Lynbrook | Module #9: Productivity Tips and Strategies


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Created by Kavya Shankar (Harvard 2014), Brandon Liu (Harvard 2014), Carl Shan (UC Berkeley 2014), Varun Pemmaraju (UC Berkeley 2014), and Betsy Tsai (UCLA 2014) from Lynbrook High School.

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Lynbrook | Module #9: Productivity Tips and Strategies

  1. 1. Module  #  9  Produc-vity  Tips  and  S  trategies   By  Carl  Shan,  Kavya  Shankar,  Brandon  Liu,  Betsy  Tsai,   Varun  Pemmaraju  
  2. 2. Module  #  9     Introduc-on   Carl  Shan,  Kavya  Shankar,  Brandon  Liu,   Betsy  Tsai,  Varun  Pemmaraju  The purpose of this module is to compile a list of effective tips and strategies that can quickly help youbecome more productive with your time.The module is organized into several sections:I.  Studying Strategies – This section will go over general tips for studying.II.  Writing Papers – We know this is a big part of being productive.III.  General Strategies – Strategies for general activities such as email management.IV.  Productivity Tools – We will list some applications and tools that we use to build our productivity habits.As a caveat, we know that not all of our strategies will work for everyone. Please try to take the time todiscover the amalgamation of strategies that work for you.
  3. 3. Module  #9  Sec-on  1:  Studying  Strategies     By  Carl  Shan  
  4. 4.   Module  #  9   Sec-on  1:  Studying  Strategies   Carl  Writes:    1. One of your goals should be to make studying unnecessary. I mean this as in, you should cultivate thediscipline to pay such close attention in class and to tune in in such intensity that your brain naturally capturesmost or all information such that the only studying left to do is to skim over material before a test. Of course,this is difficult for most but we’re trying to help you get there. One way I think you can begin to discipline yourmind to that state is simply by practicing or engaging your knowledge soon after you’ve learned it. In myCS class for example, right after I learn about the concepts in lecture I attempt to apply what I’ve learned tothings I already know. We recently covered the topic of recursion, and I just thought about how closely that tiesinto the movie Inception. By doing so, I am forming more neural connections between concepts in my head,leading to higher memory retention and better comprehension.2. Take the initiative to seek help when you need it. There is no shame in asking seemingly ‘dumb’questions. Those who judge you for asking questions about what you genuinely don’t know aren’t worth yourattention. It took me quite a long time before I learned this lesson.3. Repetition or rote learning will only get you so far. You should truly understand the lesson and not simplybe able to memorize it. The reason behind this is simple – you build your intellectual capital base. Just as youmight have heard it is easy to make money when you have a lot of money, it is easier to get smarter when youare already smart. The reason behind this is simply due to the fact that when you have an eager brain thatcontains much knowledge, a new piece of information can fit snugly right in. Get smart now so that it’s easierto get smarter later.
  5. 5. Module  #9  Sec-on  2:  Wri-ng  Papers     By  Betsy  Tsai  
  6. 6.   Module  #9   Sec-on  2:  Wri-ng  Papers   Betsy  Writes:  Firstly,  dont  try  to  force  anything.  If  you  really  want  to  write  that  scholarship  /  college  essay  about  leadership,  but  your  personal  experiences  cant  really  aPest  to  this  (really  hackneyed)  subject,  then  dont.  You  want  to  come  up  with  something  unique  and  representa-ve  of  your  capabili-es.  In  the  long  run,  we  all  get  -red  of  trying  to  write  something  were  not.  And  then  we  just  cant.  And  then  comes  writers  block.    College  essays:  -­‐-­‐Recall  and  chart  down  your  past  experiences.  Even  go  through  old  elementary  school  porYolios  or  middle  school  photos.  Recall  significant  conversa-ons  with  teachers,  parents,  friends.  By  synthesizing  these,  youll  gain  clarity  for  how  your  life  has  illustrated  the  prompt.  And,  the  readers  will  know  that  you  are  actually  human,  not  just  a  resume.  -­‐-­‐When  asked  about  your  "goals,"  "ambi-ons,"  "aspira-ons,"  dont  immediately  think  about  a  career.  If  every  kid  your  age  was  thinking  about  careers  in  this  much  detail,  the  majority  of  them  would  be  lying.  Think  of  the  ques-on  this  way:  "what  is  your  mission  statement?"  Go  on  university  websites  for  examples  of  mission  statements.  What  in  abstract  terms  do  you  want  to  do?  Give  a  unique  face  to  the  ambi-on  of  being  a  district  aPorney  or  electrical  engineer.  
