On Monday 17th October, ASG organized a presentation about Academic Productivity. The Academic Study Group (ASG) is a study session organized by CDC-SSDPP International students. It brings together students to learn and share ideas about different academic, social and developmental issues in the world.
The guest presenter was Jelena Gledic, an assistant Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, who has extensive experience with academic productivity. During her short visit to Beijing in October 2016, Jelena kindly spent some of her time sharing with SSDP International Students various productivity tools and methods. The hour and half session were well attended by many international students from SSDPP and other departments in BNU.
Jelena Gledic gave practical advice on how to manage busy schedules, coordinate individual and group work, and maintain work motivation. There are too many tools for an exhaustive list here, but below are some of the highlights. If you want to see the full list please go to http://tinyurl.com/ASGtools and share your own tools and advice with others. She encourages students to make use of free online tools to assist with academic studies and personal life - including planning projects, coordinating teamwork, learning new skills, and improving focus.
One of the first productivity points concerned a variation on the ‘Kanban’ system, which was originally conceived to help manufacturing firms visualise and streamline their production. Jelena recommended three columns; “to-do”, “doing” and “done”. The process is very simple, and can easily be written with pen and paper. However, Trello is a free online resource which allows Kanban systems, in addition to a host of other similar project management visualisation methods. The interface is very simple: click to add ‘cards’ create lists under cards, and click and drag to arrange them. Other members can be added to work collaboratively, notifications can be configured, cards can be filtered, and a log is kept detailing which member edited what and when.
Similarly, Padlet is a tool which offers a highly customisable and clear space for multiple contributors to share notes, website links, pictures, videos and recordings. Padlet and Trello both work without a VPN too. If you do use a VPN, then the whole suite of Google tools is available for use. This includes Microsoft office equivalents such as Docs, Sheets and Slides for word, spreadsheet and presentation processing respectively. In addition to this there is Forms, which is perhaps unsurprisingly for creating forms, quizzes, questionnaires and such.
The beauty of these tools lies in their facilitation of group work; relevant documents can be kept in one highly organisable place, which any team member can access at any time. Google’s online tools automatically save your work constantly, a very useful feature if you’ve ever experienced the pain of losing unsaved work!
If you need to coordinate your schedule with others, then Google Calendar is another useful tool. It supports events, tasks and reminders, with optional email and mobile phone notifications. Other people’s calendars can also be shared or imported to be visible alongside your own, and the system works well with android phones and offers some support for iPhones too.
All of these tools can help with the organisation and teamwork aspects of study, but what about the key question of motivation? If you find yourself putting off work too often, and getting distracted easily when you do begin, there are some tools which you may find useful. YouTube, despite being a distraction for many of us, can help with concentration – there are hundreds of channels devoted to music and ambient noise that many people find helps them concentrate and block out distractions. Some good examples include Focus At Will (which also has its own website with more content), Yellow Brick Cinema, Halidon Music, JaBig, various soundtracks to films, and Just Instrumental Music.
Additionally, to help avoid ‘burning-out’ after sitting at a desk studying for too long, Jelena recommended the Pomodoro technique – simply, it means taking regular short breaks between periods of work (usually about five minutes break for twenty-five minutes of work, but there are no hard and fast rules). Although these tools can help boost productivity if used correctly, Jelena was keen to emphasized that it’s up to the individual to do the work – as good as these tools are, they’re not quite advanced enough to do your work for you!
Technology may be improving at a staggering pace but in academia, as in many other walks of life, there are some things you still have to do the hard way because there is no substitute for hard work; nonetheless , these productivity and organisation tools can really help make the process easier.
Please share these tools with others if you think it may help them.
Written by Joe Scally (2016 cohort)
Edited by Pauline M. Ponyene (2015 Cohort)
Photo by Aleksandra Radjenovic