How I get stuff done…

September 19, 2014

Cogs and TechI love technology and I’ll be honest, my life completely revolves around it. I’m constantly logged-on and  surrounded by tech at work and at home I sit hard wired to my computer or iPhone. I check updates at the dinner table and sometimes I say more to Siri in a day than to an actual person! I’m completely attached, connected, addicted, dependant…

I’m sure you’ve heard the news reports and read the headlines of society literally crumbling around us as we sit, oblivious, taking photos of our food. I know an older relative has interrupted you as you check your newsfeed to complain that the art of conversation is lost. And I know there’s a good argument to say that life is passing us all by, one selfie at a time. But as 4G kicks up a digital dust of distractions from which no amount of swiping seems to cleanse, I find myself marvelling at the benefits of our technological age. Especially the connection between myself and UoL and the intermediaries that foster learning and progression through my MSc.

Productivity is paramount and the tools I have at my disposal aid tremendously. It’s not easy working full-time, managing our everyday lives, relationships, chores and responsibilities, and still find time to absorb our required (and additional) readings, re-listen to lectures, contribute to discussions, ask questions, and feed the dog. However I’ve put together a few suggestions below which I’ve found have helped me successfully juggle the complexities of post-graduate study and further my professional career. Now, this is the point where readers may become slightly divided by their choice of hardware and operating systems. I use iOS – iPhone, Mac, iPad – however the principles are applicable to any platform. If anyone has any suggestions for great Android (or other) apps that they find particularly useful in supporting their studies I’d love to hear about them, so please feel free to comment as I’m sure there will be other readers who will benefit from your advice as well.

OmniFocusOmniFocus 2
I’ve tried a multitude of organisational, list-type, to-do apps and the one thing I’ve found from all of them is that the key ingredient is YOU. Whatever your app of choice, the most important element is the process of using it everyday, again and again as you build the habit of arranging your life. OmniFocus 2 has become my organisational tool of choice and as well as helping me “get stuff done” on a daily basis, I love the sense of satisfaction I get when marking my listed items complete.

As well as everyday errands that need doing, it helps me structure a time frame for getting through all my readings. I set tasks for reading specific papers, taking and revising notes, listening/re-listening to lectures, and even reminders to look up words that I might not be so familiar with. Sometimes I even pop “have a glass of wine” in just so I keep sane. You can categorise your tasks with “contexts” (e.g. work, home, reading, revision), as well as group multiple tasks into “projects”, and I love the way my iPhone notifies me of an upcoming task and when I need to have it complete.

OmniFocus 2 is available for and will sync across your Mac, iPhone and iPad, however as they come with a bit of a price tag you can keep yourself organised by just using one. I’d highly recommend OmniFocus 2 and there are some great instructional videos at as well as YouTube.

Ok. Now that I have a plan for how I’m going to get through all my reading, take notes and revise effectively, I need a good app to organise all my files and PDF Expert does the job better than any other I’ve found. There’s more to a PDF reader than simply opening and allowing you to read your documents. PDF Expert allows me to highlight, annotate, organise folders, colour-code and search documents, and has a built-in dictionary. It will read and play audio and video, Word, Excel and image files, and allow you to email documents with your annotated notes intact, but the best part is that you can sync across iPhone and iPad via iCloud. That means wherever you may find yourself, waiting for a train, standing in line at the post-office, or emptying a lonely glass of wine in your pyjamas, PDF Expert and your MSc are there to keep you company.

This is a great little app for staying up to date on a subject. Feedly allows you to add URL’s which it then scans and feeds any new articles from the specified website. For example, if I wanted to stay up to date with psychology news in the UK, I could add the URL’s for the psychology pages of BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, BPS and so forth, which would update every time I open Feedly. This saves loads of time and eliminates the need to navigate to individual sites, as well as providing a nice neat layout that’s easy to scan for interesting articles.

The best feature for me is the ability to add Google search alerts to your feed. Google search alerts are brilliant if you find yourself frequently scanning Google for the same phrase, for example, “organisational psychology”. By setting a Google search alert, you can ask Google to periodically blast out a search on your behalf for your chosen phrase, then by adding that search alert to Feedly you have all your relevant news articles and frequent searches coming through to your one stop shop for staying up to date. Feedly is available for free on Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

Well, I hope this post has been helpful for you. Like I said before if anyone has any other suggestions for great apps that have helped them with their studies I’d love to hear from you.

Good luck for the coming semester and thanks for reading !!

Liam is studying the Organizational Psychology postgraduate diploma by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. He lives in Manchester in the United Kingdom.


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