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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.


How to Be Productive (Be Quiet)


I have 387,234,132,138 or thereabouts goals, but I’ve decided not to talk about them before they’re complete. I’m more productive when I discuss things retrospectively.

Think of those who take an IQ test and score in the 99.999995th percentile. They’ve done a fine job on the test, but if that score is the only thing that vouches for their intelligence, maybe they shouldn’t feel so smart. A high IQ test score is sweet because it suggests a high level of intelligence and it’s something people can use to place themselves among the greats, but …

Imaginary Conversation:
Bob: My IQ is 180. Marie Curie’s IQ is 180! I’m like Marie Curie!
Bobette: Curie developed a technique to isolate radioactive isotopes. She won a Nobel Prize in Physics and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. What did you do?
Bob: I recognized patterns on a test. :) The test says I’m just as smart as she is, so I can get those things too if I want. I’m smart. 😛

IQ tests are a little (tiny) bit dangerous. They allow test takers to feel accomplished without actually having them do much of anything. People often use them as indicators of potential (i.e. You did well on this test, so you probably learn quickly. You also probably possess the ability to think critically. You may accomplish great things. If you join my organization, you may do your great things there, so I want you). That’s fine, but getting an absurdly high score on an IQ test is not the same as having done something absurdly intelligent or even being absurdly intelligent. The tests are flawed.

In that way, an IQ test score resembles blabbering about goals/to do lists. The thought is there; the potential’s there, but has anything truly significant been accomplished? No. Yet, people love sharing their goals. The hope is that sharing increases productivity. People can get support; others will hold them accountable, etc.

Sharing doesn’t often work that way for me. Instead, I feel accomplished without actually doing anything, lose focus, and become less likely to do what I set out to do. Oops.

Years ago, I bought a ridiculously difficult Korean history tome, a virtual brick written for scholars. I told friends I was going to read it. They praised me for having the idea. I ended up reading one page of hundreds. Did anyone say, “Wtf? That’s lame. I thought you were going to read the whole thing.” No. Did anyone say anything at all to hold me accountable? No. Instead, I had already been rewarded for coming up with a stupid goal. People had said I was intelligent because I’d told them I intended to read a difficult book. In the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t actually read it. When it comes to shared goals, intentions and accomplishments often get the same reaction. I haven’t found praise for doing nothing (or having stupid goals) particularly helpful.

Besides, when I ban myself from mentioning things, I want to accomplish them more as I love discussing what I adore. I didn’t post about reading Korean literature in Korean until I actually read something. I can’t say for sure whether that did anything, but it definitely feels as though it did. If I were to have posted about it before I’d finished a book, I would have felt a sense of accomplishment and while I don’t think that would have stopped me from reading—it probably would have slowed me down—taken the edge off my hunger to engage in Korean literature because talking about it somehow feels like engaging with it. Reading literature was something I really wanted to do and discuss, so the goal I actually made was focused and extraordinarily realistic. I didn’t go for the thickest, heaviest, most intimidating, and most impressive looking tome around. I went for what I thought I’d actually read.

Bottom Line: I don’t want credit for potential. I want credit for accomplishing things. Sharing goals I haven’t begun working on doesn’t increase my productivity; I’m going to abstain from sharing them. This isn’t to say that I will always abstain. I just want to be careful about it.

Is telling people about this going to help me accomplish it? If my answer isn’t a resounding, “Yes!” I should and will continue to keep my mouth shut and my fingers away from keyboards.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject. I’m interested in hearing them. Everyone isn’t motivated in the same way and it’s cool to see how different people think.

*Photo: My productivity tools in a cafe. iPhone 5; Wood Camera app.


How to Read

My Reading Style
What’s below is said in jest, but if you’d like to read books as I do, follow the guidelines. If not, consider adding a comment with your own.

  1. Do not dog-ear or fold any pages in any books, ever.
  2. Underline prodigious amounts of phrases and passages.
    1. Sparkly and/or brightly colored pens are ideal for this.
    2. Highlighting is an acceptable alternative to underlining.
    3. This is the newest guideline and was established in 2001. It replaces “Do not write in any books on any pages, ever!
  3. Writing comments in the margins is permissible, but should be done sparingly. The comments should express feelings for the characters or author. They should never be complete sentences. X for something obnoxious or reprehensible and lulz for something ridiculous should suffice in the vast majority of cases.
  4. No rereading.
    1. Be constantly mystified by people who reread novels.
    2. Exception: Books in foreign languages that aren’t well understood may be reread.
    3. Exception: Parts of books may be reread, but rereading a novel in its entirety from front cover to back is to be avoided.
  5. In books that are to be shared with others, leave notes every once in a while. Do not write on the pages of the book, but fold up an absolutely tiny sheet of paper. Use a .18mm pen or smaller. Place the note randomly in the book.
  6. After a book is completed, stamp the inside cover with an extraordinarily fancy bookplate. The bookplate should feature your full name and a monogram/initial.
  7. If a book is read for fun and annotating isn’t important, read it on the Kindle.
  8. If a book is written by a beloved author, buy a physical copy. Place the physical copy on a shelf. Then, get the book on the Kindle and see the guideline above (read it on the Kindle).
  9. Buy and keep all university (text)books.
  10. Stock up on books.
    1. Try to keep the ratio of unread books to read books reasonable. Ban the purchase of new books when the ratio becomes skewed.

*The illustration above was done in Paper on an iPad. It doesn’t represent a real bookshelf, but books that I own and cherish(ed).