How I Stay Organized
I post a lot of articles on student productivity. As followers of the Straight-A Method understand, I don’t mean to suggest that you adopt all of this advice. I view it more as an armory. Before heading onto the battleground of the college semester, you must arm yourself with a sampling of these strategies — every student has their own unique mix of tips and systems that works best; their very own productivity special sauce, if you will.
In this post I will briefly describe the motley collection of strategies that are keeping me organized during this semester. (Emphasis on “this” semester, as I change up these habits throughout the year to best meet my needs.)
I hope revealing my particular brand of productivity secret sauce will help you figure out the best combination of strategies that will keep you in fighting shape.
How I Wrangle My Tasks and Schedule
Getting Things Done for College Students
I employ the GTDCS system for staying on top of my daily demands. Like classic GTD, this approach is based around capturing all action items and processing them efficiently. Unlike the original system, however, it has some added magic to help deal with the tight-deadline school work that dominates student life.
I hate to-do lists. I always try to work with a schedule that assigns specific work to specific times. I’ve been doing this long enough to realize how long work really takes me, so I tend to start things pretty early.
The Autopilot Schedule
Without an autopilot schedule I think I would drown in the sea of small but time-consuming tasks generated by my classes. Fixing regular work to regular days and times is absolutely crucial to my sanity.
How I Handle My Classes
The Morse-Code Note Taking System
The raw speed of this note-taking system has been a huge help in handling the large amount of reading that I need to be familar with — but not necessarily master — each week for my art history seminar.
Paper Research Database
As I ramp up on another major research paper for class, my excel-based quote database method is soon to make another star appearance.
The ESS Method
I am constitutionally incapable of working on school assignments in long, uninterrupted stretches. I swear by the ESS method, which breaks everything up into small chunks spread over time. For a recent two-page paper, for example, I the work was accomplished in well over a dozen different sittings (none more than two hours, many much less.)
How I Manage the Big Picture
The Einstein Principle
I am constantly trying to narrow down my focus so that in both my academic and writer life, I am putting in enough hard effort on one thing that I can actually get somewhere worth getting.
The Steve Martin Method
As a corollary to Dr. Einstein, I have become obsessed, recently, with Steve Martin’s idea that the key to “success” is “being so good they can’t ignore you.” A big result from this mindset: I spend less time looking for my “big break.” Instead, I try to fix myself in a venue where skill will be rewarded, and then keep producing until my skill level gets to that point. (More on this later…)
The Art of the Finish
Once you deem something important (and this, according to the Einstein principle, should be a high bar to leap) you have to become obsessed about finishing it. I try as hard as possible to build these obsessions. By forcing myself to finish a small number of active projects before beginning any that are new, I’m slow instilling this discipline.
How I Stay Happy
I’m a big believer in working backwards when it comes to stress and work habits: Fix the lifestyle you want, then start making the changes you need to get there (be it better life hacks or drastic simplification to your obligations). Fixed-schedule productivity is how I integrate this philosophy into my daily work schedule.
Happiness takes work. I didn’t realize this in college. But I’ve come to appreciate it more and more as I get older. I now go out of my way to forcefully integrate many of these principles into my daily routine. My thought: life will never be perfect, so stop focusing on what you wish you had, and starting getting the most out of what you do.