I am a List Maniac! Goals or Black Holes?

10th February 2016 | Tim Benton | Revision, Motivation


I don’t know about you, but I sometime struggle with motivation.

That might seem like a strange confession from a motivational speaker and writer, but it’s true.  Sometimes I don’t seem to be able to get started.

It’s easy to mistake this for laziness – I don’t do anything because I’m lazy.  Well that’s not really true.  If any of you have seen me work, you’ll know I’m pretty energetic, passionate about what I do and give it 100%.

Yet when I’m at home, with the day ahead of me, and much I could accomplish and should accomplish, it’s a different story.  I end up wasting time on stuff that really isn’t important at all.

What I’ve learnt though is this behaviour isn’t laziness, it is often just a symptom of my lack of focus.  I find it hard to get started, because I haven’t drilled down into the specifics of exactly what it is I have to do.

Imagine playing a game of football without any goal posts, or jumpers for goal posts.  You’d aimlessly run around, passing the ball from one to another, but not actually get anywhere. Maybe you’d get distracted playing a round of ‘keepy-uppy’. Maybe you’d just get bored and go off and do something else instead.  Ice cream, anyone?

We need goals.  Goals give us focus. Without goals, you’ll just find hours of your day will vanish into The Black Hole – you’ve no idea where the time went and you’ve done nothing.  The Hole has swallowed your life!

If you see four months ahead of you until your GCSEs or your A Levels, but you don’t know what you want to do next year, or beyond, you’ll struggle to stay motivated.  You’re essentially playing without goal posts.  It’s hard to get up each morning, slope into school, work hard in lessons, take the grief from teachers (and you know they don’t hate you, right?), come home and revise, if you don’t see the point of it all.

The students I meet who work the hardest and focus the most are the ones who know what they want.  It gives them the edge.  Great exam results, I believe, are less about intelligence and more about focus.

How much do you want it?  Is that sharpening your vision? Can you see the point?  Work out what is, for you, the Big Picture.  Then go for it.

But what about maintaining that focus? Well, mini goals are also important.  We need simple victories daily.  Teenagers, particularly struggle with conceptualising the future.  Long term is hard to get your head around.  Short term is easier. So start thinking about what you can achieve in the NOW.

I have an ongoing ‘To Do’ list on my phone.  I add to it daily. I tick things off it.  Sometimes I add things I’ve done already and then tick them off, to make me feel like I’ve accomplished even more!  That’s ok. It motivates me.

Maybe you need to do that too.  At the start of the week, make your To Do list and use it to focus your efforts.

Maybe think about the order of importance too.  Somethings need to be done NOW, others soon.  What about the things you really shouldn’t do?  Maybe they need to be on the list as well.  Why not have a ‘Must Not Do’ list too.  How about rewards?  Have you made a Would Like To Do list? Everyone needs down-time.  If you’re working hard six days a week, you deserve a day off.  You’ll also work better on the other six days if you do.

I’ve found the grid below is a really good method for arranging my priorities and helping me focus.  Try completing a matrix like this now, for this week. It will help.  What are your priorities (Have To Do)?  What is the stuff that isn’t urgent, but you need to be working away at it (Should Do)?  What will make you happy as a reward for working (Want To Do)?  What must you avoid – such as watching Netflix until 3am or playing FIFA until the small hours, sitting next to your mate in science who always distracts you and stops you working (Must Not Do)?

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 13.57.54

As for me, I need to crack on too.  I have a massive to do list and I’ve just got side-tracked writing a Blog.  But it’s all good – I’m going to add it to the Should Do column… and then I’m going to tick it!

Good luck!


Help Me! I’m Stressed!

1st October 2015 | Tim Benton | Motivation, Parents

Stress is a very real part of studying, whether for GCSEs or A Levels.

Students worry they are going to fail.

Students worry about workload and getting everything done.

Students worry that they won’t be able to remember everything.

Stress in itself is not a bad thing.  Some people need a bit of pressure to help them work and some won’t work at all if they don’t feel at least a little stress.  As the stress piles up though, things can get tricky and students will revert to one of the stress responses:

Fight:  Are you finding your son/daughter is getting more aggressive?  Every time you offer encouragement or help you get a volley of abuse.  This is fairly normal.  It’s important not to add to the stress and make sure that they know you are there for them.  Try not to argue back or end up retaliating.

