Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Fear of Free Time

Always on the go. School, work, meetings, family reunions, friend gatherings, research. 24/7 non-stop. Every day, every week. And then BOOM – nothing. Suddenly, a whole afternoon all for yourself. You immediately start to panic – have I forgotten something? Am I neglecting somebody? Am I just shirking? STOP.

This paranoia needs to stop. Take a step back and seriously think about the following: What is the last time you “did nothing”? The last time you sat back to reflect upon things, to relax, or to enjoy one of your “guilty pleasures“? 

Step up against this hectic nonsense. Allow yourself to breathe from time to time. Workaholism is definitely not the answer, albeit it may help you forget the question. Don´t fear those relaxed moments, embrace them.



Go out and enjoy the spring, dear Readers – and may joy and happiness be with you!

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Posted by on 29 April, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The art of saying “No”

No sleep today, my free time has flown away…” – “But you yourself are inflicting it …on yourself!”

Sounds familiar? Tons of extra work, “voluntary” assignments pilling up on your desk, friends sighing in disbelief (and resignation). How does this all come about and – more importantly – how to avoid being snowed under when you a) clearly do not want to and b) do not have to? Let´s have a look at it.

Many people tend to take up more work than necessary “just not to cause trouble” or simply because they are afraid to be looked down upon should they say “no”. Stress, depression or even break-downs follow. Fortunately, there is a strategy to learn to say “Not this time.” Here it is:

1. Plan and prioritize. Is the task your responsibility, or is your co-worker just shirking and wants you to save his/her bonuses? If you really need to do the thing, what is the true deadline? Do you have the time for it – and are you sure it will not jeopardize other projects of yours?

2. Make a firm decision. I.e. either the extra thing is “not a biggie”, offers significant benefits or fits into your schedule/agenda, or it should be declined. Don´t agonize over the decision for ages, though! That costs time as well.

3. Say it. This is the most difficult part. Grow up. Explain why this is not your job or why you are not the one who can take it up (this time). Reason. Make arguments, but don´t quarrel. Be polite, yet firm. Don´t let others take advantage of your kindness if it kills you!

Finally, being able to estimate your limits and defend your “right” to free time are useful skills to have – if only for your self-esteem. So, dear Readers, go and change the things that bother you and suck out the pleasure from your lives! I won´t say “yes, you can”, but rather “yes, you should“…

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Posted by on 22 April, 2012 in Random


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International Public Policy Forum

A unique debate competition that combines both written and oral advocacy of a policy topic, held in NYC. The International Public Policy Forum 2011/2012. And guess who was there, right in the epicenter of it all. Your blogger Lenka, one of the three coaches of the Czech Debate Team (you might remember the post about long-distance coaching – well, this is its culmination!). Let me take you on the IPPF tour and share some of the thrill and passion for logic, reasoning and international friendships.

All debate competitions have one thing in common: There is always a reception or a dinner where everybody mingles and gets to talk to people from various teams and countries. You joke about Dutch politics with a debater from Brooklyn and then discuss the merit of studying Latin with the coach of Singapore. In the meanwhile, great food and cold drinks are served (this is paradise). However, this is just the beginning.

Then comes debating in itself. Each competition has some specific rules, but ultimately, you and your team always have to go through elimination rounds to make it to the finals. And that is exactly what happened to my debaters – they became the first team of non-native speakers to break into the finals of the IPPF.

The Finals is usually held in the biggest conference room available (and is sometimes even available live online, just like here) and no matter who wins, everybody does their best to enjoy the special occasion. There are many distinguished guests who hold speeches (we had Mr. M. J. Massimino, NASA astronaut) and who subsequently announce the winner.

It was nerve-wracking, but we made it. We are the first team whose native language is not English to win the International Public Policy Forum – and probably the only team ever that has prepared solely via Skype and e-mail and the members and coaches have seen each other (all together) for the first time at the beginning of the competition.

Lights were turned off, the glamour is gone. A new day has come and we are “normal students” again. We log onto Facebook to add our new friends from Colorado…and set off to Europe, to our homes. So long, NYC, and thank you for the fish!

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Posted by on 15 April, 2012 in Random


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Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls…

… It tolls for thee.

Midterms are over, grades are published. The binding study advice hangs like a sword of Damocles over a number of frustrated freshmen for whom resit exams seem like the only chance of “survival”. Panic spreads to the library (and to infinity and beyond). Suddenly it seems that all those parties, clubbing and procrastination were not such a terrific idea

Time and again, human irrationality and a general inability of people to plan amaze me. (Actually, “flabbergast” would be a better word.) How can humans possibly such grossly underestimate the ramifications of their actions? Why do young, smart and talented university students fall prey to temptations that represent a road to perdition?

It seems to me that this is just a manifestation of a larger, underlying problem: The inability of high schools to teach young people truly useful skills. Sure, high school students may know the exact dates of all wars in the past few centuries, but they have no clue how to deal with real-life situations.

They are unable to accept responsibility for a joint project, cannot defend their opinions, cannot give a presentation on more complex topics, cannot look up information (from a reliable source; and no, Wiki does not count)… and then come to the university unprepared. It is your bet what the result may be.

Thus, I am posing a question: What actually are the skills high school students should master? Is it really the chemical process of photosynthesis, or logical thinking and planning? I would go for the latter.

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Posted by on 7 April, 2012 in Education


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Long-Distance … Coaching

Managing a debate team of three teenagers is a challenge. However, when compared to managing three teens only via Skype while you are approximately 700 km away, it seems rather like a piece of cake. Today I would like to share some tips with coaches, leaders and bosses who currently find themselves far away from the team they are supposed to manage and lead. We will look at the ways to improve communication, efficiency and team spirit.

First and foremost, when you are managing a project only via Skype (or Google hangout), it is crucial to ensure that everybody stays “on the same page” and contributes to the issue discussed. There are a few ways to achieve this: Either you can monitor that everybody is viewing the document you want them to (e.g., Google documents allow you to see who else has the particular file open at the moment), or you always ask each person, one by one, to contribute with his or her opinion or research.


Even if long-distance coaching may be frustrating at times, do NOT give up!

Second, it is vital to make sure that nobody is left to “free-ride”. That is, give everybody a fair share of work and control that they continually devote their full attention to the tasks. One by one, go over the tasks, give your feedback and precise directions how to proceed. And, of course, be very clear on what exactly the task is, otherwise you may have have to redo the task yourself, because your instructions were messy.

Third, do not “overdo” it. Allow your debaters/workers to take regular breaks, eat or deal with unexpected situations that may arise. For example, if the parents of your trainee insist on “family lunch” exactly at 12 o´clock, do not press it. Be flexible, move the schedule and be ready to assign the task to a different person. Trust me, the last thing you might want are stressed people who fail to complete the tasks (or complete them badly or in a rush).

Fourth, praise them. If they finish something important, compliment their work. Even if you criticize them for not doing something 100% the way you wanted it, include some bright points about their work. This keeps them motivated and ready to do more.

And finally, highlight the goal you are aspiring to. Underline that everybody is trying hard to make it and that you all form a great team which can get far. Keep up the team spirit of dedication and proficiency – and be their role model. Unless you yourself show that the team sticks together, nobody will believe it and cooperation will fall apart.

Just like any “long-distance” relationship, virtual cooperation and work require a bit more effort than “normal” projects (relationships). However, as long as you know where you are going – and why – you stand a decent chance of making it. To the top.

Side-note: You will be able to read about the fruits of my Skype debate coaching in two weeks, after I and “my” debate team come back from the Finals of the International Public Policy Forum 🙂

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Posted by on 1 April, 2012 in Random


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