Lots of methods and tools around productivity out there. A major thing to avoid is literally productivity p0rn. It’s fake productivity.
The main thing about productivity inevitably comes down to a few things: managing time, figuring out what to do, and focusing on what you need to do.
Cal Newport is the king of talking about this and refers to it as Deep Work.
Easiest Productivity System
Cal Newport has a SUPER simple system anyone could use, but especially college students feeling overwhelmed.
1) Get a calendar. Paper is fine, but so is something like Google Calendar. Whatever you’ll keep with you AND use. 2) Keep a piece of paper somewhere you can always find it in the morning and write “Tasks” at the top. 3) Get another paper and label each other line one of the hours of the day (say 8am to 8pm). At the top write today’s date.
In your calendar put everything you have to do at specific times like classes, meetings, lunches with friends and etc. The goal is to get a good and realistic overview of what your day will look like. You can setup repeating events, but to build the habit better I recommend you do it yourself.
Now look at your paper and write down all the things you need to do. Put a due date next to them if you need to. Feel free to put whole projects on here like “submit thesis” (this is typically horrible advice, but we’re keeping things simple here).
Looking at the paper for today copy over all the events which you’ll actually be doing. Then in the empty spots decide on a single task to focus on for that time and fill that in. “Large” tasks like finishing a thesis are fine here because you’re simply saying you’ll work on that task then.
On the paper you write down notes about new events and tasks you have. Everyday you look at the previous day’s paper and add any new events to your calendar and tasks to your task paper. Then you plan out your day on a new paper.
Getting Things Done is a great book and an awesome system in theory, but in practice is too much because it requires so much discipline to maintain. There are a lot of moving parts and while at some point someone who is able to manage that kind of system might need it to make sure they’re on top of everything in my experience most people looking for help being productive are looking in the wrong place here.
GTD, as David Allen has said repeatedly, is not a strict system but a set of ideas which is meant to be changed as needed.
The system makes everyone think they need some advanced system and it a perfect would you would have just a single place to manage all the information you deal with in a single way that makes sense to everyone.
Laptops, and technology in general, aren’t great in lectures and meetings
Some researchers at Princeton and UCLA have run experiments in classrooms, that match similar work done by professors at West Point, showing that students in a lecture on laptops fail to learn or retain as much information as other students.
I find this pretty hard to swallow, as someone who loves typing over writing things on paper, but I happen to have anecdotal personal evidence that convinces me that this is true.
One of the issues is that during a lecture of enough complexity there simply isn’t any time to write notes much more intelligent than transcripts. Professors of these studies think that because you simply can’t write fast enough to create a transcript like set of notes, like you can on the computer, that it forced students who took paper notes to summarize quickly and encouraged them to learn the material faster.
There are a couple take-aways here:
Firstly, paper notes in a learning environment are better than using the computer. I’ve seen this several times over the years and the classes which I managed to convince myself to take paper notes in I did much better.
But, while this is interesting, they only focus on short term results on standardized tests. The main thing they seem to have evidence for is that notes help us internalize this information, which for students is a big deal. This doesn’t mean computers are not good tools for learning or gaining knowledge, but that they’re not great tools for helping us internalizing that information as we receive it. Not all learners or note takers need to internalize everything they take notes on, but knowing that for important meetings or lectures computers won’t be as good is smart to know.