Help me get organized.
August 27, 2006 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me finally be an organized student. I have all the gadgets, a pocket pc, a razr, 2 laptops and a watch running palm os.... What is a system of organization that can use some or all of these?

I start every school year with an organization system. Different (harddrive) folders for each subject, listing class times and due dates in my pocket pc, etc.. However, none of these systems has been succsesful enough to convince me to use it for a whole year.

Even without a system of organization, I do fine as a student - I just think it might be the difference between a 3.5 and a 4.0.
posted by matkline to Education (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What are you looking to do? Keep track of class times? Assignments?

When I was in school, I put all of my weekly assignments in a note on Monday and added Xs next to the ones that were done.

If something big was due, I'd make an appointment for its due date and time.
posted by k8t at 6:04 PM on August 27, 2006

It sounds to me like your problem is that you have too many gadgets.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:08 PM on August 27, 2006

I tend to surprise people by being unusually well-planned (full time work and school will do that to you), and I use a plain old paper-and-pen planner.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:09 PM on August 27, 2006

Response by poster: @ k8t:
I can keep track of class times in my head, but having my class info organized and assignment due date reminders is more difficult. Plus having all of this synced among multiple devices is key.
posted by matkline at 6:12 PM on August 27, 2006

Sounds like you have too many gadgets. In college, I used iCal on my powerbook hotsynched with my Palm to keep track of classes, meetings, and major assignments and due-dates. My desktop system and other gadgets (even those with scheduling capabilities) were not used for scheduling purposes, to simplify things. In terms of storage, I sorted files into directories on my laptop and desktop by year, semester, and course. Anything more complex than this is probably going to lead to wasting too much time on the upkeep of your system.

That said, people seem to love Getting Things Done. Thusfar, I've got things done without it, but I can see the value in a business environment. As a student, your milage may vary.
posted by Alterscape at 6:38 PM on August 27, 2006


Who cares if you have 9 laptops and 4 razrs if you don't have a functioning task list?

Have you read _Getting Things Done_?
posted by rsanheim at 6:38 PM on August 27, 2006

Response by poster: No, I haven't read GTD.... might have to look into it.
posted by matkline at 6:47 PM on August 27, 2006

Plus having all of this synced among multiple devices is key.

posted by danb at 7:10 PM on August 27, 2006

I second using iCal. You can make each class (and its corresponding assignments) a different color and chart it all out. It really helps me to see my day/ week/ month laid out in blocks of color-coded time. Bonus: iCal syncs with PalmOS and Google Calendars.

I've been meaning to read Getting Things Done and just haven't got around to it. Here's my simple but effective system:
1. Sit down with every syllabus at the beginning of the semester and put every due date into iCal. (I used to use a huge wall calendar for this-- also helpful).
2. Then work backwards-- if the paper is due on the 12th, you know you need to start the draft by the 10th, which means finishing your outline by the 9th, which means starting the reading on the 5th. If you have another paper due on the 13th, you know you need to move these dates up.
3. Make blocks of time in iCal for working on these steps, for classes, for going to the gym, whatever.
4. Using iCal's alarm features, I set reminders for every task, so two days before I need to finish an outline, my PalmOS-powered phone will ring and a note will pop up on my computer.
posted by chickletworks at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm all for the PDA solutions, and live by DateBk5 on my Palm, but when I was in school I simply kept track of the Big Events (exams, projects due, etc.) on a single sheet of paper. It had a grid showing the 3-5 classes along the top and the 10-15 weeks of the semester down the side, and I marked in (by hand, keyed in later if time permitted) all the important dates that were usually provided by the prof on the first day of class.

So I could tell within 5 seconds whether I had forgotten about a test, when the big project was due, etc. I'm a big believer in digesting information down to a single sheet of paper. The key is getting the grid right so that it's intuitive to use.
posted by intermod at 7:26 PM on August 27, 2006

I keep track of classes on a paper calander.

I also keep a list (on the back of waste printing paper) of everything I need to get done, the ones with due dates with the date writtne next to them.

Every morning (or the first break during the morning) I re-write the list if the priorities have changed.

Cross completed tasks off with a thick black marker. It's nice to see a sheet of paper with lots of thick black marker strikes through it at the end of the day.
posted by porpoise at 7:27 PM on August 27, 2006

You might want to look into getting one of those student datebooks they sell at the bookstore. When your profesor gives you your assignments and test dates, write them down in the datebook. Simple.
posted by fshgrl at 7:38 PM on August 27, 2006

Pad and paper. Carry it with you everywhere. If you wanna get really fancy, get a datebook/planner. But whatever you get, carry it with you everywhere.

Seriously. You're going to spend most of your time syncing various objects for no good reason, plus entering information into any one of those devices will be tougher than pulling out a pen and writing it down. I will say that I never once used any sort of organizational device aside from my brain when I was in university, but at jobs that required a lot of shuffling of tasks, checking deadlines and such, pen and paper won out over everything else.
posted by chrominance at 8:05 PM on August 27, 2006

P.S. Carry it with you everywhere.
posted by chrominance at 8:05 PM on August 27, 2006

Get rid of all the gadgets. Keep one laptop and buy an external hard drive that does an automated backup nightly.

Now all of that time you spent managing gadgets you can spend managing your life and education.

Pen an paper pocket schedule.
posted by Ookseer at 8:47 PM on August 27, 2006

Dude, that's way too many gadgets. I can't imagine how on Earth you would manage to keep them up to date.

