2012 Fall Semester: How the smart student will organize – Part 1 Get Infrastructure


Source: CollegeMagazine.com

“Professor Meade, how should I get GTD organized for school this year?” What follows in the rest of this post, is my default advice for freshmen coming to college this fall.

Step 1: Get a laptop computer …

… with at least a 500 gigabyte hard drive.  A new hard drive is surprisingly inexpensive ($64 for 500 GB and $75 for 750 GB on Amazon as I write this) so think about adding a new hard drive to your existing laptop, or if you buy a used laptop, upgrading the hard drive.

If you have no money you still have options:

  • Option 1: Start your laptop quest at your local version of Portland’s FREEGEEK.ORG.  Since you don’t have cash, you can trade time working for FreeGeek.org, for a computer.
  • Option 2: Ask around family and friends for a laptop that is “too good to throw out, but not good enough that anyone is using it” and then put Linux Mint on it.
  • What is Linux?  A free operating system with a free clone of Microsoft Office 1997, and a large free software library.  This is the no-money-down-gtd operating system and software system.
  • Why Linux Mint and not one of the other Linuxes?  Because Linux Mint has all the drivers you need from the start, no hassles to get your DVDs to play.
If you have some money then you can:
  • Option 1: Buy a laptop at FreeGeek.org.  You can get a good enough laptop for about $180.
  • Option 2: Shop a Goodwill store in Lake Oswego OR and pick up a pretty nice laptop without hard drive (see above links to buy a big new shiny hard drive) and then install Linux Mint.  My students inform me that the Lake Oswego store has tons of laptops without hard drives.
  • Option 3: Go to Walmart and buy a cheap Netbook for $250.  I *think* you will find that the used laptop is a better value than a new netbook.  But your mileage may vary.  I don’t have a preference between Windows 7, Mac OS X, or Linux, I use them all.  The Mac has been the least work for me, that that is what I use for my laptop.
  • Option 4: Check out laptop prices at local retailers like Staples, Office Max, Best Buy.  Do this on-line so you don’t have to deal with pushy sales people.  Compare local retail to Amazon.com laptop prices for PCs and Macs.
If you have more money and want more performance:
  • Macintosh options I think look good:
    • If you want to buy a new Mac, the cheapest way I’ve found is to go to Apple’s online store and look for refurbished computers.  These will be one to three generations older than current models.  But … they are often much cheaper than new.  If you live in a city with an Apple store, buying a refurb is low risk because if you have a problem, you can schedule an appointment at the genius bar, go in, and have the Mac Geniuses fix it.  If you are worried about having long term support, you can buy an Apple extended service plan and a refurbished computer for less than the purchase price of a new mac alone.
    • If you must have a new Mac, then look around.  Portland’s Best Buy (13″ Macbook Pro for $1139) and Amazon (13″ Macbook Pro for $1,140) both often sell Macs for less than the educational price for Macs bought directly from Apple, although for the 13″ Macbook Pro, the lowest price is currently from Apple ($1,099).
  • Windows options I think look good:
    • Ultrabooks are a great value. Instead of buying an iPad and a laptop for school, or an iPad, a laptop, and a Kindle device, just get an ultrabook.  These are from $800 to $1,500 in price, they weigh about 3 pounds, and you can carry an ultrabook in a backpack without pulling your shoulder off.  Ultrabooks are also a great place to start if you want to have a wicked fast Linux machine.  *Note* I have not installed any Linuxes on any Ultrabooks, but it seems like this would be a cool thing to do.

Step 2: Do not spend money on Microsoft Office or Anti Virus.

Your college will have a “no-additional-cost” copy of Office and AV software waiting for you when you get there.  First thing that happens after you get your login to the campus network is that you’ll be able to download Office over the network and install it on your laptop.  *Handy Hint* when installing over the campus network, don’t use wireless, plug your laptop in with a good old fashioned ethernet cable.  10x faster.  Also, the campus wireless will be so clogged with other students installing Office wireless will take for.ever!

Step 3: Install your software platform for this semester:

You will need to create accounts for all of these services except FireFox and the office suites.  So the process is: install software, create account, validate account (via email) and then link account to each of the programs.  After you have installed all these tools, go back to their respective web sites, and take the tours they offer.  This will only make your brain hurt, but, the process of sprouting organizing roots is fertilized by brain pain!  So, lean into the brain pain, but don’t worry when you don’t understand everything at once.  The roots are growing….