Flight: Work stresses them out so rather than doing it, they avoid it – they’ll do anything other than what they should be doing.  This will drive you mad! Obviously the downside of avoidance is that the work builds up and they become even more stressed.  Sometimes the hardest thing is to just begin.  Encourage them to start, even doing just a bit, as this will improve the sense of being in control.

Helpful hints:

Remind them of the Big Picture – Yes, getting great grades is important and will open more doors, but the road to success is filled with failure and missing the mark doesn’t mean the end of the road.  Don’t heap on the stress by reminding them of what a ‘good result’ will look like.  Don’t nag.

Manage behind the scenes – Hot meals, cups of tea, letting them off chores, keeping the house quiet and younger siblings out the way will all help them in their studies.  Also (particularly important for ever-hungry lads) make sure there is plenty of food there for them to raid!

Organisational help – Sometimes students just feel ‘at sea’ and don’t know where to begin.  Buying ring-binders, and folders, and helping them organise their notes can be a very practical and very useful thing for students who seem to be lost in the mire of their own chaos.

Know their diary – There will be key dates; exams, mocks, essay deadlines, coursework and so on.  If you are aware of when these things are coming up, you’ll find it easier to coach them in doing the  work in the right order.

Time manage with lists – We all know ‘To Do’ lists are helpful.  It might also be useful to get them to do ‘Must Not Do’ lists, as well as ‘Should Do’ and ‘Want To Do’.. All these will help them arrange priorities.

Manage distractions – As teenagers, they aren’t always great at making the right choices – eg. Sleep or Fifa until 3am!  It’s worth having early discussions about tech in bedrooms – consider a family phone amnesty, where you all put your phones in a drawer at bedtime.  Removal of the x-box controller after 10pm or until work is done.  Turning off the wifi router at certain times and at night.  It will always be better to get them to make these rules, rather than imposing them.

Self Control on a Mac or Cold Turkey on a PC will help filter unhelpful distractions for set time periods (see post on Apps).

Encourage targeted practice – The golfer Tiger Woods took a sizeable period of time out from playing in tournaments to improve his swing.  He didn’t practice whole games; just his swing.  He then came back and won 14 major tournaments.  The same principle applies to exams – don’t encourage them to do whole papers, just focus on certain skills at a time, e.g. short answer questions, vocab, essays, writing to time, equations, etc..

Be a quizmaster – One of the most helpful things you can do to alleviate stress is test your son or daughter.  It will make progress quick and really help cement important facts.

Encourage regular breaks – it’s been suggested that our concentration span is our age plus or minus a couple of minutes.  Revising in 20 minute chunks may be really helpful.  These blocks should be punctuated with 5-10 minute breaks.  Students should also be encouraged to have one day a week when they don’t do school work.  A ‘mind-sabbath’ will do them the world of good and reduce stress.

Win the Battle of the Sexes – Generally lads will want more autonomy and girls will seek more active involvement.  Obviously these are broad stroke comments, but there is enough evidence to suggest a distinct difference in the sexes.

How might this look?

Boys will be less stressed if they have the opportunity to continue their extra curricular activities – playing football or rugby or hanging out with mates will let off steam and reduce stress levels.  Give them the freedom to make these choices.

Girls, on the other hand, will more actively appreciate your involvement – testing them, etc.  They will also be more likely to push themselves too hard, so your job may be to make sure that they aren’t overdoing it, and sometimes saying, ‘that’s enough’ or ‘have a day off’.

Overall remember RSVP:

R – Respect.  Respect that they may learn differently to you.  We’re all different, let them work in the ways that suit them best.

S – Support.  Support with all the ways mentioned in this post.  Always be open to listening without judgement.  If they feel you are ‘on side’ no matter what, they are more likely to trust you and come to you for help.

V – Value.  Value what the school is doing and communicate with them if you are concerned.

P – Praise. Praise effort rather than achievement.  If you praise their achievement it makes your approval conditional on their ability rather than work ethic.

Revise the Rugby Route!

14th September 2015 | bc_admin | Revision, Motivation

What can we learn from the Rugby World Cup about revising more effectively?

By David H.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup starts this Friday.

The current favourites are New Zealand.

Have you seen their team run through the haka before a match?
If not see here:

Taking part in the haka helps the players access the right mood for the match they are about to start, and it can put their opponents into a poor mood for the battle ahead too.

Do you get in to the right mood before revising? If not, you’re really wasting your time.

Make sure you are focused and relaxed at the start of your homework or revision session. Then you can make the most of the time you have.

