Friday, April 3, 2015

Top 6 Organization Apps for College (and Beyond!)

smartphone shows Evernote, an organization app that can be used for college, and blog post title

Organization and productivity go hand-in-hand.  If you're not organized, it's hard to be productive.  Likewise, if you're not productive enough to organize your life, you won't be...organized.  Vicious cycle.  Here are my 6 favorite apps for organization and productivity, in no particular order.

1. Raise the Bar

Something about seeing visual progress toward a goal is just so motivating.  Raise the Bar is a habit-tracking app, but I use it for tracking general goals as well.  You can set a goal for whatever you want, customize the colors, and watch your progress toward your goal increase.  It's really satisfying to go from 36% done to 100% done and the bar changes color.  Or maybe that's just me :) Either way, it's definitely worth a try!  I use it to track my study time, making sure I go to 90% of my class lectures, and forming habits to read, write, and exercise.

2. Timetable

I use this for school.  I input all of my class times, exam times, reading assignments, paper deadlines, presentation dates, EVERYTHING into this app, including details about how many points exams/assignments are worth and which chapter(s) they cover.  Each class has its own color, which is the same color for Raise the Bar study progress and aCalendar entries.  It has Day View and Week View, as well as areas to see tasks and exams for each class.  I LOVE this app for keeping me productive during school.  I can just look at my list of upcoming assignments and exams, and I know exactly what I need to study!  No more wasted time flipping through syllabi and going through old notes trying to find due dates and details!


3. aCalendar

I also put all of my class times into this app, just so I can see when I'm truly available.  I also put in work shifts, appointments, meetings, and every other event in my life on here.  Having everything color-coded is super helpful too (my classes have the same colors in every app).  I have a lot of people who need to meet with me individually, so having all my life commitments in one place minimizes the time it takes to figure out meeting times.  It's also helpful when trying to schedule time to study.  aCalendar syncs with Google Calendar too, so if I need to access my schedule on a device that is not my phone or tablet, I'm not SOL.

4. Todoist

I use this app to keep track of all the non-school tasks I have (although you can easily use it for school aissignment, but I prefer Timetable for that) to complete.  This app breaks down your To Do List in 2 ways: by deadline and by category.  I also have it set to send me a notification each morning of the tasks that are due that day.  I tend to get overwhelmed by the volume of tasks on my list, so being able to get rid of a task once it is complete really helps my stress levels stay down!  Once you complete an item, it magically disappears and your list gets shorter and shorter until you have a blank screen!

5. Evernote

I take class notes in Evernote, scan my syllabi into it (photos are searchable, people!!!), make outlines for papers/projects, draft blog posts, brainstorm blog topics, make lists, and so much more.  The outline feature makes Evernote much easier for taking outline-style notes than MS Word, and everything is synced!  So I can access all my class notes from my tablet, my phone, and any other computer with internet access, and nothing gets lost or thrown away by mistake.

6. Food Planner

Having all my meals for the week planned out in advance eliminates that what-do-I-eat-I-don't-want-to-make-anything feeling that always happens to me.  If I don't know in advance what I'm eating for dinner, I will stand in front of the fridge and bemoan the fact that I have to cook something from scratch, which takes time and energy that I don't have.  I sketch out my week in Food Planner, and then I don't have to think about it.  I cook my food on Sundays for the rest of the week, so all I have to do is heat up the meal that I don't have to decide on and EAT!  Meal planning is a fantastic time management trick that I have learned to cut down on all that wasted time trying to decide what to even eat.

So there you have it, my Top 6 Organization Apps for College (and real life, too).  What tools do you use to organize your hectic life?  Comment with your favorites, I'm always looking for fun new organizational tools!

Monday, March 30, 2015

4.0 GPA Challenge: Do More Than Just Pass Your Classes

challenge yourself to earn higher grades with study techniques

I performed a miracle.  I got a 4.0 GPA last term.  Okay, not really a miracle, but it was the first one I've earned since starting college!  Granted, I was taking some easier classes and retaking one that I didn't do so hot in Fall term, but still!  I'm proud of myself, and I did work for it.  Now, I'm heading into Spring term with 19 credits of harder classes, a new volunteering gig, and a new job.  This is all on top of the officer position I already hold in my sorority, along with everyday sorority events and other life commitments.  In short, I'm BUSY!

The point is, even though I have a lot going on in my life, getting that 4.0 really made me feel awesome about myself.  I experienced a renewed confidence in my academic abilities and ability to achieve my goals.  Because it felt so fantastic, I have decided that despite my busy life and seemingly endless commitments, I am striving to get another 4.0 term under my belt.  I've been inspired by Sanam's A* Grade challenge (I'm not 100% sure what the * means, but I'm guessing kind of like an A+?) to push myself in a more structured manner to get those high grades.  I'm not exactly joining her challenge, but my personal 4.0 plan will be similar to hers. 

I'm going to start by assessing what I did last term that worked exceptionally well, as well as the areas I felt I need improvement in.

