Guest Post: The Intersection of Technology and Productivity

This article was written for Study Hacks by Gideon from It’s part of a post swap that our two blogs are conducting this week. Expect more guest authors during this fall season — I’m a big believer in introducing diverse voices to our conversation.

Technology is a tricky thing, especially in this day in age, where it seems to hinder as much as it helps. Productivity, in particular, suffers from this particular problem more than most. It is in the bones of our culture to look at technology to solve our problems for us, so as we try to make sense of the innumerable events and responsibilities that befall us we look to technology to make it easier.

I won’t deny that I believe this to be, in general, a good way of looking at the problem. Technology is, itself, so much of the problem but it can also be part of the solution. Technology has us tethered in ways that previous generations could not even dream of, and the reach of our work and duties extend far beyond the eight hour day for many of us. Our goal, then, must be to use technology not to further tether us, but to free us from those fetters as much as possible.

While many areas of our lives may be enhanced by the sensible use of technology, some of our work remains directly in the area of elbow grease, and shows no sign of changing anytime soon. Studying and homework are very much in these categories. You can use tools to help with some of this, sure, but essentially you must still read the books and write the papers. So, let us discuss some ways in which we can help do that.

Go to the Library or some other quiet, comfortable place. I know, parking is a pain and if you live off campus, it’s a particular hassle, but go anyway. Plan to be there a couple of hours at least. If you’re at school daily, just build this into your daily schedule and make it easier on yourself.


I certainly advise students to have a laptop, but if this is a reading assignment, keep it in your bag. Don’t even open it or take it out. Also, turn your phone off if this is at all a possibility for you. Stick that in your bag, too. Take out a paper and a pen and the book in question, and get to work. Try to study in 45-50 minute periods, taking a 10-15 minute break every hour or so. You may want to put on some very light classical music on your ipod, just to drown out external distractions.

The trick here is not to let yourself become distracted. There are a lot of tips I can offer in reading and taking notes, but no webapp is going to read it for you and your Facebook addiction isn’t helping things either.

Writing and Research

Now, if you’re doing something like research or writing a paper there are a few things in a Luddite vein I can offer.

  • Do not turn on your IM program or email.
  • Do not go to any time-waster websites (Facebook, Myspace, Fark, YouTube, etc.) Just don’t go. If the urge is too powerful, use something Leechblock for your browser.
  • If you do not need a web-browser open, don’t even use one. And if you have a hard time controlling your urges or being distracted, make use of a full screen text editor such as WriteRoom on a Mac or JDarkRoom on a PC.


I’ll let you in on my biggest secret for tests: create your own review sheet. Simple, fancy, whatever you need to put as much information in the smallest amount of space. Think about how the information is connected, and reflect those connections in your review sheets. Create charts, graphs, lists. Grab information from Wikipedia or what-have-you and include it (though just the facts, as the man says, you want this info to be concise!) You going over thirty pages of notes for a semester isn’t going to help – get what you need, leave the rest.

Combined with this, work out some way to test yourself on it. The easiest way is flash cards of some sort, but you could also create some tests for yourself. One of the benefits of creating these sorts of documents is you are working with the information even as you do this – a form of studying!
Now, print these out and take them to the library. Bring whatever other essential study aids you need – the book, laptop, etc. But keep them put away – use your study guide unless you realize you need more details or forgot to add something (and try to put that ON the study guide). You want everything you need in one place.


These three things are really the cornerstones of your education, and these low-tech ways of doing it are really pretty much the best way to do it. Technology is excellent at helping you manage your time, doing specific tasks, and just generally helping your life be a bit easier – but the vast majority of what you do in college is all about hard work, work you have to do yourself and most technology will serve only to be a distraction. Heck, a lot of the things that will impact your day to day life in college are rather simple things – like your choice in backpacks or what you carry around with you each day.

Some other articles I’ve written that may help you out:

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