Nobody would start a rugby match in the wrong mood and expect to win. 

Recently, I asked a  group of Year 11 students to think about a sporting activity in which they excelled.  I then asked if they got in to the right mood beforehand and they all said they did.

That’s what made the difference and it only takes between three and 20 seconds.  They did it before sport, but none of them did so before revision!

What a wasted opportunity.  Get your Revision Haka sorted today!

There’s more about the importance of mood in the Brain Box book. The tips are easy to implement and will have a positive impact on your results.


Tim adds: This is a great idea.. What might your ‘haka’ look like?  Maybe it’s putting on some music you love (and dancing in your room?), perhaps it’s saying to yourself “Come on, you can do this”.  Maybe it’s setting an alarm for 20 mins – and then promising yourself time on Facebook after your 20 mins of work. Perhaps you have a cat or dog and you spend a few moments with it to lighten your mood. Maybe watch something funny on YouTube…   My ‘haka’ is tidying up my desk and getting my work area nice for working in.  Maybe your ‘haka’ is just making a cup of tea and finding a nice biscuit (I do this too!).  Whatever you do, do it with a smile and raise the mood.  What doesn’t work?  Having a row, shouting at family members, putting it off indefinitely.  You’ll just get ‘haka’d off!  Geddit? Hacked off..  Sorry. I’ll go now…


David Hodgson is co-author of The Brain Box.  To find out more about David, visit:



Tear and Share

14th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Revision, Motivation

It’s good to work together.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

So divide up the work and put your heads together.


You learn one bit.


Your mate can learn another bit.


Then come back together and teach each other.  You’ll learn it because:

  1. You have to teach it.
  2. It’s easier to learn from our friends.


Tim Says:

I used to live in Dudley.

There were two year 11 lads there who were fast approaching their GCSEs.

They had to revise, but they’d rather play basketball.

So what did they do?

They took their books down to the basketball court.  One would ask the other a question.  If he got it right, he got a shot at the basket.  If he scored, he got to answer another question. If he missed, or got the answer wrong, they swapped.

Then more of their mates joined in.

Then their girlfriends came along too.

Soon there were about a dozen of them, at the basketball court, taking shots at the basket and quizzing each other for their exams.

And that’s how they did their revision: working smart. Not hard.


Teacher tip:

Why not have a mini basket ball hoop in your class?  If students get an answer correct, they have a shot at the hoop. Motivation!

Who’s in the driving seat?

8th September 2015 | Tim Benton | Motivation

I used to have a SAT NAV.  When it worked, it was great and I became very reliant on it getting me where I needed to go.  Maybe a little too over-reliant…

A few years back, I had to speak at a school in Bedfordshire.  I fell out of the hotel, first thing in the morning, and got into the car.  Fixing the SAT NAV to the dashboard, I typed in the school’s postcode.  The SAT NAV led the way:

“Turn left at the end of the road…. “

“At the mini round-about, take the second exit… “

“Continue for one mile…”

We kept going.

“Turn right…”

Further instructions were followed and it eventually informed me:

“You have reached your destination.”

I looked out the window.  Was this right?

I was around the back of Bedford rail station.  There was a burnt out car, a supermarket trolley, a skip with a mattress in it, and some homeless guy talking to his own shoes! This did not look like a school!

It wasn’t a school.  Flippin’ SAT NAV got it wrong!!!

A few minutes later, and after some hasty map reading, the SAT NAV was back in the glove box and I was speeding my way to the school.  The SAT NAV had taken me 2 miles in the wrong direction and I was nowhere near where I needed to be!  Fortunately I arrived, just in the nick of time…

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  I had been so used to my SAT NAV telling me where to go, I’d stopped thinking for myself.

Some of you may be like that; your teachers or friends are doing your thinking for you and you are getting to a point where you can’t think for yourself.  It’s what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness’: if someone does something for you too much, you will struggle to do it yourself!

Remember: All answers are good, not necessarily correct.  A wrong answer is always better than ‘I don’t know’.  A good guess on an exam paper is better than writing nothing (and you may still get marks for what you put).

Google maps on my iphone is brilliant (much better than my old SAT NAV) and it helps it me no end.  But I don’t follow it blindly anymore – I always check it’s taking me to the right place (eg St Ives in Cornwall not St Ives in Cambridgeshire!).

Sometimes, Google is wrong.

If you don’t end up where you wanted to be – don’t blame someone else, find your own path.

Make your own map!