10 Secrets to Keeping Track of your Assignments with Producteev
#1 Use a “School” Project to See All Your Assignments in One Place
Producteev has a few different ways to look at tasks: by due date, by priority, tags, and projects. Set up a separate project for school assignments. Mine is called “School.” (Deep, I know.) When you go to Producteev on your computer, phone, or tablet, you can click that project to easily see only school assignments and not any of the other tasks you have to do.
#2 Use Labels Like a Boss
Each task can only be assigned to one project, but it can have many labels. Labels function like tags in other apps, and they are the secret to not being overwhelmed by a long list of things to do, because you can easily narrow that list down. Here are some ways I use labels:
Create a label for each course you are taking. You can use the name of the course, the course number, or anything that will help you easily remember it. Aim for names that are short, but identifiable. Then, you can click that label in the left sidebar in Producteev, and instantly see only the assignments for that class.
Assignment Type Labels:
Create labels for different types of assignments, such as reading, problem sets, research, or discussion boards. You can click your “problem set” label in the left sidebar and see a list of all the problem sets you have left to do.
Some assignments require some kind of equipment or location (wifi, library, laptop) while others can be done anywhere. Create labels for these, so that when you are riding the bus, you can pull up your list of “bus commute” tasks and pick an assignment that can be done while the wheels are going round and round. When you are at the library, you can make sure you got everything you needed by going to your Library label.
This trick changed the way I plan my day. You may have heard about the benefits of time blocking
– planning out each hour of your day to maximize productivity. I created time labels (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, etc.), estimated the time to complete each task, and then added the appropriate label to the task. When I am planning out tomorrow’s schedule, I can look for tasks by the amount of time they will take, and I can also easily add up that time to see if I have overloaded tasks and need to reschedule a few.
The Bananas Label:
This is one of my favorites. I use the Bananas label to identify the low hanging fruit – items that can be completed very quickly and easily. When I have a few minutes in between other things, I can grab one or two of these low hanging fruit and feel like I have accomplished something.
#3 Decide Your Priorities Up Front
Producteev has 5 levels of priority that you can assign to a task (6 if you count the “no priority set” level). At the beginning of a semester or term, check out the syllabus and, based on the weight of each assignment category, decide how you are going to prioritize those assignments. So, if the research paper is worth 50% of your grade, you’ll want to set a high priority for any research paper related tasks. On the other hand, if you have an assignment that is worth 5% of your grade, that might be a low priority item. You can sort your tasks by priority, so if you are crunched for time you know which ones to do first.
#4 Use Two Due Dates for your Assignments
For each assignment, you have an actual due date – the one provided by your professor. I want you to create a second due date: your GOAL due date (when you want to have it done by). Ideally, this will be a few days before it is actually due. You can take into account when you have other assignments or projects due, so that you aren’t trying to study for a major exam, prepare for a huge oral presentation, and write two term papers all at the same time. Also, working towards a goal date means that even if you fall behind, you aren’t late yet. You have a buffer to get caught up!
In Producteev, include the ACTUAL due date (the one from your professor) in the assignment description, but set the due date on the task itself to your goal date. This way you can keep track of both dates, but drive to your earlier goal date.
QUICK NOTE on Due Dates in Producteev:
If there is an assigned due date, but no time (the all day box is checked by default), when that date arrives, the task will show up as “late.” To get around this, give your assignments a due date and time so that the task doesn’t show late until that time has passed.
#5 Break Down Complex Assignments into Separate Tasks
Producteev has a subtask function, and this is great for reading assignments with multiple parts. But, there isn’t a way to have a separate due date for each subtask. Instead, for multi-step assignments, you want to break down each step into its own task with a separate due date. For example, if you have discussion forums where you have to post your own response by Friday, and then respond to your classmates by Monday, set two different tasks, one for your post and one for the responses. Otherwise, it is so easy to forget about that “step 2!” For a research paper, you want to break down each step of the writing process into its own task with its own due dates.
#6 Enter Every Assignment the First Week of School
With your school project, labels, and priorities determined, enter in all of your assignments the first week of school. Take that first day or two to review the syllabus, ask your professor any questions you might have, and put all of those assignments in Producteev
. Get detailed: if your task is “Week 3 Reading,” include the details of the reading assignment by using subtasks, notes, and/or assignments. Of course, you can always add more later if something else comes up, but you will start the semester ready to go.
#7 Schedule Follow Ups
You emailed your professor to ask a question about the syllabus. Your professor got flooded with 200 syllabus questions and missed yours…and you forgot to go back and ask. Now, you get to the assignment and realize that question never got answered. It happens. Humans forget. But you don’t have to. When you reach out to a professor, or a classmate or even the financial aid office and you are waiting to hear back, schedule a “follow up” task. (I have a label for Follow Up tasks too). Decide when you will follow up if you don’t hear back. When that task comes up, check if you got what you needed. If so, great! Mark the task as complete. If not…follow up with the person via phone or email. But don’t mark the task as complete – you are still waiting on an answer. Instead, add a comment such as “sent follow up 7/5” and reschedule the task for the next time you will follow up. Don’t mark the task as complete until you get the answer.
#8 Use Keyboard Shortcuts for Quick Assignment Entry
Producteev has a few shortcuts to make entering your assignments go faster.
Here are the common ones:
Use ! to schedule a due date (for example !tomorrow or !next week)
Use * to assign a priority. *5 is a high priority task.
Use # to assign a label, such as #bananas.
Use @ to tag a person.
#9 Divvy up Tasks for Group Projects
Working on a group project? Set up a project in Producteev and invite your group to collaborate with you.
- assign tasks to one or more person
- attach files
- write notes back and forth
- use tags to set a status, such as “started” or “needs editing”
- filter to see only tasks assigned to you
#10 Reschedule your Late Tasks
Here’s a problem I see all the time: A student writes all of her assignments in her planner, and for the most part she does okay. But things get busy, and she misses a few deadlines. She could still turn in those assignments for some credit, but she has already turned to the next page in her planner and soon forgets about the late work.
One tip I picked up from Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight A Student was to take time each day to reschedule any items that didn’t get completed as planned. You can do this either at the end of the day or the next morning. I like to do it at the end of the day as part of my nightly routine, so that I can maximize my early morning hours (my best time of day) to do my best work, rather than using that time to play the calendar shuffle.
makes this super easy! You can filter your tasks by Late to see all your late tasks at once, and then reschedule them as you plan out your next day.
I hope these tips give you some ideas of how you can get a handle on your assignments! Remember that setting up a good system and learning to use the tools is only half the battle. It doesn’t matter how great your system is, if you don’t use it! But the best systems will be 1) easy to use and 2) adapted to YOU.
What about you? Which of these secrets will you try to beat the homework blues?