[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary. Michael blogs regularly at The 3 in One.]
Now that I am halfway through my Master of Theology (Th.M.), I have learned a thing or two about being a productive postgraduate student. I would love to share some of the knowledge I have learned, so that you too can be a more productive postgraduate. But even more, I would also like to know what you would add or take away from this list. Here is some practical advice I have adopted which could possibly help save you hundreds of hours.
1. Project Management
All systems tend towards disorder unless energy is added. You must add energy to your school work! I have heard so many people complain about assignments, readings, et al. The simple truth comes down to how much energy you have added to the system. If you do not put energy into the system, it will tend toward disorder and chaos. One of the first things I do every semester is take all of my assignments (readings, projects, presentations et al) and put them into one Excel document with conditional formatting so that I can stay on top of all my deadlines – I have become a Project Manager of my school work. If you see that you need to read 4,000 pages for one class you should plan accordingly. At this comprehensive level most people read 30 pages per hour, so you would need to budget 133 hours for simply reading. Transferring your notes into a document for annotated bibliographies and papers is another story, but if you use kindle it becomes much faster!
Read books on Kindle or Kindle e-readers, highlight, add electronic notes, export/import notes to a searchable database such as Evernote. If you are a student, the days of nostalgia and paper books are over. The major complaint I hear is from people who love to read, “Oh, I just love the feel of a book in my hands.” Well, fine, you keep doing that and the rest of the world will leave you behind. When you truly realize that you can highlight and export all of your excerpts and notes from kindle, you will realize how many hours you have saved and never think twice about it again. So much of our lives are spent waiting, if you have a kindle app on your smartphone, imagine how much you could accomplish while sitting at the dentist or on the bus. Take advantage of these times.
Take all notes using this application. You can sync it with your phone, tablet, computer, etc. And it is a fully searchable database. If you pay a few dollars, you can even have the software recognize writings from pictures you have taken. (i.e., you can even scan handwritten notes and they will be searchable!) And if you ever have an epiphany, you can write it down in your phone or simply do a voice recording, and then you can refine it later on your computer!
Saves files on your computer and on a cloud. You can access files on any computer, phone, or tablet. Need I say more? If you are not already using the cloud, I am not sure which planet you are living on.
Best program ever! If you do research, this is a must have. It helps you store bibliographic info in a very efficient manner. It works through your web browser and hooks up with Word or Open Office. Do you remember having to learn MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc.? Well, this program will put all of your endnote and bibliographic data into the proper format and even allow you to switch formats. Plus, you can add notes to the Zotero database so you always have access to your own personal annotated bibliographies.
6. Dual Screen
If you are like me, you have at least 10 windows open at any time, being able to see as many of them as possible at any given moment speeds up the process tremendously. I cannot say enough good things about having two screens. I use a 14-inch laptop with a 22-inch monitor as an extended desktop.
Exercise breaks are amazing. I go for a run, bike ride, or workout in the gym nearly everyday. It helps give me energy. I am also a very competeitve person and have even written out the workouts I will be doing for the next 20 weeks. It keeps me on top of my school and fitness. Exercise does not take away from the energy you need to put forth in your other endeavors, it simply adds to it. I have had many epiphanies while running, I often write papers in my head while on a run. Other people like to listen to audio books while running, but for me it is a perfect time for creativity.
Drink water. Seriously.
What do you think? Do you agree with my tips for being a successful student and person? What would you add or take away?