No matter how good your EF skills are, you cannot get through college without a system. I don’t think in black-and-white rectangles, but if I did, my average day’s to-do list might look something like this:
This is chaos. There are no rules. I try to keep track of all these things in my head, and (spoiler alert!) I fail.
To be fair, I have used some systems to try to centralize some of these. Like the notes app on my phone/computer. And folders in my inbox. And the visual reminder of my laundry basket. And the to-do list on a piece of paper next to me. And there’s a site for school where they have all the deadlines for class sign-ups. So that’s a little better, right?
Now my rules are:
- Look at email
- Look at to-do list
- Look at notes
- Look at school site
- Text L.
- Refill med case
- Call N.
- Return order
- Make gift for K.
- Text J.
- Check balance on credit card
What are the odds I actually remember any of these? Pretty low. And my list isn’t hierarchical enough. I have texting a friend (one small item) on the same level as my school assignments (multiple big items). If I want to stay organized, I’m going to need to remember which rules are more important, which is another rule. Bottom line? No habit.
We’re still nowhere near the goal destination of having one rule. The solution? Write everything down—all of it. And here’s the trick: the system where everything is written can contain reminders or rules (“look at email,” “look at syllabus on site”). But those don’t count in terms of mental rules because I don’t have to remember any of them.
This might not look like much of an improvement, at least until you realize that I don’t have to remember any of this because it’s all in the app:
I now have one rule: look at the system. It’s a really easy rule, easy enough for me to remember and make it a habit. And when I do that enough, it becomes a routine.
The rest of this module will teach you how to harness the system’s magical power, which is sure to lead to happiness and joy, as evidenced by the stick figure below. The first step is to choose a system, and for the sake of not sounding like an advertisement, I’ll review the pros and cons of several options, not just the one I prefer. The second step is to configure your system (notice the alliteration?), and the third is to commence operations.
This final step comes in three levels. As a Level 1-er, you’ll use techniques like prioritization and shiny object management to focus on what needs to get done. On Level 2, you’ll master intermediate hacks like chunking and pairing to get stuff done efficiently. And once you reach Level 3, you’ll be working towards the ultimate goal: using these strategies without conscious thought.