How to Be Productive (as a Uni. Student)


Everything I say in this entry should be taken with a huge heap of salt. I’m not responsible for what happens to you if you follow my advice, especially if what happens is terrible, but counter-intuitive things work well for me. Perhaps they (will) work for you too.

My guiding principle is KISS: doing less instead of more in the name of efficiency.

  1. Do not write anything down in a calendar/schedule/planner… I’m very busy; my schedule changes daily and varies significantly from week to week. If I wrote things down, I’d be checking my calendar several times a day for fear of forgetting something and I’d be editing it constantly. I just don’t bother with any of it and simply remember when I have meetings, classes, exams, conferences, &c. I’ve yet to forget a single thing (even when I was teaching 11? different classes and working 7 days a week). So do not write things down. Not writing saves time. (Why does this sound like such awful advice?)
  2. Take notes for all classes in one notebook (or on a computer). Too many notebooks = too much stuff to carry around. If you have gigantic handwriting this might be a problem, but my handwriting verges on microscopic. My current notebook is a pink Leuchtturm1917 jottbook. It’s small, light, flexible, and durable. ♥
  3. Do not take notes on readings. Only highlight. If writing a paper, it’s okay to write down quotes and paper numbers, but aside from snarky comments in the margins, that’s all that should be tolerated. In preparation for exams, do not make timelines, charts, or any other such nonsense—stick to learning the material and do not get involved in producing art projects of this sort. If feeling particularly obsessive, a list of terms can be stomached—maybe—but nothing else.
  4. Buy ebooks. Kindle > 500+ page monograph. Ebooks are searchable. I hate carrying heavy things.
  5. Do not take any foreign language classes. Just self-study and test out of them. It’s 2013. Foreign language courses are very 20th century. This may seem radical as it requires a certain amount of discipline, but it’s for the best. Use the Internet. Get books from Amazon or wherever. Don’t waste time in these classes. If foreign languages are a requirement for you, this will free up space to take other things. (Note: a one-on-one course does not fall under this ban!) I already did this for one language and I’m going to try to do it for another (just for fun).
  6. Do not color code any notes. It’s okay to mark key-terms, but elaborate color-coding schemes are intolerable. Optional: Don’t write in black or red, just because… Use other colors. I suggest pink, purple, grey, robin’s egg blue, navy blue and pens of .38mm or .3mm. Avoid .7mm at all costs and .5mm when possible.

Given such habits you may think that I’m failing out of school and forgetting my appointments left and right, but I’m not. Also, I realize that everyone has different study habits. I’m curious to know what yours are. And! please stick to what actually works for you.

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  • Reply Kristine November 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    I love how my method of being productive is a bit different from yours. Of course, what may work for you may not work for me, and vice versa.

    I often use my Calendar app and it’s just jam-packed with due dates, final exam dates, etc… I even keep a list format of the things I need to do on a daily basis. I’m not sure why I jot things down a lot, but I want to cover my ass before I forget something important.

    I find that keeping things simple would be ideal, I just don’t know where to start. I guess reducing my need (mostly obsessive compulsion) to be “organized” and on top of my to-do list is a good place to start.

    • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Being organized isn’t a bad thing, though! It’s good. :) I began to rebel and simplify things out of necessity. I didn’t have a lot of time (i.e. enough time) and had to use what time I had efficiently. Then, I started to think about what helped me and what didn’t. I stopped doing what didn’t help.

  • Reply Clem November 22, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I actually do most of these things. I usually put big dates of papers and exams into my Google Calendar at the beginning of the semester, but that’s mostly just so I can reference it and see easily when I have busy periods. I never actually forget deadlines – I just find it’s helpful to be able to visualize what a week or month looks like.

    I also don’t take notes on readings… Usually readings are explained/discussed in lectures or conferences, so it’s not really necessary and it takes up SO MUCH extra time. I took notes on all my poli sci readings last year and it took me ~an hour to get through 10 pages of reading, which is excessive imo.

    I do have two notebooks, but that’s one for MWF and one for TR – I’d never have one for each class.

