The best things I learned in school: how to be efficient and productive

The best lessons that I learned in university were on how to become more efficient and productive. They actually came about outside the classrooms and were more like byproducts of going to school. 

I still maintain that post-secondary education is important. You gotta justify all that opportunity costs and the student loan debts (which are, thankfully, all paid off now)!

Anyway, in case you missed out on similar lessons, I made you a summary below. 

how to be more efficient and more productive

Write term papers on your computer

New students in my school received a booklet with a list of useful tips on how to study. 

It was mostly common sense stuff, like start researching early enough for term papers, and so on. But one item caught my eyes. 

It said that it was a waste of precious studying time to draft a term paper on a piece of paper and then type it out. It suggested to skip the paper draft altogether and start writing on a computer directly. 

It was before everyone had their own laptop. Computers were still expensive, and a lot of us had very limited skills on how to operate them.

So I didn't follow the advice right away, but it shaped my decision to buy an iBook a few years later. The notebook computer enabled me to take notes and write term papers digitally. This was the beginning of my affinity with the paperless work environment. 

Working with digital documents

I can't remember how many term papers I'd written. Lots, I suppose. And how many peer-reviewed journal articles did I have to use as references? At least five per paper for lower-level courses and more for advanced classes. 

Highlighting and sticky-noting relevant paragraphs soon became too overwhelming. Where did I read the good summary of the theory x, y and z? Which author was it? 

When you work with digital copies, you can search the contents by keywords. You can also search for the highlighted sections and the list of your comments. 

And you can copy and paste an entire paragraph for citing. There is no need to type them out.

So, working with digital documents can save you lots of time, effort and cost of printing out the paper. 

You can Google about anything

I once worked as a research assistant under Dr. T, at a population lab. 

Dr. T was my age (seven days older than me to be exact) and a newly-minted Ph.D. She was a chocolate fanatic and had a great sense of humor. We are still friends. 

I was just a silly student, and there were a lot of things I didn't know. So, every time I didn't understand something, I would go up and ask Dr. T a question.

About 70% of the time, her answer was, "Have you Googled it?"

Finally, after several days, I caught on and started Googling instead of asking her. 

The thing about Googling is that the more you do it, the better you become at formulating queries. With practice, your skills to differentiate garbage from important info will sharpen also.

Over the years, the advanced googling skills helped me save time, effort and money, and I'm grateful to Dr. T who helped me get them.

Good communication is vital 

I consistently scored good marks on my assignments, and it was because I understood what my profs were looking for.

I basically treated my profs as clients and assignments as projects. To make my clients happy (i.e., get good grades), I needed to know what their expectations were. And so I asked a lot of questions. Sometimes I ambushed them after the lecture; I also took advantage of office hours. 

This was a much better strategy than blindly assuming what I was supposed to do. Not only was I able to hand in high-quality products, I spent less time revising my projects because I knew exactly what I was doing.

Gosh, I was such a keener! (i.e., not a slacker. Apparently, it's a Canadian expression. Who knew, eh?) Don't worry; I turned a slacker once I started working for the government. 

So, having a clear picture of outcomes is the most effective way to work on projects and good communication enables that. 

Delegate wisely

Locating books in a large library can be surprisingly time-consuming. By chance, I discovered that if I reserved a book, even if it is currently available at the library, a library tech would pick up and leave it on the pick-up shelf for me. So I utilized their expertise to the max. 

I wasn't being lazy (OK, maybe a little); I was delegating the task.

It makes sense to have a task completed by someone who is best at it. So, for example, when I work in a team, I try to pick up tasks that are most suited to my skill sets. I would try to swap a task with another team member if that could increase productivity.

Allocate resources appropriately for increased efficiency and productivity, right?

And that concludes the list of the most useful stuff I learned in school. I hope you liked it.