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Monday Master Class: Getting Things Done for College Students…Made Easy

October 6th, 2008 · 27 comments

Complicated GoodnessSchedule

In July of 2007, the first month of Study Hacks’ existence, I posted an article introducing Getting Things Done for College Students (GTDCS). This time management system was a modification of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), tweaked for the college lifestyle. It was meant for students who needed something more than the simple system described in Straight-A or in this infamously titled post.

Here’s the problem…

Though the original article has become a cult classic among some GTD aficionados, it has also been described as…well…long and boring and complicated and hard to follow.

There. I said it.

In this post, I want to provide a much more simple summary of GTDCS — something that doesn’t require monastic concentration to understand. Below I hit the highlights you need to get started. If you crave the obsessive details, check out the original post.

GTDCS Made Easy

The GTDCS system is built of five pieces. The first three match GTD almost exactly. The last two contain the extra magic I threw in to fit the college lifestyle.

  1. Collect
  2. Consolidate
  3. Review
  4. Plan
  5. Act

We review each piece below.

Collect

Every time a new obligation enters your life, immediately record it somewhere safe. The key is to have a small number of collection bins in which such new tasks are always captured.

For a student, I suggest the following three collection bins: a notebook in your backpack, your e-mail inbox, and a physical inbox as your collection bins.

(The physical inbox will prove useful for capturing letters, forms, or other physical pieces of paper that need to be dealt with.)

Consolidate

Once a day, review your three collection bins. For each item you encounter: if it’s an appointment, meeting, or deadline, add an entry on your calendar, if it’s a task, put it on a master to-do list you keep somewhere safe.

Review

Every Sunday, review what’s on your calendar for the next few weeks and read through your master to-do list. This review is crucial. If you never look at your calendar or master to-do list, then you won’t trust yourself to remember the things you put here. This will cause the whole system to fall apart.

Plan

Because you are a student, many of the tasks you face are time sensitive; e.g., assignments have to be done before class, studying has to be finished before the exam.

To accommodate this reality, include the following step in your Sunday review: add time sensitive tasks onto specific days on your calendar. Everything that absolutely has to get done during the upcoming week should be put on a specific calendar day.

Act

Each morning you need to plan your day. Your first step is to review your calendar and see what appointments, meetings, and classes you face. Next, plan a time to work on each of the tasks that was added to this day during the planning stages.

Remember: it’s not enough to just say you’ll work on these tasks, you must actually block out the specific hours in which you will work. This keeps your schedule reaslistic. Finally, if your day doesn’t look too hectic, block out some time to knock of a few non-date sensititve tasks from your master to-do list.

The ideal work day will look roughly like a normal work day (all work done between breakfast and dinner), though some schedules might require work at night. Try to avoid, however, scheduling every waking hour. That is decidedly non-Zen.

Conclusion

If you’re happy with your current time management system, don’t sweat GTDCS. If you feel constantly behind, or like you’re forgetting things, than consider this approach. We’ll conclude the same way as the original article:

Many students identify the first few days of the semester as their favorite. Why? Because there are no obligations yet. No deadlines or due dates have been injected into their life. You can relax, and enjoy the sense of possibility. GTDCS aims to make every day feel like the first.

Sounds good to me.

27 thoughts on “Monday Master Class: Getting Things Done for College Students…Made Easy

  1. Natasha says:

    Very helpful post! Does anyone have any recommendations for master to-do lists? What works for your and why?

  2. Study Hacks says:

    Does anyone have any recommendations for master to-do lists? What works for your and why?

    The easiest: text document on your computer desktop.

  3. Ilham Hafizovic says:

    If you are the owner of an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can also use the notes app that comes bundled with the default OS Software. I have yet to fully utilize this, as I tend to have troubles implementing good time management skills and systems. But I will try my hardest this semester.

    But yeah, so far whenever I have remembered to use my iPod Touch, it has been a great feature to use as a Master to do list.

  4. David says:

    If you are the owner of an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can also use the notes app that comes bundled with the default OS Software.

    Maybe you could enter the next context in which Cal will give away a free iPhone to whoever needs an upgraded iPhone for an innovative study hack : )

  5. Nate says:

    I currently use the “Things” application for my iPod touch as my master to-do list and Google calendar for my dates. I highly remember this system, along with a paper planner for scheduling tasks to get done! This has been the least stressful semester in my college career. Seriously.

  6. Nate says:

    **highly recommend.

  7. Dan says:

    For implementing GTD for students, you can use this web-based application:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    On the website there’s an article on how it can be used by students.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version and iCal are available too.

  8. Ilham Hafizovic says:

    @Dan,
    That looks like a great website, I might give it a try.

    @Nate,
    I have heard of that program, I have been thinking of giving it a try but still not sure if I need. As for Google Calendar, this is one of the beauties I love about the iPhone/iTouch – they both can access the internet very fast on campus so you can easily update your online calendar. But I still iCal.

  9. Great implementation of GTD for college students. We could really use this one. I have been perusing your site for a while now, and I really enjoy it. I would love to trade blogroll links with you if you are interested.

    http://www.zencollegelife.com

    Have a great day!

  10. Study Hacks says:

    But yeah, so far whenever I have remembered to use my iPod Touch, it has been a great feature to use as a Master to do list.

    Leena, of college chronicles fame, recently told me that there is a Remember the Milk widget for the iPod touch where you can ToDo’s on the device and it will synch with a master list online whenever you get within range of a wireless connection. Sounds pretty cool…

  11. Study Hacks says:

    Maybe you could enter the next context in which Cal will give away a free iPhone to whoever needs an upgraded iPhone for an innovative study hack : )

    If you can talk Apple into giving me one to give away, I’m happy to do it!

  12. Study Hacks says:

    We could really use this one. I have been perusing your site for a while now, and I really enjoy it. I would love to trade blogroll links with you if you are interested.

    Cool site. I added you to my blogroll.

  13. Daisy says:

    lol, monastic concentration is right. I’ve adopted the GTDCS for a semester now, but I had to print your blog post and reread it about five times before how it all would work in my life clicked in my mind.

    this is a cool addition to that method.

  14. Daryl Tay says:

    Thanks Cal,

    I’ve just finished actually reading the physical GTD book and I think your tweaks really work for the college student! Love the blog too!

  15. Diana says:

    Sweet! i was doing GTDCS without even knowing it. SWEET!

  16. Benjamin says:

    I think this strategy is pretty helpful. In terms of the Master to-do list, I think it is efficient to split “next actions” and tasks by context, similar to what GTD proposes. For example, setting a side an errand list, a list of things to do while you are at a specific area (like the library), etc.

  17. D-rock says:

    Any advice on articles to look at. I’m getting overwhelmed. I start school soon and have done well but am taking 3 challenging Science courses. I used to spend way too much time studying and not have a life over than school. What are some good articles you would recommend reading especially for Science courses and studying habits?

  18. r says:

    Use evernote! download it on your phone and laptop, anything you save on one will be available on the other 🙂

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