  7. 7.   Module  #9   Sec-on  2:  Wri-ng  Papers   Betsy  Writes:  Open  Research  Prompts:  -­‐-­‐Start  ac-ng  like  a  prompt  and  asking  ques>ons  all  the  >me.  Read  a  book,  have  a  conversa-on,  and  wonder  why  someone  said  something,  or  came  to  that  conclusion.    -­‐-­‐ex.  My  friend  traveled  to  Taiwan  and  China  this  summer  to  teach  English  and  found  that  the  Chinese  were  a  lot  less  gregarious  and  embracing,  and  more  self-­‐contained-­‐-­‐-­‐maybe  a  result  of  the  One-­‐Child  Policy?  BAM!  Research  paper  topic!  (Im  sure  this  works  in  all  sorts  of  fields.)    Planning  &  Outlining  Outlines.  Use  complete  sentences.  Fragments  are  for  archaeologists.  If  you  have  a  bullet  point  that  just  says  "my  community  project,"  great,  3  days  later,  how  were  you  going  to  link  that  to  the  prompt  again?  Dont  be  afraid  to  use  sentences  that  sound  immature.  Its  just  your  outline.  This  is  not  whats  being  submiPed.  If  you  want,  use  sentences  like,  "A  indicates  B,  which  means  C,  which  is  like  point  D,  and  is  related  to  the  thesis  because  E..."  Makes  for  a  more  cohesive  paper.  A  very  beefy  outline  is  also  a  lot  less  daun-ng  to  write  than  an  actual  paper.  Theres  a  sense  of  fluidity,  that  you  can  go  back,  screw  around  with  it,  and  write  without  erring.  Keep  the  fingers  tapping  out  the  ideas.  Let  your  brain  have  more  to  work  with  when  you  put  things  visibly  down  on  paper.  Having  a  really  strong  outline  also  makes  wri-ng  the  paper  seem  a  lot  easier,  almost  like  transcrip-on.  
  8. 8.   Module  #9   Sec-on  2:  Wri-ng  Papers   Betsy  Writes:  Actually  Wri>ng  -­‐  Take  breaks.  Run.  Play  your  instrument  (I  know  you  lie  on  those  Music  department  prac-ce  sheets).  Look  at  some  art  or  photography.  Essen-ally  what  youre  doing  is  taking  a  break  from  trying  to  juice  yourself.  Were  all  affected  by  the  environment  around  us,  so  being  cooped  up  in  your  liPle  room  24/7  wont  do  you  much  good.  -­‐  If  theres  a  genre  of  music  or  ar-st  that  gives  you  energy,  by  all  means...  -­‐  If  you  struggle  with  wri-ng  a  good,  interes-ng  variety  of  sentences,  or  how  to  charge  through  a  paragraph  without  making  it  sound  as  tedious  as  the  wri-ng  process,  try  reading  other  ar>cles.  Find  a  voice  you  like  and  see  how  they  set  up  the  claims  of  each  sec-on.  Youll  find  some-mes  the  best  writers  arent  necessarily  linear  in  their  trains  of  thought.  -­‐  If  you  have  a  thought  inside  your  head,  but  dont  know  how  quite  to  communicate  it,  say  it  aloud.  Your  mouth  will  somehow  form  it  into  a  sentence,  or  at  least  a  couple  of  fragments.  If  you  need  to,  write  what  you  blurted  out  on  a  separate  sheet  of  paper  /  Word  document,  play  around  with  its  structure,  clarity,  and  then  insert  it  into  your  paper.    Proofreading  -­‐  Read  it  aloud.  Youll  immediately  pick  out  the  verbose,  aristocra-c  words  with  more  syllables  than  you  would  normally  care  to  pronounce.  -­‐  Have  someone  (Hanford  and  Clark  are  hard-­‐asses  ;P)  read  it.  If  it  makes  sense  to  you,  great,  but  youre  not  the  grader,  are  you?  -­‐  Aher  reading  each  sentence,  ask  how  its  related  to  the  other  sentences  in  the  paragraph,  the  paragraph,  and  the  topic.  Ask  yourself  if  you  really  need  to  make  this  point.  I  cant  tell  you  how  many  -mes  Ive  read  peoples  papers  and  they  have  threads  in  there  that  dont  need  to  be  there  and  make  reading  the  paper  a  heavier  task.  
