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Teaching GTD to new university students?

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  • Teaching GTD to new university students?

    I'm a relative newby at GTD but have already derived tremendous value from applying the principles. This fall I will be teaching a sort of "college 101" seminar to high-ability incoming university freshmen, and it occurs to me that these students would really benefit from the principles as well. I'm thinking of using GTD as one of the textbooks and folding the processes into our class procedures, rather than doing the more traditional "time management" approaches.

    Are there any forum members who have done this? Does anyone have suggestions?

  • #2
    Great idea

    I think that's a great idea, just be sure you really understand it yourself (it's hard to really explain to people). If they only "get" the 2 minute rule and the concept of breaking down projects into tasks, they will be way ahead of the game!

    Wish someone had done this for me when I was in college!


    • #3
      Here are a couple of good threads on the topic

      Teaching GTD to Others:

      GTD for University Students:


      • #4
        Great Idea!!

        I'm a college professor and a big GTD fan. I've been to David's seminar twice and we had Wayne Pepper in for a one day overview for faculty & staff.

        David gave me permission to use his GTD techniques with students and I've used it in a Project Manageent & Team Leaderrship class as a technique.

        I's love to teach it to freshmen as I think it would help them tremendously as they transition into college.

        If you're looking for a collaborator, I'd be willing to talk off-line and advise during the summer.

        Good luck!



        • #5
          Many thanks for the responses!

          Barb, you're right about needing to have a pretty good grasp of the principles before sharing them with others. A post on one of the threads Todd V sent (thanks, Todd!), though, noted that it's okay to learn alongside the students, as long as you can begin with what you know and are are open about being a co-learner in this area.

          And Charlie, I'd be delighted to get your advice offline -- did you use the book with the students in your class?


          • #6
            Having some effective system like GTD would be a godsend to new university students, so I applaud your effort. The one thing I would point out (and this is probably obvious) is that the book is written for the business professional/executive and has no examples in it relevant to the student. That does not mean that the book won't be useful to the student, but I think that your main challenge will be to develop a set of examples of how to implement GTD for student projects like homework tracking, exam prep, writing assignments, intramural athletics, fraternity/sorority obligations, etc. The examples in the book about executives tracking tasks that have been delegated to subordinates, managing client relationships, meetings with your boss, etc. won't be that helpful to the student yet.

            Also, give some thought to the organizational tools readily available to the student and that they may be already using. For example, when I was a student I never had a nice metal file cabinet and if I did, I couldn't have easily moved it into and out of numerous dorm rooms 2 or 3 times per year. Portable rugged plastic file crates might be more appropriate for a mobile student. Bring one to class as an example. Unfortunately, these probably require the hanging folders. As for technology, I would guess most students today probably have a laptop and I think even iPods have some kind of organizational utility, although I don't know the details of it. But a good basic 3-ring binder tabbed notebook implementation would certainly be familiar to every student and follow the KISS principle. Find a calendar available at the student bookstore or as a free download ( that can be put into a binder.

            Once they start implementing it, the students themselves will probably be the best source of tweaks and best practices.

            Good Luck!


            • #7
              That's a really good point, Barry -- I'll give some thought to developing examples from the university-student world, and to tools that they either already have (iPods, cell phones) or that are cheaply available at discount stores.


              • #8
                In addition to the notes and materials they collect during classes, the students will also get a lot of input in their email inboxes since a lot of professors are using email heavily now. I would recommend making email management a significant sub-topic of your course. Teach them how to organize mail as "@action" and "@waiting_for" and "@reference" and to process thier inboxes to zero on a regular basis. This skill will be useful in school and essential after graduation. I would also recommend having the students set up a free Gmail webmail account and having their university mail forwarded there. That way they establish a permanent, portable email account instead of relying on their University email account which will vaporize shortly after graduation or if they take a semester off or transfer to a different school. Having a permanent email account will also help them stay in touch with their friends and academic network after graduation (after all, a network can be one of the most important things gained in college).

                I personally also consider the use of disposable email aliases to be an essential part of managing email in today's (heavily-spammed) world, even though most would consider it an unnecessary level of complexity. I would cover aliases in the course. Good free ones can be had at

                If they establish good email habits as Freshmen, it will serve them well for a lifetime.


                • #9
                  I think it's a great idea, and have had great experiences teaching personal productivity to grad students and faculty. I've found one of the best ways to get students started with a system is by modeling: If their professor uses a system, shows how it works, and sets reasonable expectations for follow-through, students often get *very* motivated to try it. For example, when they see you tracking their work on the Waiting For list, it sends a clear message about accountability. You might also require them to keep an agenda for you, with clear actions/questions on it, etc.


                  • #10
                    Tracking students' assignments on "waiting for" ... like they're real work, needed by a real person... what a concept! I like it --thanks, Matt! Did you use the book with the students?

                    And Barry, I'll have to do more learning about aliases and their benefits. Can you say a bit more about how this improves e-mail use?

                    We're finishing up the first summer orientation session of the year, and I got to meet yesterday with three students who will be taking my seminar. I mentioned that one of the issues we'd be working with was managing workflow. They're looking forward to it -- and so am I!


                    • #11
                      djadpb, the answer to your alias question can be found efficiently by clicking the link I posted above, but in a nutshell, using email aliases works like this. You have a real email account with an email address that you do not give out to anyone. Then you also have a set of other email addresses (aliases) that can be given out to your various contacts. Any mail sent to these aliases gets forwarded to your real email account. When one of your aliases gets on a spam list, you delete it and give a new alias to that contact. In this way, you can really stay ahead of the spam problem.