Archive for the ‘Productivity/Tools’ category

Cornell Note Taking System

September 9, 2006

In my lecture notes post reader Ryan posted a comment on the usefulness of the cornell note taking system with a link to TheFlyerMan’s notebook page generator. This reminded me of a post I had intended to write about both these things. I too use the cornell method and the page layout generator (found here).

The Theory

For the uninitiated the cornell note taking method is just a way of organising your notes by dividing up your page. You rule a 2.5 inch (6.25 cm) margin down the left-hand side of your page and a 2 inch (5 cm) margin at the bottom of the page. This makes the page look something like this:

————————– [You’ll have to excuse the bad text “image”. I’m trying to cater

|     |                        | for those on dial-up and other slow internets and I’m also

|     |                        | having trouble inserting images into blog posts – I’m sure

|     |                        | I’m doing it all right but for some reason it’s just not

|————————-| working]

When you’ve got your page set up like that then, according to the letter of the system, after your lecture you go through and put your key words, things to note, questions and other important points/summaries in the left hand column (“cue column”) and summaries of what the page says in the bottom section. The website of the West Shore Community College has a good pdf document covering this and lots of other study skills – it’s worth a download and can be accessed from a link on this page.

My “Hack”

Now that you know the theory, I’ll let you know what I do. I use the traditional note taking layout except that I print the lines onto lined paper (the kind that goes in ring-binders) and because the paper is thin I print the cue column on the left hand side on the front of the page and the right on the back so that the line matches up (otherwise the line shows through the paper – petty, yes, but it bothers me).

I use the cue column pretty much how it’s supposed to be used (although I have a habit of filling it out in the lecture rather than after – not a great technique but better than not filling it out at all) but the summaries row I use differently. Personally I find that it’s not that useful to summarise the contents of one page since often information goes across multiple pages. Being a law student we get lots (and lots, and lots…) of cases and statutes and in the bottom row I will write the names of all the cases which are first mentioned on that page and a summary of why I need to know about it (that means each case is only in one summary row per lecture). This might look something like this:

Donoghue v Stevenson – fundamental case in tort-law. Outlines new test for negligence – is there a duty of care? Is it reasonably foreseeable that harm would occur from the defendant’s conduct?

(Note: I’m going from memory for that so don’t take that as a reasonable summary of that case if you happen to be studying it). I also do a similar thing for statutes and sections in statutes. This means that when I’m going back through my notes I can quickly see which cases were covered and the key points the lecturer thinks I should know (which are sometimes different from the key points got from the reading). You might like to put names of theorists and their theories, equations or key terms in your summaries row. Write a comment if you’ve got a good “hack” for the cornell note taking system or if you know of another good system which works well for you.


Welcome to Procrastinators Anonymous

September 8, 2006

One BIG problem I have is “just checking that website” or “just seeing if I can beat by high score” or “just reading a chapter of that trashy aeroplane novel” when I’m going to start studying (I think it’s the grown up version of “I’ll do it when I finish this level, mum!”). Here is a list of five things I must stop doing when I really should start studying. I’m hoping that by writing it down and putting it out there for all the world to see I might shame myself into not doing them any more – think of it like Procrastinators Anonymous, if anyone else wants to air their dirty laundry and share with us all what they need to stop doing, go right ahead!

I’ll go first:

  1. The internet – big, dark, scary place with way to many things which seem interesting and important at the time
  2. RSS feeds – must stop obsessively checking every five minutes when should be studying
  3. Daytime TV – Dr. Phil, Oprah, bad American sitcoms with laugh-tracks and repeats of Blue Heelers (Aussie cop show) are way to distracting and really not interesting enough to waste an hour of my life on
  4. Any book by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Dan Brown or Robin Cook (this is not an exclusive list) – no indictment upon the authors themselves, it’s just that their books are way too distracting
  5. Bubbles – this game is ruining my life. I play it on my Rockboxed iRiver H320 and I’m now obsessed with beating my high score (somewhere in the 4,000’s – a bad thing)

Now it’s your turn.

Ways to relax without wasting time

September 8, 2006

When I’m not studying I find it waaaay too easy to “kill” my spare time by doing one of several things – playing stupid computer games, random internet browsing and watching daytime TV. Recently I’ve been making an effort to avoid those things and I’ve come up with a list of things I can do which are relaxing and fun but at the same time productive:
– read
– listen to podcasts
– write
– listen to music
– exercise

I think the key is to find something that doesn’t just use the time up but fills it. Obsessively checking e-mail and RSS feeds is not a time-using activity it’s a time-wasting activity.

Use your university’s resources

September 4, 2006

Todays tip is to use the resources your university offers. Most colleges/universities have two things on their websites and in the library/on campus: a study skills unit and a collection of books on studying and being a student. If you need help with your studies these guys are great to go to because, at least at my uni, there is a specific person for each faculty who can help you with your essay and exam techniques (not write the essay for you – just help). They know what the lecturers want and the standard of work expected so can help you understand this better too. If you’re too scared to talk to a real person then generally much of the information is on the internet which is easier to access. Along with this service practically every library (local or at your education provider) will have books on study skills. Try a keyword search for “study skills” and your faculty/major.

If your university doesn’t have such information available then others do have it. Here’s some links to some of the more useful school websites:

University of Victoria Learning Skills Program Handouts – I liked this article on concept maps
University of Chicago – a collection of many “virtual pamphlets” from lots of different institutions
University of Manchester – the information on self evaluation contains some useful stuff on knowing about your own learning style
Brunel University – a useful online electronic guide to “some of the best ways to study”
University of Sussex – general study-skill information
Study Guides and Strategies – not a university site but a very comprehensive site with lots of information about different ways to study for different subjects and various study systems

These are just a few of the many websites out there. A quick search of “study skills” and a university name will help you to find more.

Hope this helps.

For the GTD fans

September 1, 2006

This is a mac only GTD program which I might actually start to use. I’ve tried kGTD and it never really kept me interested but this program looks really useful and easy to use. It’s only beta and only mac but looks really cool.


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One for the windows users…

September 1, 2006

Before I was a mac user I was a linux user and before that I was a windows user so I’m a big fan of open-source software especially if it’s for windows because that’s partly what encouraged me to ditch windows. So here’s a list of open-source alternatives for popular windows programs. Some of them are just free not open-source but they’re still good and many of the open-source ones are multi-platform (OpenOffice, NVU, Gimp etc.)


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Heavy Bag?

August 30, 2006’s homework section has a section on how to lighten your backpack this week with lots of useful tips about how to lessen all the stuff you have to carry. Some of the tips are pretty obvious (like carrying a flash disk to keep files and stuff on) but there’s also some interesting stuff – I like this colour-coding tip:

Color code your classes and tools. If your school work is organized, you won’t need to carry everything you own all the time. Color code your work so that you know the days of the week by “colors.” If green is the color for science class, and you have science every Tuesday and Thursday, then you will know to carry your green supplies and folders on those days.