Too soon old, too late shmart...

...goes the old Yiddish proverb. And it works for the spring semester as well as for real life.

  • Using a simple 1-inch binder and two sets of five tabs were fantastic in helping me organize my two classes' syllabi, assignments, special handouts, and so on. I could carry it with me to work and school, I kept drafts of papers or sections of papers organized, and it just neatened up my work.
  • I also used the DIY Planner Two-Page Per Month calendar to keep at the front of the binder. I recorded due dates here. I also like being able to grok the month at a glance.
  • I used two large Moleskine cahiers as my notebooks for each class. This meant juggling two different notebooks, and I would occasionally pick up the wrong one. Next semester: use a Mead two-subject notebook and be done with it.
  • Some days I took lots of notes in class, other days few to none. Hence, I now have two half-empty Moleskine cahiers. Hence, using the Mead two-subject notebook to keep the damage to one notebook instead of two.
  • At the start of the semester, I also used the notebooks to record my reading notes. I found the notes helpful sometimes, especially as they fixed ideas in my head. However, as the semester ground on, I had less time available to record my thoughts and so that activity slowed and sputtered. Also, it was mainly useful to grasp the heart of what was discussed, note any unusual detail or anecdote, and skim the rest.
  • As always: there's more time at the start of the semester than there is at the end.
  • I've tried using the Little-and-often/ESS method and it worked sometimes. (It's also likely that I implemented these strategies wrongly--ie, not often enough and not little enough--or didn't stick with them long enough.) When I'm starting a paper, I'll also timebox the research task or use the Now Habit's 30 minutes of quality work trick. But I'm still thinking too much about the method and that interferes with doing the work. For example, I started using Cal's research paper database in Excel for an early paper and it was excellent for getting me started. But then I got in a time crunch and I abandoned it. I'm still keeping the idea in my back pocket, though, as it's a killer way to organize bunches of citations.
  • For my last batch of assignments (a UI critique and a paper), I borrowed a leaf from Steve Pavlina: I picked an assignment and just worked full bore on it until it was done. (Go here and scroll down to the "Single Handling" section.) And when it was sufficiently done, I moved on to the next assignment and worked full bore on that until it was sufficiently done. And so on. (By "sufficiently done," I mean "good enough." I like keeping a paper around for a couple of days to cool off, review it, and polish things a little more, add more texture to thicken it, etc. I find this re-reading and polishing takes little time or brain energy.) In fact, I was astonished at how well I took to this method and how quickly I achieved results with it. I got two deliverables done well before the due dates and had an unhurried weekend to finish my taxes and do my readings for the week. It also alleviates the problem I have with setting artificial deadlines which I can see right through; with this method, there are no deadlines, just a sufficiently done project.
  • Start all major projects earlier. Don't wait for later. Be kind to your future self. 'Nuff said.
  • Parking in the deck behind the Post Office is great at 8:30, and it gives me plenty of time to grab a coffee before class. Yay! No more waiting for the bus! I didn't discover this till the middle of the semester. However, it does cost about $3 a pop and uses more gas than taking the bus, so I'll probably use this only now and then.
  • Having the upcoming week's work and readings done by the previous Sunday evening leads to peace and contentment when the week starts, and no rushing about at the last minute.
  • I had two folders for each class that would contain the week's readings; as with the cahier notebooks, I'd sometimes get the folders mixed up. Also, they'd contain more printouts than I really needed for one day's class. I'll fix this with a staggeringly simple tip I glimpsed on a bus passenger's lap one day: Label the folders by day instead of by class. That way, each day's work is pre-sorted, I don't need to think about which folder to take, and badda-bing--Bob's your uncle.
  • When working on an assignment: re-read or maybe even type out precisely the directions, the expectations, requirements, etc. I often go off on a tangent and make the process and the final product more complicated than it needs to be. I frequently re-read my last two assignments with the focus of a Talmudic scholar, ensuring that I was delivering exactly what was asked for and not something other than what was asked for.
  • I tried creating a Google Calendar schedule (like Proto-scholar's) that delineated my commute times, class times, work schedule, etc. I never went back to it. I like my daily planner and 2-page-per-month too much. But a recent idea of Cal's--the auto-pilot schedule--I find gobsmackingly simple and brilliant and why the hell didn't I think of it myself? In fact, Pavlina's "focus on one project at a time" melded nicely with a standard day/time to work on these projects. Making these kinds of decisions ahead of time really reduces the friction of getting this work done. Given that I work full-time in addition to taking two classes, I find it necessary to designate whole evenings to one class or the other. During crunch times, I may institute emergency measures. But I think in the fall, I'll designate general class-work for specific evenings and periods of weekend time, and then work in the special projects as needed.

As I think of more, I'll add more.

Michael E Brown @brownstudy