Chinese medicine students have some of the same needs as other students – one of those needs is to stay organized and productive. It is perhaps even more critical in graduate/professional school because the academic demands are so much greater.
I’ve also found that a fair number of Chinese medicine students (a self selected group) are unfamiliar with basic tools of organization and productivity. Many productivity websites list various tools and tricks, but you may not be familiar with those sites.
So, I will list the top 8 tools I use to maintain my organization and productivity, making special notes for Chinese medicine students along the way.I will provide separate posts concerning technology and software that is fairly critical to add to this mix in order to maximize your student potential.
1. Getting Things Donen (GTD) by David Allen : I want to create a separate post of the essential texts for beginning Chinese medicine students, but this book definitely belongs in this section. I would not be one quarter as organized as I am without the kind help of Mr. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. I must admit, I’m a personal productivity junkie, so my opinion may be a touch skewed. However, this book is accessible, the writing style is infectious and the ideas are immediately applicable.
I recommend sitting down on a weekend and following the instructions that David sets out exactly. Some of them will seem like they don’t apply to a student, but if you do your best to work through the method you will be an organizational star. Some of the items below are recommended by him to implement his system. If you want to learn more about GTD or extend your understanding after you have read the book, visit Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders. It’s an excellent resource.
2. A physical inbox/outbox with at least two tiers: This is part of the GTD system, but is vital regardless of your system. Get used to putting EVERYTHING you need to deal with into this inbox. I’m totally floored by how many people get important papers at school and then let them mold in the bottom of their backpacks or get lost in the mess of the backseat of their car. Have a special place in your bag or folder system to store any papers you receive from school (and elsewhere) and every day make a habit of depositing them in your inbox. Then, at the very least, you know where to find school related information.
3. Electronic labeller: Okay, so this is slightly high tech. This is another GTD item. I tried to use a manual one, thinking that an electronic labeller was a bit.. um.. overkill. But I recently broke down and bought an electric one for 29 bucks on sale. It runs on batteries and has a DC adapter. It has revolutionized my organizational mindset, because now I make folders for everything and, thus, can always find anything I’m looking for. It’s a beautiful thing.
4. Filing cabinet : I found both of my filing cabinets on the side of the road. This is not David Allen style, to be sure, but it works for me. I have one two-drawer filing cabinet for every day use (all of my important papers, bill stuff, current projects) and one four-drawer filing cabinet in my basement for longer term storage. Most of this second filing cabinet is my class archives. I archive it by Professor, and then by class. This way, I am always able to find important information in the future. The GTD system makes judicious use of filing cabinet antics – and let me tell you, it makes life easier.
5. Expandable file style folder : This is a relatively new item for me. These are plastic folders with several compartments and a tabbed labelling system. I mark one for each course and one for administrative/other papers that I put into my inbox when I get home. Its benefits are that you will never be without your papers for any class, the items are easy to insert and remove, it is endlessly reusable and very self-contained. I prefer it to the traditional three ring binder.
The prior items all fall into a similar category – organization and productivity. For Chinese medicine students, having some kind of formal organizational system is critical in two respects. First, as a student, you are going to be inundated with a variety of deadlines, notes to self and other materials that will quickly become unwieldy if you do not get on top of them.
Having a formal, proven system of elegance will help you to get your assignments in on time, register for special events like your Clean Needle Technique exam and keep track of all the new and exciting information you will undoubtedly be absorbing – this will catapult your overall performance and help you to get the most out of this critical phase of your education. Second, planting the seeds of high productivity and personal responsibility now will help build the foundation for you to become a highly organized and respectable professional in this field. In this way, people in professional educational environments have an even more pressing need to step into their own as productive, responsible members of society – we are tomorrow’s doctors and the face of Chinese medicine.
An important side note that I feel is, unfortunately, necessary: Being organized and productive does not mean you have to be uptight, un-spontaneous or that you’re selling out to the man. Avoiding professionalism on the grounds that it makes you too much like “them” just gives “them” a leg up. Productivity, organization and responsibility are for EVERYONE. Make it your own and do this profession proud.
6. A decent backpack : I’m suprised how many people are still using their Jansport backpack from high school. I mean, I recognize the urge to conserve and I respect it. I live it! But use your old backpack for day hikes and groceries – get something that is both professional and durable, and BIG, for your school needs. I use a blogger bag from Timbuk2 (highly recommended) – a great company that manufactures highly usable bags for all purposes.
Look for something that has enough space for your many books, enough organizational elements that you can always find what you need, but not so many that you are going to lose things. I’d say 4-5 pockets should be the max. It’s important to have a bag that fits your body mechanics to avoid musculo-skeletal problems down the road. Some suggest a rolling backpack for this purpose, but I find that I just can’t handle the extra inconvenience those packs bring.
7. Stainless steel water bottle and a lunch system : The next three items may not seem like organizational elements, but for me they are. Having easy access to good quality water leaves you free to think about other things than your thirst. Stainless steel has the least chance of leaching any fun chemicals into your water.
I will write a separate post about the water filtration system I use, but let it suffice to say that I most definitely use one. All natural health care practitioners should be concerned about the quality and amount of water that they drink. Although many Chinese docs have suggested that the obsession with drinking so much water – especially cold or iced water – is unhealthy, any doctor would agree that drinking a decent amount of high quality water is important for overall health. Find your balance and steer clear from ice, it can put the brakes on your digestive health.
Regarding the lunch system – You will save money, time and your health by relying on your own cooking skills to feed you during your long school days. But even the best laid out menus and most well-meaning shopping trips will leave you scrambling in the mornings or eating out of vending machines if you don’t have an easy and functional way to transport your food to school. Invest in some good quality tupperware or other containers of your liking. I use Ikea plastic food containers for most things, except hot liquids, which I put in glass jars. I used to use a fabric lunch bag, but now put everything in heavy plastic bags inside a main compartment in my bag. You might look into a more formal system. Experiment.
8. Bus pass and flawless integration with scheduling system : I feel sorry for anyone who is in a situation where they must drive to and from school. Parking and traffic are nearly uniformly a pain in the rear. We are blessed with an excellent bus and bike path system in Portland – the Greatest City on Earth.
I use both to excess.
If you have a public transportation system where you live, get a bus pass. Just do it. Stop making excuses. Bus time is EXCELLENT for studying flash cards. If you can bike, do that too. I mean – avoiding traffic, saving money, exercising AND caring for our Earth home — what’s not to like? You need to make sure you know the routes well, though. Many public transportation systems now have a way to hook into their schedules via cell phone or text message. Call them up to find out if yours does.
Have any low-tech organization or productivity tips for students? Leave yours in the comments.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.