What worked for me last term

Spaced repetition
By spacing out your studying, you give your brain time to condense information into meaningful memories that remain in you brain a lot longer.

Practice testing
Being able to objectively measure your abilities in a particular subject is invaluable.  I would work through a practie test, then go back and write down the topic of every question I missed or guessed on.  Those were the subjects that I studied more frequently and intensively until I understood them just as well.

Unprompted recall
For vocab-heavy classes like my Medical Terminology class, I would read through the vocab list a couple times, then try to recall as many words from memory as I could without prompting myself by looking at the list.  I then added to the list any words I had forgotten and corrected any definitions I got wrong.

Color-coding notes
I only stuck with this for the first half of the term, since it was so time-consuming to reqrite my notes, but for those first few weeks, color-coding my notes as I rewrote them really helping information retention and recall.

Studying my hardest subjects at night
I usually did this by accident, because I would put off studying, then had to do the homework for those harder classes first.  Then I would get really tired and go to bed, but I ended up remembering those topics significantly better than the ones I studied in the morning, when I had all day to forget them and be distracted.  By studying the hardest material before bed, your brain goes to sleep with that material fresh, so more of it will be processed into long-term memory as you sleep.

What I need to work on

Doing my assignments ahead of time
This is more of a time-management issue, but also goes along with procrastination, which I do a lot.  I'm trying to build in some library time specifically for completing assignments to combat this.

Studying for finals before Dead Week and Finals Week
I left the majority of my studying until the last minute, and then I was scrambling to remember Organic Chemistry mechanisms from Week 3.

Going to class and taking better notes.  
I'm currently exploring a couple different note-taking systems to see which one is most effective for my learning.  Going to class is half the battle for me, so I'm trying to make it more of a habit.

Spaced repetition
Yes, I know I said this was something that I did well last term. But I still need to work on it.  I'm going to try incorporating 15 minutes of review material into every hour of studying to help space out the review (instead of trying to remember everything the night before the exam!)

Beating procrastination
UGH.  Procrastination and I have an all-out war going on pretty much all of the time.  I'm trying a couple tricks from Robin Sharma (recommended by Sanam) to increase my willpower to overcome procrastination (I'll keep ya posted).

And with that, my 4.0 GPA Challenge is on!  Classes start today, so I say BRING IT ON.

Best of luck with YOUR studying!  How do you earn your high grades?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Word for 2015

I recently read a post by Deirdre Emme called "My Word for 2015." She chose "strong" as her word- to inspire her to be physically, emotionally, and mentally strong. Go read the post, it's simple but inspiring :)  I decided that I wanted to choose a word for myself!

I wanted something that would encourage new patterns of behavior.  Looking back on last year (the last term of school, especially), I had been very passive.  I let life happen to me and around me, and I don't like it.  So for my word for 2015, I have chosen the word ACTIVE.

I want to be more physically active, proactive about tasks to reduce my stress levels, be a more active participant in my own life, and actively pursue my goals.

What's your word? Comment below!

Friday, January 2, 2015

How to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

I have such a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions.  They’re easy to make and I get so excited to have these new goals, but I have trouble following through (me and everyone else, I know).  In my grand quest to make 2015 The Year the Resolutions Actually Stuck, I have decided to review which of my resolutions from the past I actually achieved and why.

The successes (I won’t go into the failures, that would take up 10+ pages!)

Taking my vitamins every day
Cutting dairy out of my diet
Folding my laundry
Not wearing makeup every day
Going to the gym twice a week (was a consistent habit until the last couple months when I got too busy/didn’t make time…DARN! Still, though, I managed it for long enough that I know why it worked)

These goals are all unique, and yet I somehow managed to accomplish all of them…How?

I used my existing routines.

Seriously!  It works because it’s easier to add a little extra to something that already exists than it is to create something entirely new and different.  This is especially true if that something that requires that you readjust your life to accommodate it. 

It is also easier to remember if you add it to something you already do daily because your brain has the routine hardwired.  Humans like ritual and order.  Many people have a bedtime or morning “ritual”- a specific order in which they do things.  When a new habit becomes part of that specific order, your brain starts associating that habit with the ritual, and it starts to feel unnatural to not complete the routine. 

Example #1: Taking my vitamins became the last thing I did before getting into bed.  I brushed and flossed my teeth, washed my face, took out my contacts, put of pajamas, and took my vitamins.  I already had a bedtime routine, I just added one more thing to it.  Previously, I had tried setting alarms or saying I would take my vitamins at a certain time of day, but ultimately, those all failed because it wasn’t natural for me to create a whole new habit at an arbitrary time.  When I forgot to take my vitamins, a little alarm went off in my head, giving me the feeling that my bedtime routine wasn’t finished yet!

Example #2: Cutting dairy out of my diet, which is more of a “negative goal” because it subtracts or changes something from my life instead of adding it or creating a new habit.  Every day, I took my existing tea routine (make tea, steep, add honey, add milk) and I put that steeping time to use: I went and retrieved my nondairy milk.  Adding milk was already part of the routine, so it was just a matter of changing the type of milk, not the habit itself.

