Time management and studying tools for college part two!
May 7, 2024 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Hello, I am going back to school for a second bachelor's online. I'm looking for your best tools for time management and studying.

The kinds of things I want to know:

*What scheduling tools do you use to balance full time work while making sure you're spending enough time per credit hour to do well? This could be something physical, like a special planner, or something like an app.

*What do you use besides your trusty laptop to study, especially for reading online textbooks and using Canvas? Ipad? Boox? Something else? Specific product names highly appreciated! I lean toward Android over Apple if I'm buying something new. I took a couple of community college courses recently and managed to import a textbook PDF into my Kobo, but I don't want to do that again. The screen is too tiny for textbooks and flipping pages with the e-ink looked awful.

*How do you make and review your notes? I really need to start taking notes in earnest. Writing by hand tires out my hand because I have a habitual pen death grip and I can't actually seem to produce legible writing. I have tried taking notes with Notion but I don't really like it (hard to find info, don't like adding blocks). It feels like notes are just an occasionally motion I rarely do that don't actually benefit me.

*What tools/systems/apps do you use as carrot and stick? Besides looming deadlines.

*Any other information you think might be useful? Relevant links, answers to previous questions on AskMefi.

Thank you!
posted by karasu to Education (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is something I should be able to answer, but I haven't slept well, so my mind isn't clear (just to say I will return later or tomorrow).
What I will say is about note-taking: hand-written notes are much better for your learning outcome and there is evidence to show it. But I've been conducting my own little tests, and it does seem that using an iPad or tablet with a stylus can be as good. I haven't been able to make a randomized trial, so this is not science, but it is supported by a Norwegian study that replaced notebooks with tablets for measuring purposes. So if you feel more comfortable with an electronic device, go with that. Just don't type your notes.
IMO it is preferable to have one bound notebook for all your subjects, so everything is ordered by date, rather than subject. And there should be no loose pieces of paper. On a tablet, that is a given.
Most professors will hand out their slides. So when you take notes, focus on what is NOT on the slides.
Some professors will just read off of their slides. Don't take notes in the normal sense, but jot down what ideas/concepts you think of while enduring this very boring experience. Boredom can be good for creativity. Doodling is fine too.
Having good note-taking habits will benefit you for the rest of your life. (Unless you want to engage in criminal conspiracies). I could go on about this, but as I said, I am very tired. Suffice it to say that over my 30 + years of teaching this, several students who hated the concept have returned to thank me, and I have convinced every single colleague I have worked with that note-taking in notebooks should be an obligatory, credit-giving part of every semester.

I'll try to return with the scheduling/planning tools. If you get this right, it will also be useful for the rest of your life. Are you going to work alongside your studies? If so, how many hours?

I have an iPad for reading stuff. I have no opinion about what is best, but since some form of tablet might be useful for your note taking, too, you might think about which device is best for you in that light.
posted by mumimor at 7:15 AM on May 7

*How do you make and review your notes? It feels like notes are just an occasionally motion I rarely do that don't actually benefit me.

This made me think of two principles of time management: simplicity and centrality. I'm not going to suggest a particular system (like Notion or Notes or Evernote), but figure out what would be the simplest for you, and that you can always find and get to. Lower the barrier to entry. (FYI Notion is annoying, to me.)

For me, google docs works fine. When I was in school and needed to take notes, I made 1 or 2 google docs for a class; one for lectures / class notes, the other for research or writing projects.

The way to use your notes is to take them, then also take time to go back and organize them. I like to organize them into outlines. You might just go back to clean up spelling errors, add links, etc. But Google docs (or similar) is good - the point of notes is to take them, return to them, reflect, refine.
posted by RajahKing at 7:22 AM on May 7

I will speak only to notes here: consider learning a formal notetaking method like Cornell Notes, use the aspects that serve you, and use something like OneNote that will let you record audio and sync it to your notes.

I do like paper and pen (or for me Goodnotes and Apple Pencil) on the side when reviewing my in-class or reading notes, because I'm a pretty visual learner and I like to draw flowcharts or word clouds to make data more memorable.

I read textbooks on my laptop/big monitor. I don't know how else I'd take notes efficiently while reading.

