Goodbye Paper!
August 17, 2010 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Collegefilter: Entering college in October. How do I stay organised?

I want to stay organised, and for me that means getting rid of paper!
Organised people, what is your favourite digital set up to store lecture notes and resources?
I may have access to an ipad and scanner. What are good alternatives?
I am willing to invest money into staying organised right from the start.
posted by freddymetz to Education (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, being an organized student is an intensely personal decision.

I'd start with a good calendar - Google Calendar, a paper-based planner, or something that you can check when and where you need to be on-the-go.

The first week of school, spend some time entering in all the due dates for different assignments for each class. I also put an appointment on Sundays with all the reading due that week. You might want to set alarms to remind you when things are due or when a test is coming up.

When I was in school, I had a binder for each class with a notebook and pockets to keep handouts. Nowadays this might be folders in Dropbox with Word documents where you take your classnotes and folders to save syllabi and the like (although a lot of this will be in your course management system.)
posted by k8t at 3:48 PM on August 17, 2010

Keep a very good calendar. I use the software on my Blackberry. If you use more than one device (ie, a cellphone and an iPod) put your calendar on just one.

This doesn't directly answer your question, but: you will undoubtedly have paper. Buy an accordion folder and file any documents, etc. you need to keep safe.

I don't know what kind of classes you're going to be taking, but I am primarily a science/math student and I find it impossible to take notes in a word processor. The only way I could imagine taking digital notes is with a tablet PC. I absolutely have to draw diagrams, molecules, and graphs.

Buy an external hard drive and back up your computer at least weekly.

Make sure your digital documents are filed well (by semester, class or activity, and then by assignment, etc)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:54 PM on August 17, 2010

If you have a PC, I would recommend Microsoft OneNote. It should come with the student version of Office. You can have a notebook for each class and tabs for each unit of the class, and separate pages for each sub-section. It was very handy when I had a PC. Word on a Mac has a notebook feature that is somewhat comparable to OneNote. With both programs you can record the audio of lectures within the program (if this is allowed at your school or by your professor, which it often not).

Typing on the iPad kinda sucks (unless you get an external keyboard), and if you want to do something with handwriting recognition, you'll have to buy a separate app and a special stylus (regular ones like for Palm products don't work on the iPad). I can't see it being super handy for copious note-taking, personally.

Just make sure that you are actually learning when you type notes. Some students do better writing the notes by hand and then typing them up in full or condensing them in type later. You might consider trying both to start and seeing which works better. Organization is important, but it isn't everything. Some people are apt to spend too much time organizing their notes and not enough time actually studying them.
posted by elpea at 3:59 PM on August 17, 2010

Agreed, definitely keep a good calendar. Using a digital to-do list (like Remember the Milk or GMail's Tasks) is also very helpful.

Good email inbox management skills also come in handy. Have your various email addresses all flow into a GMail inbox, and archive emails unless they require a reply or have some sort of to-do associated with them. That keeps your inbox clean and manageable. It's also great to have all your old emails archived in GMail- I'm amazed at how often I use the search function to dig up obscure old emails, in search for a certain piece of information.
posted by ananda gale at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2010

I wouldn't try to keep all your notes on a laptop. You'll very frequently want to quickly jot down diagrams or flip back through past lectures. You'll also get tons of handouts, some dozens of pages long, and it won't be practical/useful to scan them. You just won't have time.

Instead, and I know you don't like paper, I recommend having a notebook and folder for each course, which are much lighter and more versatile than a laptop. For keeping a calendar and to-do list, I have an iPod touch which I always have with me that syncs with my Google Calendar (there's usually practically omnipresent WiFi on campuses). I use the included note app for jotting down things to remember like a shopping list, phone numbers, directions, etc.

Most importantly, don't obsess. I've spent so much mental energy trying to develop an effective organizational system that it has really backfired. Time is your worst enemy in college; concentrate on what's important to you!
posted by jgscott at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2010

I would disagree with jgsscott re notes on a laptop -- or at least say that it depends on what subject you are studying. History, literature -- these are fine on a laptop; linguistics or maths can be harder. One solution might be to keep a simple draw program open.

I actually switched from paper to electronic notes partway through grad school, and regret that I didn't do it earlier. I didn't use a dedicated program -- just a word processor. I sorted lecture notes into folders for each class, and named each file with the date (in ISO yyyy-mm-dd, so it sorts in order) and a quick note on the topic of the the lecture. This was a very convenient system. Due to a disability, my husband has used computer notes since he was a kid, and he uses a similar system.

Laptop based notes are generally much easier to deal with -- and more convenient if you go on to any further study. After going to grad school, I regretted all the notebooks I had to throw bc I didn't have space for them -- and I still have more notebooks cluttering up my space.
posted by jb at 4:51 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also -- I would second all the people who have stressed using a good calendar: putting in all class/lab times and due dates. Paper or electronic, calendars are essential.