I thousandth the pen and paper solution. I've tried many times to organise my life using my mobile phone and laptop but I always end up at square one. Ditto for lecture notes too, I've tried note taking on computers and everything, but I always end up reverting back to a folder with loose leaf paper.
posted by cholly at 9:03 PM on August 27, 2006

Your school doesn't use Blackboard or something similar? I find that checking Blackboard once a day is great for remembering anything that might have dissapeared from my mental work list. In fact, I'm pulling this week's assignments from it right now.

Three cheers for technological fanaticism, though. I admire your many shiny gadgets, but I must join the chorus reminding you that you don't need them for school. Keep a laptop, pawn the rest for drugs. I recommend salvia.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:48 PM on August 27, 2006

I've found that the probability of missing a deadline/event grows exponentially with the number of devices/locations where I record it. If you have one place where you store dates and projects, then you can be 100% certain that it contains all your dates. Add a second device/location and now you've added TWO uncertainties: 1) whether it's an exact mirror of the first and 2) how to go about recording data in two locations.

Sell the palm watch, pocket pc, and less-used laptop and get a small, cheap dayminder planner like this. Use that one planner for ALL your event tracking. No startup times, navigational menus, sync incompatibilities, or other electronic BS to worry about. Not counting pens, I guess I spent roughly $60 in planning equipment over 4 years of college and never missed an appointment (I can recall).

It's worked so well, I still use it for my corporate job. Always fun writing down info while colleagues and competitors are scurrying around with Blackberries, phones, and laptops.
posted by junesix at 12:59 AM on August 28, 2006

Nobody needs a watch that runs PalmOS.
posted by cellphone at 5:52 AM on August 28, 2006

I've had all those at one time and I could still only remember things if I wrote it on the back of my hand.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2006

Any one of those systems will work, but they won't do it for you. Remember, first you have to plan your work, then you have to work your plan. People forget about the second step.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:52 AM on August 28, 2006

I'd simply choose one way of recording due dates and meetings and stick with it; you are in danger of becoming "that guy" who spends more time creating a system to be organized than actually doing the work you're keeping track of.

Always write or record stuff in the same place so that you always know where to look when you need to know what you're responsible for. Write everything you're responsible for down on this list - everything - so you spend no extra brain power remembering that it's your turn to bring beer to the part or that you do dishes in your house on Thursdays (or that you need to do reserve reading in the library). You might assign contexts to your to-do list, so that when you're in a specific place, you remember that you had three things you needed to get at the bookstore besides the pens that brought you there. Set aside time every week to review your to-do list and all the items you've collected through the week that you haven't yet recorded in your system.

I have just summarized Getting Things Done for you - look at all the time you saved! :) If I had college to do over again, I'd use a Hipster PDA and some sort of web-based tracking system like ICal or GTDGmail.

Good luck! Ditch the second laptop -
posted by deliriouscool at 7:12 AM on August 28, 2006

My system was less a system, more a relationship.

I got a dry-erase marker write-on calendar at my college bookstore with a big one-month grid and the next three months in smaller grids on the bottom margin.

My housemate and I bought the same calendar, and on the first day of the month we'd order takeout and "do our calendars." The calendars were on the outside of our bedroom doors, so we always saw our own and the other person's on the way to the bathroom or the patio or wherever.

We'd remind each other of our obligations because we'd done our calendars together, even when our lives were totally separate - "hey, don't you have work training or something at five today?" or "when are you leaving to meet your boyfriend at the airport tomorrow?" - and that saved me so many times.

I didn't need instant confirmation or access to my schedule, as the next few days were always fresh enough in my mind, and if someone needed to know if I was available for something, I'd just tell them yes or no after I'd gotten home and checked the calendar.

On the calendar: tests, assignment due dates, study sessions, or non-regular class/tutorial/work meetings - things that were OUTSIDE the normal routine, plus any other events of note, like an airport trip or a date. (Dates were written in red marker and surrounded with hearts.)

Not on the calendar: NORMAL class meetings or work shifts, plus anything I didn't want my housemate to see ("Drug test, 9 am, health center").

Key: Listing too much makes the calendar a nightmarish mess and makes you think you're too busy for anything. I aimed for one "remark," or less, per day. If I was listing nine things for two days, I took a step back and reevaluated how to organize them and if they did, in fact, all have to happen right then.

Best of luck. And switch to an analog watch - you'll soon develop an amazing knack for predicting when there are exactly 43 minutes left in class.
posted by mdonley at 7:26 AM on August 28, 2006

I just think it might be the difference between a 3.5 and a 4.0.

The fact is, to get a really good grade in a class, you have to spend time working on the material for that class -- studying, reading, absorbing, doing assignments (well in advance), revising papers, etc. What you are asking about in this question is not that kind of work -- it is a sort of "meta-work" that is useful to a certain extent (you do have to make sure to allow yourself enough time to do a really strong job on a paper), but taken to an extreme will just take time away from the really important kind of work. In fact people (myself included) often use this meta-work as a way of procrastinating, because it often feels sort of like real work, and it can be more fun.

As a TA, I have seen many people who really wanted to make the jump from B+/A- to A/A+ work, and I cannot think of a single case where it was really a matter of being more organized. It would have been a matter of thinking harder and longer about assignments, doing a better job absorbing and integrating the material from the class, trying to really _understand_ instead of just memorize, etc.
posted by advil at 2:00 PM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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