As far as planning and time management, give yourself a bit of credit for having done this before and spent time in the working world, especially if you were a traditional-age student for your first degree and so were green as grass. You know a lot already about how to do this, and you know yourself, so I would suggest starting with simply thinking through the schedule you think will work for you, and then incorporate it into your work calendar (assuming that's a constant-use thing for you already).
posted by Lyn Never at 7:23 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]

A couple of thoughts:

1. Set your "work hours." Overall in your life, what time will you commit to school? Try to be specific (i.e., M-R, 7-9pm). When I came back to study after working, it was helpful to designate my "working hours" compared to the rest of my obligations. It helped me focus and be productive when I was "working" and to not feel guilty with my down time.

2. For notes, I used Word, one document per class. I took my notes on a List (like bullets but with numbers (e.g., 1.a.iii.) to take my notes in the document. I found typing was faster and more legible to use/review after the fact than my handwriting. My notes were still be somewhat stream of consciousness and rough, but using the lists (i.e., creating subheadings/subsections to organize thoughts) was helpful. Then, I would review my notes/materials and create outlines to study for tests. Each outline was a new document.
posted by bruinfan at 8:15 AM on May 7

Strongly agree about setting aside specific time for schoolwork and studying. If you are able, set up a dedicated study area. If you don't have physical space for that, even collecting all your supplies together into a box or bag so that you don't have to spend your study time rooting around for stuff you suddenly need can be really helpful.

On notes: I love hand-written notes, not because I review them ever, but because the physical act of moving my hand helps me retain material better. If this resonates with you, try changing up your pen to reduce hand strain. A lot of people like fountain pens, because they sit differently in the hand and require slower writing; there are also pens with very squishy ergonomic grips like the Uniball Signo. Personally, I need a super light-weight symmetrical pen body with very smooth ink, like Muji's gel pens.

But! Maybe you just really don't get much out of note-taking, which is fine. A good alternative is re-writing or summarizing the material you're studying in your own words. Like if another student came to you and asked you what happened last class, how would you explain it to them. You could type these, use text-to-speech, or make voice notes. Anything you struggle to articulate is the material you should review.

Lastly, on the "carrot v stick", a lot of us have the experience of school and learning being very punishment based, but that is not the only (or the best!) way to incentivize learning. Think about that metaphor--if you're trying to get an animal to do something, would you rather offer it a carrot or beat it with a stick? You already have a motivation to do this work, so however easy or pleasant you can make it for yourself, the more you'll be able to naturally tap into that motivation. Good luck!
posted by radiogreentea at 9:58 AM on May 7

posted by j_curiouser at 11:59 AM on May 7

It might be helpful if you are willing to share the topic you will be studying!

I went back to school do my pre-med coursework in my late 20s. For any classes that required memorization, I stopped taking traditional notes and used my study time to create custom Anki decks and review them.
posted by telegraph at 12:10 PM on May 7

Response by poster: Thank you for the thoughts so far!
I work full time (basically no overtime) and will keep doing that, and I'll be studying computer science.
I am much more interested in carrot, not stick.
posted by karasu at 3:20 PM on May 7

I would highly recommend taking the Time Management Fundamentals class by Dave Crenshaw on Linked-In learning (which you might have access to for free through your library or work). It's a system, so no specific tools are recommended. It enables you to make choices about when and how much time you spend in certain areas. When I'm using it properly, it's so much easier to juggle everything that happens in my life and things don't fall through the cracks.
posted by skunk pig at 11:32 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

Get at least a 15” screen if you’re getting a laptop and plan to use it as one. 13” is infuriating to deal with
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:36 PM on May 8

Might be very specific, but in case you need to do a lot of slideshow type presentation, Software Testing Help has a great list of best professional slideshow makers.

Also S.M.A.R.T. system has worked best for me for setting short-term goals/tasks. Basically your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Relevant and Attainable because the best way to grow lasting motivation is succeeding in achieving something meaningful. When you goals are too big or unclear it might lead you to failure and further demotivation. Also making your goals timed helps you to do better at time management.
posted by torturedpoet at 2:31 AM on May 13

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