The Best Student: Organization


Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!


I can think of at least 30 people just off the top of my head who are more qualified than I am to write this post. I'm married to one of them! But all the same, as I've said a few times already in this series, my expertise comes from well cultivated failures. 


For example, my desk both in my office and here at home are perpetually cluttered. If you are willing to apply the label of creative to yourself, chances are you are intimately familiar with this idea. Throughout history some of the worlds most creative people have been the messiest. Something about the creative person doesn't want to be held together with the walls of traditional organization. We feel oppressed, which ultimately leads us to holding signs of protest outside some important historical landmark, which of course we do to avoid having to clean. 


My youth pastor told us an analogy once. Imagine you had a pet goldfish in front of you. His name is Bob. Bob swims along quite happily in his two gallon bowl, with the colorful pebbles on the floor and the plastic scuba diver you threw in for good measure. And yet as you stare at Bob, you realize that Bob is really quite confined. After all, two gallons is not a whole lot of water! And it seems that from time to time as Bob is swimming, he forgets that there is glass there holding him back and he smashes his face up against the wall. Finally having enough, you reach in and grab Bob from his fish-bowl prison and set him out on the table. "There," you say, "Now he's free to go wherever he'd like." 


Bob will only flop around for a few moments in this new freedom before he dies of suffocation. For Bob you see, the boundaries are what keep him alive. Without the bowl to contain the water, Bob doesn't stand a chance. For as much as creative people want to throw off the oppressive boundaries of organization, it's really what keeps us alive. 


There's no need to go overboard. You probably don't need complex filing systems or rolodexes for contacts or even fancy database software. But you need enough organization to know which way is up. You need enough to keep track of things. 


Like I said, I write from a place of failure. I've screwed this up enough that I think I've got a pretty good handle on how to do it right now (finally after all these years.) And so what follows are a few tips I've come up with over the years for keeping organized while at the seminary. Use them at your peril:


1. Get in the cloud. If I write a reminder to myself on a sticky note, that sucker will be lost within 20 minutes never to be seen or heard from again. And so thankfully, computer technology has advanced in such a way that notes are with you wherever you go. Welcome to the cloud! I use a free program called Evernote. The notes you take on your laptop can be with you on your smartphone or tablet, or even in a pinch you can access them in the computer lab through their website. You can also search through notes, which has become increasingly handy as you get closer and closer to exam time. 


2. Be Consistent. When I was in high school, I changed the format of the notes I was taking just about every class. Sometimes I would take notes in an outline. Sometimes I would take them as a stream of consciousness. Sometimes I would doodle my notes. I've found that actually all three of those methods can be affective, just not at the same time! When you sit down for a class, and get a feel for what kind of teacher your professor is, pick a particular format for your notes and stick with it. It will make finding what you're looking for at exam time a little bit easier. 


3. Reminders in predictable places. I have a calendar on my computer and phone that I set up with all of my exams and project due dates. It dings a few days out from when something is approaching code red level danger. But I also make sure to have a heading at the top of each page of my class notes for Assignments as well as Handouts. This is so I can go back later and see exactly where in the timeline of a class particular handouts or outlines showed up in my binder. 


These are just a few examples of what I do to keep myself organized. Ultimately you need to find what works best for you and stick with it. If you have any suggestions, the comments section is all yours!


Next: We wrap up our series with Worship.