Planning & Organization: Crash Course Study Skills #4

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Hi, I’m Thomas Frank, this is Crash Course Study Skills, and today you’re going through planning and organization boot camp.

As a student, you have two modes, which I like to call Planning Mode and Robot Mode.

When you buckle down to study for a test, finish a homework assignment, or slog your way through a textbook chapter, you’re in Robot Mode.

You’re doing the work.

But robots can only do what they’re programmed to do, and they need a well-maintained environment to work in.

I’ve seen videos of those robots in car factories – they’re not working with dirty laundry or cheeseburger wrappers laying around.

Those places are pretty clean.

So, if you want your Robot mode to work efficiently, you need to know how to program it and how to create a good environment for it to work in.

[Theme Music]

To get started, you’re going to need an organizational system.

This is the framework for storing all information and resources that we’ll need, and also for capturing “ideas.”

An “Idea” is my term for any intangible information that you need to save and have easy access to later on.

This can include: Tasks, Events, and actual, you know, ideas – things you want to write, create – anything like that.

Additionally, you’ll need a reliable way to store: Notes, Handouts, and any other output you create, be it writing, code, art, or cheeseburger wrapper origami.

So let’s get down to business, defeat the huns, and create that system.

In my mind, any good organizational system worth its salt includes:

A task manager A calendar

A note-taking system And Some kind of physical storage for paper documents

Your task manager is the place where you record the stuff that you need to get done.

It’s what you look to when you get that sudden burst of motivation to do ALL THE THINGS,

and then wonder what all the things actually includes.

You’ll find a zillion different types of task managers out there, but there are only a few really essential features.

Pick a system that makes it easy to record a task’s details and due date, and also make sure it’s a snap to see what’s coming due in the near future.

The task manager that I personally use these days is called Todoist, and it ticks all those boxes.

But there are lots of other options, including Trello, Microsoft To-Do, and Any.Do.

And if paper systems are more your speed, the classic day planner works just as well, as do more recent systems like the Bullet Journal method.

In addition to tasks, you’ll also need to remember upcoming events, and that’s what your calendar is for.

Now if you’re using an old-fashioned paper planner, then your task manager and calendar might be one in the same –

but personally, I’ve always found that keeping the two separate works better for me.

A calendar – in my case, Google Calendar, but it might be Apple’s Calendar app or something else for you – is best for events that will happen at a specific time,

while a task manager better handles things that have due dates, but that you can work on whenever you want before then.

Next, you need to figure out how to organize your notes.

This is pretty simple for paper notes; you just use paper notebooks, and have a separate section or entire notebook for each class.

But, for digital notes, you’ve got a lot of options.

Now, my app of choice has always been Evernote, but you can also take a look at Microsoft’s OneNote,

Apple’s Notes (they’re not always super imaginative with naming over there in Cupertino), or even Google Docs.

Lastly, make sure you’ve got some kind of physical storage for handouts, loose papers, and notebooks you’ve filled up.

Keeping one of those portable accordion folders in your bag works well when you’re away from home, and it combos well with a file box for longer-term storage.

Now once you’ve cobbled your system together, the next step is to develop an scheme for keeping it all organized.

Now, sometimes a scheme is a plan for getting a bunch of small, yellow minions and attempting to steal the moon, and I definitely don’t want to discourage you from doing that.

But, in this context, it just means a set of rules and conventions that help to keep your system organized and useful.

If you choose a good scheme and stick to its rules every time you file away a new task, event, or handout,

then the system will remain useful and you won’t find yourself digging through your laundry basket at 3 a.m. looking for that essay you wrote on Hamlet.

Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

Your computer’s file structure is a great place to start, since so many people seem content to just let everything sit out on their desktop.

This is a pretty bad scheme to use, because you’re eventually going to lose something.

Plus, all those files will be covering up that Hatsune Miku desktop background that I know you have.

So a better long-term solution is to create a folder structure that’s well-defined, yet flexible.

My recommendation is to set up your computer’s folders like a tree with lots of branches.

The top-level folder is the root of the tree, and that’s where the scheme starts.

So, in this case, that folder will be called “College.”

From there, try to create branches that represent the different aspects of that part of your life.

The first logical branch point in this situation is the year – freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.

Then, as we go further and hit even more specific branch points, choose a logical category for drilling down to the next level.

And this changes depending on the type of information you're organizing.

Like, here, organizing by class makes sense.

We’ve got Sports Psychology, History of Rome, and Film Studies 101.

And finally, add subfolders for big group projects.

If you’re constantly vigilant about saving your work in the correct folder, then this structure will ensure that it’s always easy to find what you’re looking for –

you just go down the branches that lead to it.

Thanks, Thought Bubble.

You can use a similar structure with your digital notes as well.

This is why I like using Evernote so much.