  9. 9. Module  #9  Sec-on  3:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies       By  Carl  Shan,  Brandon  Liu,  Varun  Pemmaraju  
  10. 10.   Module  #9   Sec-on  3:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Varun  Writes:  1.  Planner:  I  thought  everyone  uses  planners..  but  apparently  thats  not  the  case.  For  me  a  planner  is  a  way  of  passing  memory  and  RAM,  as  Brandon  calls  it,  so  that  it  can  be  saved  for  other  stuff.  2.  To-­‐Do  Lists:  I  keep  a  structured  set  of  lists  through  my  iPhone  Notes.  It  used  to  be  on  this  neat  liPle  pad  that  someone  gave  me  but  I  went  through  so  much  paper  it  was  ridiculous.  But  anyway,  I  have  a  Current  To-­‐Do  which  is  all  stuff  which  has  to  get  done  today,  followed  by  things  that  should  get  done  if  I  have  free  -me  that  day.  Then  theres  a  longer  term  to-­‐do  list.  I  think  the  most  important  thing  is  get  in  the  habit  of  being  able  to  cross  things  out.  If  you  dont  start  and  get  into  the  system,  it  becomes  harder  and  harder  to  aPain  the  produc-vity  goals  you  want.  3.  Dont  put  off  small  tasks  if  you  can  do  them  at  that  moment.  If  theres  an  email  that  can  be  responded  to,  dont  mark  it  as  unread  and  say  youll  "do  it  later".  Like  I  said  before,  cross  stuff  off  the  To-­‐Do  lists  while  you  can.  4.  Along  those  lines,  everyone  has  to  find  a  way  to  fight  Facebook/TwiOer/etc.  Counterintui-vely,  for  me  it  was  to  have  them  always  open  along  with  Mail.  Firefox  has  this  neat  way  of  pinning  websites  you  always  use,  and  then  flashing  them  blue  when  they  update.  At  first,  it  was  addic-ng  to  check  but  now,  Ive  become  bePer  at  ignoring  it  un-l  the  problems  done  or  the  chapters  finished.  Also,  with  them  constantly  up  (but  tucked  away  on  the  side),  I  dont  have  the  urge  to  open  a  tab  and  go  check.  
  11. 11.   Module  #9   Sec-on  3:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Varun  Writes:  5.  Find  things  in  your  life  that  you  can  accomplish  and  feel  like  youre  gePng  something  done,  but  involve  no  academic  work  whatsoever.  It  can  be  working  out,  cleaning  your  room,  etc.  For  me,  Triathlon  prac-ce  really  gets  me  through  the  day  but  it  literally  can  be  anything.  6.  Sounds  cheesy  but  when  youre  showering  in  the  morning  or  while  ea-ng  breakfast,  think  about  what  your  goals  are  for  the  day  and  how  you  plan  to  accomplish  them.  Be  specific!  Dont  just  say  "Do  CS  HW";  quan-fy  what  you  want  to  get  done  so  that  its  easy  to  turn  it  into  an  accomplishment  at  the  end  of  the  day.  7.  Leave  room  for  spontaneity  in  your  schedule!  It  keeps  you  sane!  
  12. 12.   Module  #9   Sec-on  3:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Brandon  Writes:  1.  Capture  all  the  things  you  need  to  get  done  somewhere  so  you  dont  need  to  use  extra  "RAM"  to  remember  2.  Schedule  which  day  you  want  to  get  these  things  done,  so  that  each  day  you  have  a  todo  list  that  you  dont  have  to  look  at  un-l  that  day.  3.  Leave  room  for  unexpected  occurrences,  and  dont  get  upset  if  you  didnt  accomplish  everything  you  wanted  to  do.  4.  Remember  the  purpose  and  outcome  youre  gemng  out  of  comple-ng  a  task.  5.  Some-mes  produc-vity  means  cumng  out  tasks  that  you  shouldnt  be  doing.  Always  ques>on  every  single  task  and  ask  yourself  whether  its  something  you  should  be  doing.  Some-mes  we  end  up  doing  things  that  dont  actually  contribute  to  anything!  6.  When  applicable,  see  if  you  can  leverage  someone  elses  skills  to  get  something  done  faster  7.  hPp://­‐ways-­‐to-­‐get-­‐more-­‐done/  
  13. 13.   Module  #9   Sec-on  3:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Carl  Writes:  1.  Start  small  -­‐  dont  try  to  accomplish  100  tasks  in  1  day  if  you  dont  have  to.  It  just  burns  you  out  and  makes  you  cynical  about  produc-vity.  2.  For  big  projects,  do  a  por>on  the  DAY  that  its  assigned.  A  small  por-on,  but  more  than  just  a  symbolic  gesture.  For  many,  just  star-ng  is  the  difficult  part.  3.  Plan  things  out.  So  much  can  be  accomplished  when  you  plan  out  what  you  want  to  do  and  when  you  want  to  do  it.  We  have  a  tendency  to  think  vaguely  to  ourselves  “Oh  I’ll  do  it  tomorrow.”  Think  instead,  “I’ll  complete  the  Biology  homework  assignment  from  4PM  –  5PM  tomorrow.”  4.  Priori>ze.  It’s  very  important  to  do  so!  It  gives  you  a  sense  of  perspec-ve  of  what’s  important.  By  priori-zing  your  tasks  and  ranking/categorizing  them  in  terms  of  importance,  you  are  essen-ally  telling  your  mind  what  tasks  it  needs  to  concentrate  on.  
