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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On College and Getting Things Done

The ask metafilter question regarding how to be productive in college is making the rounds on the GTD-enabled blogs. Of course the metafilterites suggested reading David Allen's book. They gave a lot of great suggestions on how to be productive; working in dashes, paper vs. electronic systems, time management vs. action management...

The one thing I have found in trying to implement a GTD system at college is that it was way too much. Getting Things Done proved to be too much organization for me to keep up with, and I was spending as much time maintaining my system as actually doing any work. Trying to check 3 or 4 todo lists per bored period was too much to deal with, and I found myself abandoning my system (and thus, forgetting homework assignments and losing important papers).

Upon realizing this, I decided to strip out all the elements I wasn't using, and go for kind of a "GTD Lite" system. Here's how it works:

  • Assignments all go into my palmpilot, on a single todo list titled "Homework." I copied them down from all my syllabi at once, so all my homework for the semester is in there now, and I rarely add to it. Palm lets you organize todo items by due date, and I took advantage of this. Now when I flick open my todo list, it shows me what assignments are due in all my classes for the next 2-3 days.

    • I also put meta-assignments in here; "study for Management quiz" due on the day of the quiz. Reminds me to study while I'm doing deliverable homework.

  • Events and dates all go into my palm pilot calendar. "DDR Club Callout" -- anything with a solid date to it that can't be altered. This is primarily for stuff I'll forget; classes stay out because I should know darn well when I'm in and out of classes. Exams go here in addition to on the todo list so I can have more specific location and time info.

  • Papers all come home with me. I bought one accordian file which I have organized by class, and no further. I stick stuff in in generally chronological order, so I can sift through papers and find the right one if I really need to, but it's reference material, and rarely accessed at that.

  • I don't take notes too often; most of my classes don't require heavy note-taking. The ones that do, I bring my computer to, because I type faster than I write. I have a .rtf file on my powerbook for each class. "256 Notes.rtf" and the like. I keep all my notes in bulleted lists in these easy-access, searchable text files.

  • I keep project files in my Documents folder, and give them filenames with the class names in them. I use Spotlight to find them when I need them. It's the GMail concept -- out of sight, out of mind, until I need them. Keeps my desktop clean for my own projects, and lets me save as much as I want to.

You'll notice what's missing from that: personal projects. I don't keep track of my personal projects in my system, or things that I want to do. If I do that, the system starts getting cumbersome, and I stop using it. This weekend I forgot to get a remote for the TV. I can't seem to get around to working with my new music software. Can't find time to exercise, or become an artist. This blog hasn't been updated in a while. But I have made a lot of progress on my professional web site, pimped out my dorm room (more to come on that), and played a lot of DDR. These non-school projects are not critical to my life; if they are important to me, I will remember them. If I forget them, then I wasn't really that focused on them anyway. It's better for me to let them happen as they will than to bog down my system with excess meta inputs and outflows. This also keeps my personal life exciting, and avoids the feeling that some GTD'ers get that their lives are nothing but trudging through endless todo lists.

The other missing thing: index cards. I'm not a hipster; I'm a dork. I like my gadgets, and Treos, Macs, and the like are designed for hyper-fast-and-easy usability. It's not much harder to type a note into my Treo than it is for somebody else to write something on an HPDA, and it removes the need to seperate gathering and processing.

Streamlined and lite -- my system has worked pretty well the last two weeks, and I'm thinking I'll be keeping this one for most of college. If I tweak it, you'll see it here.

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