Since everything is organized into Notebooks, and Notebooks themselves can be put into stacks, I can create a scheme that organizes my entire life.

For instance, I’ve got a notebook stack for classes.

Within it, every class I’ve ever taken gets its own notebook,

and within those notebooks I can create notes for individual lectures, reading assignments, and other things.

With your calendar, color-code events so you can see which part of your life they represent,

like classes, extracurricular activities, and part-time job hours.

If you use a paper planner, you can do this by using colored stickers or markers, as well.

Lastly, create projects within your task manager for grouping similar tasks together.

If you’re a student, the most logical way to do this is to create a project for each class, as well as additional projects for anything else you’ve got going on.

Now that you’ve chosen your tools and have your system set up, you need to make sure you’ll actually use it, since putting things into your system properly takes work.

If your teacher assigns something in class, you eventually need to open your task manager and record all the details correctly.

That takes more effort than simply tossing that handout into your backpack or telling yourself, “Eh, I’m sure I’ll remember it.”

But if you don’t do it, your system started to get unorganized and incomplete – which means your brain can’t rely on it anymore.

So you need to build the habit of using your system correctly all the time, even though it takes effort.

And one of the best ways to do that is to remove as much friction as you possibly can from the process.

This is an idea that I like to call quick capture – figuring out the quickest, easiest way to file things into your system without compromising its structure.

There are two main ways to go about practicing quick capture.

The first is to commit to entering things into the correct place the moment they come up.

For instance, if your teacher assigns homework in class, you’d immediately open your task manager and record all the details.

If you do choose to go this route, you can streamline things by choosing apps and tools that simplify the recording process.

A good example is Google Calendar’s iPhone app, which lets you set the date, time, and location of an event just by typing them into the event’s title.

That’s a lot quicker than tapping on each individual field.

It also means eliminating any unnecessary features from your system;

while it might be cool that your to-do app can add priority levels to each task, you probably don’t need them,

and they just add more friction to the process.

The second option here is to use a daily note, which is a simple piece of notebook paper,

or a note that’s quickly accessible on your phone, where you record everything that comes up during the day.

This is a temporary holding place.

At the end of each day, you need to move everything you’ve recorded to the correct place within your system.

All right, so now we are ready to finally dig into the details of planning.

Now, I like to view planning in two separate contexts: weekly and daily.

The main purpose of your weekly planning session is to look at everything that’s coming due during the upcoming week, as well as in the following one.

I recommend doing this on Sunday;

that way, you’ll be aware of everything that’s coming up, and you’ll have a rough idea of when you’ll be able to work on it all based on what’s already in your calendar.

However, there is also some long-term planning that should be done here.

First, if you’ve got an exam coming up in the next month, it’s a good idea to look over everything that will be covered,

and then to schedule study sessions over the upcoming weeks to ensure you don’t find yourself cramming right before it.

If you’ve just been assigned a big project, you can similarly break that project down into small chunks and assign due dates to those chunks.

Think about other big events that might be coming up in your life as well.

Maybe there’s a scholarship deadline coming up, or a birthday you want to remember.

If something comes to mind, add it to your system so you won’t forget it.

In addition to planning out your week, you should also take a few minutes each day to create a daily plan.

This is simply a list of the events you’ve got planned and the tasks you want to accomplish.

Now you can do this in the morning before you start school, or you can do it at night before you go to bed, which is what I prefer to do.

As you create it, try to batch your tasks.

If you have a bunch of easy, low-energy tasks, or errands that require travel, plan ahead and combine them into one big maintenance session.

Doing this will help you get them all done in a short, compact block of time, which in turn frees up lots of uninterrupted time that you can dedicate to your really challenging work.

Finally, to keep your system running smoothly, choose one day per week to do a review session.

And if you want to be extra-efficient, you can just combine it with your weekly planning in order to get it all done in one fell swoop.

During this review session, you’ll do a couple things.

First, look over your plans and reflect on the past week.

Compare what you planned to do with what actually got done, and if there’s a gap between the two, try to figure out what caused it.

Doing this can help you to pinpoint things that are hurting your productivity – maybe you were distracted a lot, or maybe you simply planned to do too much.

After that, go through your task manager and calendar.

If there are any tasks or events that need changes, make them.

This prevents what I like to call “entropy” which is a term in thermodynamics that generally refers to how everything in the universe tends to move toward disorder and chaos.

This is exactly what organizational systems tend to do as well, but by regularly bringing them back to order on a weekly basis, you can keep things from getting too chaotic.

So now that you’ve got your system build and your planning habits in place, you’re well equipped to tackle all the work your classes are going to throw at you in the most effective way possible.

Additionally, you can rest assured knowing that nothing will slip your mind or fall through the cracks, as long as you keep those habits up.

That’s all for now, so thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.

Crash Course Study Skills is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio in Missoula, MT, and it's made with the help of all of these nice people.

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