Sync Your Life: Student Edition

The life of a student can be very chaotic at times. Luckily, there are some excellent apps that are perfect for keeping track of your daily life. While each app has its own benefit individually, they’re even more powerful when used in combination with each other to achieve seamless organization of events, assignments, notes, and anything else you would like to keep track of.

To do this, I recommend centralizing your organization around a feature-packed note-taking application. In this demonstration, I will be using Springpad.

The Apps

Before we get started you should make sure you have the apps you need and are familiar with how to use them. All of the apps I will be using can be found in the two links posted above.

The base of our operations will be Springpad. I recommend reading the review to familiarize yourself with the basic uses of this program. We will be using Springpad to link with Google Calendar, which comes with any Android device and is always accessible from your Google account, along with two other Google services: Google Docs and Google Reader.

Another common note-taking app is Evernote, but this will not be ideal when you are attempting to completely sync all of your work because it lacks the ability to sync with Google Calendar.

I will also be using miscellaneous apps to make the notes as efficient as possible.

Now let’s get started!

Google Calendar

The greatest feature of Springpad is the ability to create its own calendar within Google Calendar. This means that when you’re in Springpad, (which you always should be) you can create an event, such as a test or a project, and automatically have it be in your calendar.

To do this, log in into your Springpad account. Then tap Settings and go into the Services tab. Next to the Google logo, press “authorize” and follow the steps. After you’re done it should show that your Google account can now be disabled if you want it to.

Springpad Services

Now, simply go into the desired Springpad notebook and click the ‘plus’ sign. Then click “add by type”. This will bring up a list of possible additions. Click ‘event’ and fill out the information.

This is what my calendar list looks like

Now head over to Google Calendar and you will notice a new calendar called ‘springpad’ has been added. This calendar will display all of your events from Springpad.

Recommended Feature: The Board

Springpad has a great feature called the Board. It is simply a space that allows you to post useful information that pertains to your notebook. It is a great way to view your events and tasks on your computer. While using the described Google Calendar method is excellent for viewing all your events on your phone or tablet, the Board is very useful if you have your computer in front of you. For example, I have a Springpad notebook for my Music History class and I use my Board to keep track of importent events and notes.

This is an example of the Board

Google Reader

A difficult thing about being a student is not always having the resources or the time to access up-to-date information such as news, health concerns, and new products. Using RSS feeds can help you do this. They can also help you if you are doing a semester-long research project and need to be constantly updated on a certain area or topic.

An extremely useful tool that is rather unknown is the ability to send articles from Google Reader directly to Springpad. For those of you who are not familiar with Google Reader, it is an application that reads RSS feeds. This is a huge benefit for students; it means you don’t need to be distracted by logging on to various news sites if you want to check the news while you’re working. This method allows you to access all of your favorite articles without even leaving Springpad.

If you don’t currently use any RSS feeds, then I recommend hopping over to Google Reader and clicking on ‘browse for stuff’ in the menu on the left. Clicking on ‘Bundles from Google’ will give you an enormous database of great RSS feeds.

First, make sure you’re logged into your Google account; then, go into the Google Reader settings by clicking on the gear icon on the top left of your screen. Then click Reader Settings. Next, go to the ‘send to’ tab and click on ‘create custom link’. Fill in the details as follows:

Name: Springpad
URL: http://springpadit.com/s?type=Bookmark&url=${url}&name=${title}
Icon URL: http://www.springpadit.com/images/springpad_smallicon.gif

Now go into Google Reader and click on any article you want. At the bottom of the article, tap Send To, and then select “Springpad”. Hop back to Springpad and click on “All My Stuff”. You will see a Bookmarks tab in the menu on the left. This is where all your collected articles will be stored.

Example of RSS bookmarks in Springpad

Some of you may want to add an article to a specific notebook like pictured above. This is a little more tricky, but can still be done. Do the same process as before, but fill in these details:

Name: Springpad [name of desired notebook] URL: http://springpadit.com/s?type=Bookmark&notebook=notebookname&url=${url}&name=${title}
Icon URL: http://www.springpadit.com/images/springpad_smallicon.gif

In the URL, replace ‘notebookname’ with the name of your notebook. If I wanted to do it for my Music History notebook, I would replace it with ‘musichistory’. This will create a bookmark like before but within the specified notebook.

Google Docs

For those of you who are not familiar with Google Docs, it is a service that allows you to view, create, and edit documents from any computer, phone, or tablet. It supports the most popular document types such as Word, Powerpoint, and Excel. Basically, any document you create or upload is stored in the cloud. This is convenient because it automatically saves your progress so you don’t have to worry about losing data due to a power outage or some other type of accident. Linking up your Springpad notes and events with Google Docs is a huge advantage when it comes to organizing. There is no official way to “link” these two accounts, but it is possible to make a direct link to a document, which is all that you need. I use Google Docs for any type of paper that I need to save and continue working on.

