How I Lightened My Load for a Paperless School Year

I won't let piles of paper, stacks of bulky textbooks, and the crushing feeling of being overwhelmed weigh down my chance for academic success.
The Experts | posted by Beth Main
adults in class

No filing, no lost assignments, no “Where the heck did I put that paper?!” I am organized!

I’ve been coaching adult learners for the past seven years, in addition to working with professionals and entrepreneurs. I help them develop the skills and strategies they need to get the grades they want. I was excited to try out some of those strategies when I started grad school this year. Organization is a popular topic among students of any age. Although it took me a while to get my system set up, I am now paperless. No notes, no textbooks, no printouts of PowerPoint presentations, or PDFs. That means no filing, no lost assignments, no “Where the heck did I put that paper?!” I am organized!

Here are my secrets for getting organized. Keep in mind that there are as many ways to do this as there are adult learners. I’m not going to insist that my way is best. But it works for me.

> iPad. Even though everything else I own is either Windows or Android, I went with the iPad because of its superior note-taking capabilities. There’s one must-have app that only runs on iPad that makes taking notes as easy as doing it on paper, maybe even easier. More on that later.

> Kindle app and Kindle textbooks. The main draw of the Kindle is that I always have the right book with me. I can study anywhere, anytime. I can look up definitions by highlighting a word; having to consult a dictionary involves too many steps. I can highlight with my finger, and un-highlight if I change my mind (good for us perfectionist types). I can even enlarge the text. One caveat: Some textbooks don’t contain all the illustrations or tables that the hardcopy version does. Read the reviews and order early just in case. > Bluetooth keyboard. Typing on the iPad is tedious at best. (C’mon, Apple, where’s the Swype?)! If you’re going to be doing any real writing, you’ll need a separate keyboard.

> Stylus. Of course, you can always use your finger for taking notes on the iPad, but it’s not going to be very precise or comfortable if you do it for any length of time. I love the Musemee Notier V2. You can see exactly where you’re writing, and it’s very responsive. Most styli are like big fat crayons. The Musemee feels and operates like a pen.

> Google Calendar/Google Tasks. At the beginning of the term, I transfer all the due dates from the course syllabi into my Google Calendar. I created a separate school calendar so my assignments are in a different color than all my other stuff, which helps reduce overwhelm. Every morning, I use Google Tasks to chunk down the work and list, in order, exactly what I need to work on that day to meet my deadlines. This helps with the feeling of being overwhelmed, too, and keeps me from procrastinating because it’s clear what I need to do when. The iPad apps I use are Calendars+ by Readdle and GoTasks. On my Android phone, I use Business Calendar and Google Tasks Organizer.

> Cloud storage. It’s a good idea to back up your data to the cloud (online storage). Many iPad apps synchronize with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box. Another important benefit of cloud storage is that you can get to your stuff on your portable devices as well as your main desktop or laptop computer, so it’s always accessible.

> Notability. This is the pièce de résistance of my system, and the main reason I wanted an iPad. As I mentioned above, a good note-taking app is essential for the paperless student. It needs to be easy to take notes, easy to read your notes, and easy to find stuff. Notability is all of that.

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