a lot and having left behind many friends, the website has been an invaluable way of keeping in touch. Email works too. But with Facebook you not only get to find out what your friends are up to but you also get to SEE what they’re doing, what news articles they’re reading and sharing, and who their friends are. And it’s not entirely a bad thing.

I think that as with food and dieting, moderation is the key to Facebook happiness. Be careful with the kind of information you put on there, and be as private as possible.

Another interesting Economist article on the Facebook IPO: http://www.economist.com/node/21546012

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