    Other than that, my main method is taking notes by hand. I find I retain information much better that way, and when it comes to studying I remember most of the concepts pretty well anyway. Studying in general is a skill I haven’t quite perfected, though – I tend to rely on having a good memory rather than any specific study strategies.

    • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      You strike me as someone who does well and I like reading your posts/analyses of pop culture. Anyway, when it comes to studying, I definitely don’t have it perfected. I’m a “bad” student and I’ve always been a “bad” student as I don’t write stuff down etc. but I have a tendency to get better results than “good” students, so it’s okay.

      Whether I take notes in any capacity, or do so by computer/hand depends on the class.

  • Reply cantaloupe November 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I hate calendars. I do write things down, but I write them down in a notebook in the form of to-do lists, with deadlines next to them. I have a tiny little notebook that has lists up the wazoo of all the things I should do and sometimes notes about how to do them. But, interestingly enough, they are largely things that I don’t necessarily NEED to do. (Even the ones with deadlines.) The most pressing things that I must, must, must do, I know in my head and just do, because you’re right, it’s a waste of time to write them down. The lists are things that I should do if I happen to have a moment of spare time, but there won’t be any consequences if I never find that moment. I do manage to do most of them, but since they’re not pressing or overly important, I need to write them down lest I forget. Or I do them a month later, so I need the notes to remember what the full scope of the task is.

    When I was in school, I never studied. Let alone color coded anything or made charts. I did take notes during lectures, but that was to help me learn it then, then never to be looked at again. I took notes for papers when I was reading, but that was usually just writing pages and quotes/summaries of quotes that might be useful. Granted, I was an English major, so perhaps the major affects the methods. (I feel like that should be a cliched saying by now. The major affects the methods. Let’s start it.)

    I disagree about the language learning though. I learned Spanish entirely because I forced myself to take a billion classes, even when it was totally not necessary. I took three extra courses in college just because I knew that I would totally lose all my skills if I didn’t. And I am very grateful that I did that to myself because it is extremely nice to eavesdrop on Spanish-speakers without them knowing. And I wish that I could take more classes now. I own books and I have programs on my computer, but I have zero discipline. Which is also why I have learned nearly zero Arabic, despite having all the materials and the boyfriend to converse with, haha. Zero discipline. (And I’m now going to make an entry talking about learning a language, so thank you for the inspiration!)

    • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      I’m definitely going to have to wait a while to see if my language learning strategy works, but I know that just taking classes wouldn’t have been enough to get me where I am with my Korean now. My uni. is good at teaching languages, but when I wasn’t enrolled in a uni., all the classes I took weren’t so great. I had long finished with ABC and was at a more awkward level to teach and most institutions didn’t know how to handle it well. Also, it took me time to get to those classes, it took time being in class, and it took time to get back home. When the pressure was on for me to actually up my level and learn–I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep going to them because their pace was too slow and they wouldn’t help me much with my grammar, writing, etc. I had to use my limited time more efficiently, so I quit. I honestly think that learning languages works best when it is done outside of the classroom (reading and watching materials made for native consumption by oneself) and with a tutor/language partner (instead of in a group with a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re doing).

  • Reply Languages are hard | Arrivals and Departures November 25, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    […] I read a blog entry that mentioned study techniques and I got hung up on the bit about learning a language. I started to write a novel in her comments […]

  • Reply Liv November 27, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Haha all of your study tips sound like terrible advice and I love them! So I just contradicted myself. 😛

    I’m tired of hearing people stick to the traditional stuff of jotting things down in a planner, having separate notebooks for notes, taking classes on every little step, and then complaining about not achieving what they expected. Obviously, something is wrong. Maybe they should come read your tips. I just think they are too NOT busy to do things like organizing and planning, which ruins their efficiency. Am I making sense? Probably not.

    I have proudly not used a planner or calendar in about 10 years. Every time I brag about it, somebody will say I’m going to need that planner in my upcoming year of study, but everybody has always been wrong.

    • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      You make sense! I agree that people (myself included) sometimes focus too much on being organized instead of the stuff that they’re trying to organize, which is actually important. And yay! for not using a planner.

  • Reply Vera November 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I haven’t been in school for… wow, 6 years or so. I know that, at the time I was a student, 2 would’ve made me fail a 100 times over. Now? Well, I still need to have at least some sort of sketch to jog my memory before an exam. But, if I were a student again, I’d probably invest in a laptop. I definitely type faster than I write.

    1) I’m undecided about this. On the one hand, I generally remember my appointments and to-do lists, but if I had lots of stuff to remember, I’d definitely forget something.

    3) I’ve never taken notes on any books… ever.

    4) Oh yes.

    5) Um… well, I’m currently taking German classes at work, but they are not entry-level.
    I’m not sure I’d do this on my own, mainly because I need to talk to someone who speaks correctly, so that he/she can correct me if I use the wrong article or use an odd phrasing.

    6) I’ve always used 2 colors. Red for definitions, and blue for anything else. I’d probably keep the same

    All in all, these would be terrible for my past student self, because I had no discipline at all. Now, however, some of them might just work quite well.

    • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      I think I should make my point about #5 (learning languages) clearer. I’m against taking classes, not being tutored/working with teachers and native speakers. These language classes aren’t about formulating and exchanging ideas…so from an efficient is-this-a-good-use-of-time perspective I don’t think that sitting in a classroom with a lot of other people who don’t know what they’re doing is helpful. They’ll use the teacher’s time and they don’t speak like natives (which is why they’re there) so talking to them is not worth it, especially when thanks to tutors, language partners, the Internet, etc. a much better learning environment can be made.

      Luckily, I’m not doing badly, but just how well I’m doing—well, we’ll have to wait and see. In terms of your language acquisition, I’m most curious about your English and how much of your awesomeness there was gained through a class. :)

      • Reply Vera November 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm

        Aw thanks, you make me blush (but by all means do keep complimenting me). 😀

        I think it’s actually a mix of things
        – 8 years out of 11 (I started it in 2nd grade), I studied English at school on the same level as I did with Romanian

        – 95% of my classmates in high school excelled at English, so the teachers were always challenging us with various exercises

        – in 12th grade I joined a Harry Potter RPG forum where I had to write a lot of essays in lieu of homework (i.e. I was a student at this virtual school).

        These are what helped me cement most of my English knowledge.

        Later, I also wrote a lot of website reviews, business emails and read lots of books in English. But these things were mostly done after you met me. :)

        Regarding English teachers, my middle and high school teachers were brilliant, but so were my classmates. We had to sit an English exam to be admitted into the class. Also, we’d be thrown out of the class if our average in class was lower than 70%

        In uni however, my English teacher sucked. And so did most of my classmates at it. It was definitely frustrating, unfortunately the class was compulsory. Ironically enough, I got 80% in it, because I didn’t attend most seminars (they were so mind-numbingly dull). Just imagine 14 classes, where people read aloud their essays titled “My Computer” and every one of them was “it has so an so CPU, so and so video card, so and so mother board…”. Bleargh.

      • Reply Vera November 27, 2013 at 6:29 pm

        I don’t think that sitting in a classroom with a lot of other people who don’t know what they’re doing is helpful.

        Oh definitely. If that’s what you meant by classes, then I fully agree. I was thinking of somewhat more advanced classes (haven’t had to study a foreign language from scratch for a long time, heh).

        • Reply chantelle November 27, 2013 at 6:44 pm

          Yeah, once language classes become more about literature and discussion (even though some discussion classes are shady), it’s different. I’m against the type of uni. class you described because they’re really inefficient and not even fun.

        • Reply Vera November 27, 2013 at 7:15 pm

          Absolutely, I was personally wondering how the teacher managed to pay attention at all, since everyone in class was talking (about something else, of course).

          My fondest memory of the seminar, was how I was the only one who wrote the essay differently. It read something along the lines of “My computer’s dog slow, and Photoshop all but kills it, but I love it anyway” … in about 300 words.
          And everyone in class loved it. *puffs out chest*

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