Step 4: Get a copy of David Allen’s GETTING THINGS DONE and read THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS ONLY. 

After they make it through the first three chapters, students usually want to read the entire book, but I advise against this.  David Allen documents a process in chapters 4 through 13 that 100% cuts you over to GTD in 3 days.

When students attempt to implement the 3-day-cut to GTD, they run out of root system, and like the seed that fell on the hard ground, get fried as life burns down their attempts to improve.  Getting organized is hard work, and is filled with setbacks.  The setbacks are why I titled this blog “restart” gtd.  Like exercising, doing GTD is restarting GTD once life has taken you off track.

This is normal.  So, what readers of GTD need is acknowledge that change will take time, that implementing GTD is an exercise in experimenting with tools.  So, a more pragmatic way to get started is to read, absorb what you can, then pick one tool to experiment with in moving your brain into the GTD groove.

My current formula for students is to have them read chapters 1, 2, and 3, and ask themselves, “How does it make sense for me to start growing some organizing roots?”  So, read 3 chapters, and think about how they apply to you.

Step 5: Start classes and let GTD percolate.  Give yourself a month before coming back to GTD.

Your subconscious will be working on understanding GTD, understanding school, and figuring out how to bring the two together.  So, don’t force yourself to implement anything in GTD, just let time work for you as you compost the David Allen model.

Step 6: Finish building your GTD 1.0 infrastructure

In addition to the above infrastructure, you need a study area.  If you have space for a desk, that is a great study area, but most students don’t have space for a desk, so instead, find a conference room, or table, or study carrel where you are comfortable and can work.  Think of this place as home base for your work.

Next, get a briefcase desk organized.  You may want to check out my restart GTD post on my briefcase desk.  But the goal here is to consolidate everything you need to do your college work in your briefcase.  Think of your briefcase as a “station” that you can do all of your homework at.  Everything you need to do homework, should be in the station:

  • Blank 3×5 cards (20) and 8.5×11 paper (10)
  • One in-box manilla folder to gather ideas as you work
  • Foam ear plugs to block out noise.  You can also use in-ear headphones, but listening to music costs you about 10% of your productivity while studying, so foam is more efficient.
  • 2 pens and/or pencils as you prefer
  • Space in briefcase to hold your laptop and power adapter
  • Microfiber cloth to keep your device screens clean

In the next installment of GTD for students I’ll introduce the idea of articulating GTD, which takes a GTD process and builds a system for that process.  For example, GTD’s “one idea, one piece of paper” can be implemented with 8.5×11 paper or 3×5 paper or 4×6 paper, or with an electronic note.  Articulating is the process of thinking about how you could implement GTD processes, and then picking one articulation of that process.

5 thoughts on “2012 Fall Semester: How the smart student will organize – Part 1 Get Infrastructure

  1. Nice to see you posting again.

    One point, though, is this: I’m running linux (ubuntu, actually…) and though, I love evernote, there is no native evernote for linux. I’ve been using nixnote, but, it took me a long time to set up, and it’s still pretty clunky. (I haven’t tried running ev through wine but I hear that that’s often problematic as well) Also, gscan2pdf works only OK for scanning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge linux fan and a huge evernote fan, but you should let folks know what they’re headed for in the future if they choose these routes.

    • Thanks for the comment! It is good to be back writing. What a long summer! Rowing like a galley slave really, since April. Crazy.

      I include Linux descriptions more to make students aware that there are inexpensive options for getting a laptop. I do not mean to communicate that there is equal support across all platforms. Just that if you’ve got nothing, you can get something and start doing better.

      That said, I think Linux users are likely to be best off useing DropBox alone instead of DropBox with Evernote (Mac and Win). I don’t know what file retrieval utility would be best, but something with regular expressons on Linux (Grep? Slickedit?) would be a great start to search a DropBox store to find the file that had the word(s).

      Wine makes its users act out its name. :-)

      The other alternative to Evernote that I’m beginning to investigate is NAS-based. Synology (*warning* I’m a Synology fan boy see my reviews on SmallNetBuilder.com of their stuff) is pushing the envelope of private clouds for the masses. With a Synology NAS that had an Evernote-like back end, I’d have the first good alternative to Evernote. That is a most interesting direction to watch for, I think.

      bill meade

  2. Pingback: Musings on eighth grade organizing … | RestartGTD

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