  14. 14. Module  #9  Sec-on  4:  Produc-vity  Tools     By  Carl  Shan  
  15. 15.   Module  #9   Sec-on  4:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Carl  Writes:  Apps:  1.  Use  Google  Calendar  or  some  sort  of  calendar  to  keep  track  of  everything.  Especially  big  and  important  dates.  I  simply  cannot  emphasize  how  important  this  is.  By  keeping  a  calendar,  I  no  longer  forget  any  big  or  important  events.  I  even  put  the  deadlines  of  school  projects  down  and  have  periodic  reminders  to  ping  me!  This  has  been  an  immense  help  to  me.  2.  I  use  Boomerrang  (Gmail  Plugin)  to  keep  track  of  emails  that  I  have  to  follow  up  on  and  send.  3.  No>fyMe  -­‐  Cell  phone  reminder  tool.  Its  5$  but  theres  other  ways  to  get  it  for  free  (hint  hint).  4.  Ive  used  TaskPaper,  Todoist,  Things,  Omnifocus,  Wunderlist  Rememberthemilk  and  much  more.  All  are  kinda  meh.  Ive  stuck  with  Taskpaper  for  now  because  its  by  far  the  most  flexible.  These  dont  solve  the  problem  of  produc-vity.  Theyre  just  tools.  Buying  amazing  running  shoes  doesnt  help  you  use  weight  if  you  dont  use  them  in  an  effec-ve  manner.  Don’t  mistake  the  tools  for  what  the  tools  are  supposed  to  help  you  do.  5.  Check  out  Self-­‐Control  if  you  have  a  Macbook.  It’s  a  website  blocking  app  that  can  keep  your  Facebook/Reddit/TwiPer/Whatever  urges  under  control.    
  16. 16.   Module  #9   Sec-on  4:  General  Produc-vity  Strategies     Carl  Writes:   Where  Can  I  Get  These  Tools?    Email  Tools:  Boomerrang  -­‐  hPp://    CloudMagic  -­‐  hPp://      To-­‐Do  List  Applica-ons:  Wunderlist  -­‐  hPp://  Taskpaper  -­‐  hPp://  Omnifocus  -­‐  hPp://    No-fyMe  -­‐  hPp://  ToDoist  -­‐  hPp://          
  17. 17.   Module  9   In  Closing…   Carl  Shan,  Kavya  Shankar,  Brandon  Liu,  Betsy  Tsai,  Varun  Pemmaraju  In summary, these are all some of the techniques and tools that have helped us become more productive. Itdoes not mean that these are the right tools for you. Find your own mix of strategies and systems that help youbecome more efficient. Take what value you can from our advice and craft something out of it.Keep in mind that one of the hardest parts of becoming more productive is finding the willpower to even trulywant to. That means being able to watch less TV, use less FB, stop playing games etc. so that you canaccomplish and achieve more in life.The best way to build up this willpower, and you definitely can do it, is by changing your habits slowly butsurely. Start small, with just one unproductive thing that you do, and cut it down by 10%. Increase every otherday by a little bit more until you have a firm grasp on it and rinse and repeat for all your other wasteful habits.We, as your mentors, can only guide you to see the paths that we’ve walked in our lives. It is important for youto also discover your own.And we all believe that you can find it.Cheers,Carl, Kavya, Brandon, Betsy and Varun
  18. 18. Thanks!       Authors:  Carl  Shan,  Kavya  Shankar,  Brandon  Liu,  Varun  Pemmaraju,  Betsy  Tsai   For  more  informa-on,  email:,,,,