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The best way to make sure you’re making the most of the time you have is to start off well organized. This week we’re talking about planning and organizational systems and how to set yourself up for success.

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Planning Mode vs. Robot Mode:
Microsoft To-Do:
Bullet Journal:
Google Calendar:
More detail on Thomas’ actual folder structure:


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  Intro (0:00)

Hi, I'm Thomas Frank, this is Crash Course Study Skills, and today you're going to 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, or 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 lying 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 to create a good environment for it to work in.

(CrashCourse digital intro plays)

 Creating an Organizational System (0:43)

To get started, you're going to need an organizational system. This is framework for storing all the information and resources we'll need, and also capturing "ideas."

An "idea" is my personal 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 you 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 And if paper systems are more your speed, then 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 different options.

Now, my app of choice has always been Evernote, but you can also take a look at Microsoft's One-Note, 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 got your system all cobbled together, the next step is to develop a scheme for keeping it all organized. Now sometimes, a scheme is a plan for rounding up 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 you 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, or event, or handout, then the system will remain useful and you won't find yourself digging through your laundry basket at three 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 it out on their desktop. This is a pretty bad scheme to use, because you're eventually going to lose something. Plus, all those files are covering up that Hatsuni Miku 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 of the folder is the root of the tree; 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, and senior. 

Then, as we build further and 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. I've got "Sports Psychology", "History of Rome", and "Film Studies 101". 

Finally, add sub-folders 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 calender, color-code events so that 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. 

  Using Your Organizational System (5:05)

Now that you've chosen your tools and you have the 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. And that takes more effort than simply tossing a handout into your backpack or telling yourself, "Eh, I'm sure I'll remember it". 

If you don't do it, your system will start to unorganized and incomplete, which means your brain can't rely on it anymore. So you need to build a habit of using your system correctly all the time, even though it takes effort. 

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 I like to call "Quick Capture", figuring out the quickest, easiest way to file things into your system, without compromising it's structure. Now, there are to main ways to go about practicing "Quick Capture". 

The first it 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 considerably by choosing apps and tools that simplify the recording process. 

A good example is Google Calender'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 may 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're recorded into the correct place within your system. 

  Details of Planning (6:37)

Alright, 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 the following one. I recommend doing this on Sunday, that way you're aware of everything that's coming up, and you'll have a rough idea of what you'll be able to work on based on what's already in your calender. 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 that you don't find yourself cramming right before. 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 are 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 your mind, add 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, and this is simply a list of the events you have 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 the 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 this with your weekly planning session in order to get it all done in one fell swoop. During this review session, you'll do a couple of different things. First, look over your plans and reflect on the past week and compare what you planned to do with what you actually got done and if there's a gap between the two, try to figure out what caused it. Doing this can also help you to pinpoint things that are hurting your productivity; Maybe you're distracted a lot, or maybe you simply plan to do too much. 

After that, go through your task manager and calender if there are any tasks or events that need changes and 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 towards disorder and chaos. And 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 built and you 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. 

  Credits (8:54)

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

Crash Course Study Skills is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, Montana and it's made with the help of all these nice people. Let's keep Crash Course free for everyone forever, you can support the series over at Patreon, which is a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love. Thanks so much for your support. 

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