So, since I have figured out that the easiest and most effective way (for me, at least) is to add or change a habit to an existing routine than to create a whole new one, I will be strategically incorporating the following into my existing routines.

Lily’s 2015 Resolutions

Drink 2 more glasses of water each day (one glass as part of my morning routine, one as part of my bedtime routine)

Keep a bullet journal (morning and evening routines)

Write a week’s worth of blog posts at a time (my Sunday routine, when I prepare for the week)

Track my blog and business progress (my end-of-month routine, when I review what I did and need to do for the next month)

What are your 2015 resolutions or goals?  What tricks or methods for keeping resolutions have worked for you in the past?  Share in the comments!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Motivational Monday

Hello! As part of my quest for inspiration, motivation, and positivity, I've decided to start a weekly series called Motivational Monday.  Every Monday morning, I will post a quote, mood board, focus word, photo, or feeling that is meant to get the week off to a good start.

To kick us off, I'd like to start with a mood board of my own creation!  I've been feeling exceptionally French lately, lusting over photos of vintage signs and cafes.  I really want to visit France and potentially live there, so this board reflects some French-themes that have been inspiring me lately!

Collage of French and vintage-themed photos

What inspires your week?  Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Secret to Waking Up Early

Let me preface this by saying that I have never been a morning person.  Waking up in the morning is not an easy thing for me to do, but I have realized how beneficial it is to have the entire day to get sh*t done after a few morning classes (and before class even starts).  I have 8am classes every day of the week, so this practice is something I am constantly working on.

I have tried every method of "making yourself a morning person" out there, and I could not find anything that actually worked for me.  Then I stumbled upon the secret to waking up early:

Calculate your wakeup time.

This is the single most important thing to do.  The science: a full sleep cycle runs about 90 minutes.  When you wake up feeling groggy and more tired than when you went to bed, it’s almost always because you interrupted a sleep cycle.  5-6 sleep cycles is considered a full night’s rest, but you can get away with 3-4 if you’re older (younger people need more sleep than older adults!) or that’s the way your life works.  The website will calculate what time you should wake up if you go to sleep immediately, as well as what time you should plan to fall asleep if you have to get up at a particular time.  It takes me about 10 minutes max, but everyone is different, so this is something to consider.

Other Helpful Tips

1. Choose a new alarm sound.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had the same alarm tone for a solid several months.  Having the same alarm sound for too long is bad because your brain associate that sound with hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep.  Pick something that’s not jarring or obnoxious, especially if you have a roommate/bedmate.  Something that starts out slowly, then picks up a little and turns into something a little more upbeat

2. Get out of bed within 1 minute.  I toss the covers to the side and stretch my legs and back a little, then get up.  I am that person who has always had to set 4+ alarms to go off every 5-10 minutes because I fall back asleep.

3. Adopt a habit that triggers your brain and body that it’s time to begin the wakeup process.  Personally, the first thing I do as soon as I get out of bed is put saline in my eyes, splash water on my face, start the tea kettle.

4. Other good examples are: dabbing on a dot of a scented lotion (not too much, so you don’t assault your sense of smell), packing your bag for the day (for me, this doesn’t require a lot of thought, so it’s easy to do when still waking up), putting in contacts, drinking cold water, getting your outfit together, taking a shower, dynamic stretches, etc.  Anything that doesn’t require excessive brainpower, but is easy to do first thing and is something you can commit to doing every morning.

5. Create a morning routine to follow your trigger habit.  My routine looks like this:
    • Put saline in my eyes
    • Rinse my face
    • Start the tea kettle
    • Get my outfit together
    • Fix up my tea
    • Drink my beverage while making a list (see below)
    • Make and eat breakfast
    • Get dressed/fix hair and makeup
    • Quick email check, reply to only very urgent messages
    • Pack my bag for the day
    • If I have extra time, I will read a little (either for class or for leisure)
    • Leave!
    • Other ideas for a morning routine: yoga (I’m trying to figure out the best way to fit this into mine!), walking your dog (if you have one), reading the newspaper, going for a run/working out, making your lunch…
Tips that I have found useful:
    • Don’t check social media.  This is the first thing I’m tempted to do, but the rest of the day is going to be interactions with other people, so I like to save the mornings for my own time.
    • The list that I make during my routine is a “3 Things” list: I write down 3 things I want/need to accomplish during the day, and 3 things that I need to do by the end of the week.  The next day, I like to take at least 1 thing from the previous day’s Week list and add it to my Day list.  My lists usually look like this:
Day: 30 min work on paper X, 30 min chem reading, organize desk drawers
Week: finish paper X, do chem homework problems, start paper Y

    • It helps me to have the tea setup ready to go the night before so all I have to do is press start.  I make sure there’s a clean mug, fill the kettle, and put a tea bag next to my mug and spoon.
    • For maintaining your trigger habit, it’s really helpful to write yourself a note!  A “Start tea J” sticky note has been sitting on my desk for awhile, and seeing it every morning has helped me make it a habit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014