This is what the 'add a link' screen looks like

Let’s say that I have a term paper due at the end of the semester. I would want to keep all the work I have done towards the paper in the same place. More importantly, I would want to access that information anywhere. The first thing I would do is create an event and fill in the date and time that the paper is due. To add an attachment to an event,  click (+add) next to attachments, located below your event information. Then click on the link tab. Copy and paste the URL of your Google Docs document into the ‘Add a link’ box. You can also create a title and description if you’d like.

Once this is done, any time you view the event you will see the links. Clicking on a link will take you directly to the Google Docs document. I recommend linking an event to any type of document that has due date or is part of an assignment.

Adding Multimedia To Your Notes

As a student, you can collect a decent amount of information that can easily be converted into media to add to your notes. This is where you can really get serious about organizing in Springpad. You can completely organize an entire class worth of information all within one Springpad notebook.

Document Scanners

If you are like me, you are always getting different handouts and other types of documents for a specific class. There is one simple feature in Springpad that will fill in any gaps you may have in your notes: the ability to add pictures. The biggest tool to use in this process is some type of document scanner.

The three major competitors in the document scanner market are DroidScan, CamScanner, and Document Scanner. These scanners will all create PDFs of the desired handout.

You can use any one that fits your price range and has the features you want. I recommend scanning any handout you are given and attaching them to a corresponding note. The most efficient way to do this is to create a note for each topic in a class or maybe each chapter in a textbook. This way, if you want to view information on a particular topic, your notes taken during class and your handouts will all be in one central place.

Example of adding a PDF as a photo and a file

When it comes to adding the actual PDF to Springpad, there are two way to do this. Both ways will be done by using the (+add) link at the bottom of a note. The first way is by adding the PDF as a photo. This will show a thumbnail of the document; when you click it, a pop-up window will appear showing the PDF. The downside of this method is it only shows one page of the PDF – this is a problem, because if I have a handout that is multiple pages, I don’t want to upload a different picture for every page. You can use a service such as PDFJoin! to combine pages of a handout into one convenient PDF.

The other method is to add the PDF as a file instead of as a photo. This will just list the name of the PDF below the note without any type of thumbnail or preview. However, when you click on it, it will open a new tab and display the full PDF. I prefer this method when dealing with multiple-page handouts. However, when I just have a simple, one-page handout, uploading the PDF as a picture works just great.

ShareYourBoard

This is one application that is very useful in very specific situations. Basically, it is an application that allows you to take a complete screenshot of a whiteboard in a classroom with your camera. I reccomend reading about it and figuring out how to use it exactly. I have found that if your professor is just writing traditional notes on the board, then it is much easier to just type them into Springpad using your computer. However, if your professor draws a diagram or some other type of figure that can’t be achieved using traditional text, then this app can be a huge benefit. Once you have the picture. then you can add it to Springpad using the method described above.

Recording Classes

Recording a lecture or an entire class can be very useful. Syncing this process with Springpad is perhaps the easiest way to add recordings to notes. If you have the Springpad application installed on your phone, then you already have the ability to do this. Simply go into the desired notebook, click the + sign, and select Record Audio. This will let you record a lecture then then add it directly to a note.

However, if for some reason you don’t have your phone on you but do have your computer, then you’re still in good shape. All you have to do is record the lecture (assuming your laptop has a built in microphone) using some sort of recording app (varies depending on the OS). Once you have the audio file, head into Springpad. Go into the note you want to add it to click the (+add) link. Add it as a normal file and thats it!

Warning: One unfortunate limitation of Springpad is that files must be less than 5MB in order to upload them.

Conclusion

Taking advantage of the technology at your fingertips can actually make you a better student. The biggest problem I have and the biggest problem I’ve seen in other students is a lack of organization. Having a central place to run your academic life will help prevent things getting lost or forgotten about. Using the methods I have described, a student can easily sync their entire academic workload. The biggest advantage is that all of your events, notes, and media is cloud-based. This is perfect for students because sometimes you need to access your work and information on your computer, in the library, or even on a friend’s computer. The only challenge is to continually update the information, which actually isn’t that hard seeing as it can all be done on your laptop.

What’s so great about this process is all of your notes, events, and information will be available across all of your devices. If you’re like me and have a laptop, phone, and tablet, then the usefulness of this process will become very obvious. The more you use Springpad and the other apps, the more you will realize how to use it depending on what device you have. Computers and tablets are ideal for viewing documents and full calendars, while your phone will be used for much simpler versions.


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