In terms of equiptment -- you may find that a netbook or laptop is easier to type on quickly than an ipad -- play around with both. I actually can thumb type quickly enough on an iPod touch to take notes at conferences, but not fast enough for lectures (which go faster than research papers and you want to take more notes, not just thin ones). If you are getting a laptop anyways, that should be fine -- longish battery life (3-4 hours) is convenient, though not essential. While I was in grad school taking lecture notes, I used my regular medium sized laptop (3kg) -- it was convenient, and i never had to fuss about transferring notes from one machine to another.

A good backup drive is essential; your university may also have online storage space. If all your notes will be electronic, you will need to backup often (ideally daily). A portable hardrive will do; online storage is great for redundancy.
posted by jb at 5:00 PM on August 17, 2010

Honestly the best thing I ever got was a weekly planner with the weeks laid out nice and neat, each on two pages with the times printed on the side. I know this is the exact opposite of what you asked, but I tried it and I found that being online long enough to access my schedule made me a prisoner of internet availability, computer distractions and the weight of my laptop, which had to be carted everywhere
posted by Phalene at 5:47 PM on August 17, 2010

Evernote and a ScanSnap scanner. One Evernote "notebook" per class, or one "school" notebook and use tags for classes. Scan all class materials, and you'll have them available on your iPad and your phone. Either take notes right in the Evernote iPad app, or on paper and scan them in — Evernote will OCR them and make them searchable. If you BitTorrent your textbooks, throw them right in there too.
posted by nicwolff at 6:10 PM on August 17, 2010

I'd second the calendering system - and throw in that you should get university calendar dates on there as well. Start/end of classes, last day to drop, reading days, exam days, breaks, etc. Any odd university-only holidays - no point in showing up for class when it's canceled for Founder's Day. Some schools actually make this available as an importable calender file, which makes it really easy.
posted by clerestory at 6:45 PM on August 17, 2010

Of late when I take notes on a computer I use Scrivener. This is because inside one Scrivener file I can keep together several different pieces of text together, but as separate documents. So for example I will have a Scrivener project file called "Project X" and then in there I will create a separate document with the meeting date every time we have a meeting. I can also create collections within a project file, so I might create one just for meeting minutes, another one to hold the notes I take while reading papers related to the project.

A good reference or citation management software will also be essential. I use Bookends, but I've also heard good things about Sente and Papers. I know a lot of people like Endnote but unless you can get it for cheap from your university, I don't think it's worth the cost. You store the articles or papers you read in PDF format in your computer, and when you enter the citation information into the reference management software make sure you link to the appropriate PDF file. This type of software can also generate bibliographies in the style of your choice (e.g. APA 5th, Chicago, etc.), which can be very handy when you have a lengthy list of references for your paper.
posted by needled at 6:58 PM on August 17, 2010

Get a smartphone (even if you don't get a text/internet plan) and use it to sync with outlook to stay organized. Everything goes in the calandar. Everything goes in the todo list. All contacts go in the contact book. And when you meet someone later go back and put in the notes for their contact info where you met them/what they do (this is REALLY useful later when you have random phone numbers on your phone and don't know if you can delete them/etc).
posted by An algorithmic dog at 9:56 PM on August 17, 2010

Take notes on paper. If you want to get them into the computer, enter them manually. That will help you remember them.

Plus, your paper notes will still be around when your computer crashes and you lose all of your data.

I personally did just fine in college (and now in grad school) using iCal to schedule everything.

For online backup, use Dropbox.
posted by twblalock at 1:24 AM on August 18, 2010

Another vote here for Dropbox and a Scansnap scanner. Scan everything to Dropbox and it will be automatically accessible online from any computer on campus, as well as your iPad. Dropbox also stores 30 days of version history for your documents (more if you pay), which is nice.

Dropbox saved my ass once or twice when I forgot to print an assignment out before class. Just ran to the library and printed a copy.
posted by crosbyh at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who is using a an ipad and Evernote for the first time, its an interesting idea. I moved here from OneNote, which is an awesome program but does not play nice w my iPad...

I am also looking at getting a scansnap and going paperless, just trying to figure out if i need the s1500 or 300 depending on price, etc...

If you are going to use your laptop or net book for class notes, go with Evernote
If you are using your ipad (with or without a keyboard...and i would suggest that, as it is hard to type on long term...not impossible, but if your in heavy typing classes, then you will want the keyboard.)

Equally you can use the iPad to record your classes depending on your class size, but again i am in a small grad program and sit near the front of the class. You can use other software to make your voice notes searchable and put those in evernote too if i understand correctly...

Regarding calendars, i use google calendar and a moleskin. Google calendar gets due dates, meetings, etc etc etc. The moleskin has the due dates of projects as well as hw, readings, etc in it...

If you use google calendar i would suggest having a separate calendar for your personal stuff, and for your school stuff

If you have any questions about Evernote or iPad, feel free to MeMail me...
posted by knockoutking at 5:55 PM on August 19, 2010

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