Back to school: Great web tools to make the school year smoother

While many first years’ backpacks will be
stuffed to the
brim with notebooks, staplers, computers, calculators, whistles,
pencils, Kleenex, first aid kits, granola bars and whatever else the 
university reps insist is vital, most upper years have learned
to subsist on a laptop, a cell phone and a few quarters for mid-day Tim
Horton’s runs.

Nevertheless, post-secondary school is likely to be the
first time that a student’s time-management skills are tested, so it’s best to
be proactive and start thinking of ways to smooth out the wrinkles now, especially
for those of us who need to work a part-time job and wish to retain some
semblance of a social life. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available online
that can make student life easier, and the good folks at Mashable have put
together a nice spread of the best of them: 15 essential web tools for

I am particularly excited to try out StudyRails:

“StudyRails is perfect for those who have trouble
blocking out distractions when it comes time to study. The site lets users
schedule study time and alerts them (by text message) when it is time to drop
everything and hit the books. But where StudyRails really becomes important for
chronic procrastinators is that it can be set to block out your favorite web
sites and computer applications during scheduled study time.”

Now these aren’t specifically for journalism students,
but time management is time management, and I think they’ll be useful all the
same. But, from one j-schooler to another, here are a few of my favourite
tools for maintaining my sanity during the school year. (My apologies in
advance for the Apple favourtism in this list. If you’re a PC user and have
some awesome productivity tools to recommend, I want to hear about it in the

Mac Mail, iCal and Address Book (or, for the PC user, I
recommend Thunderbird and Google Calendar): This trio has been invaluable to me. It
allows you to colour code everything, check multiple email addresses at once
and keep track of meetings, assignments and classes. In addition, you
can sync them to each other, your iPod/iPhone and the web (I use Plaxo
for this) so you can check the information anywhere. Also, I can’t
stress enough the importance of backing up all of your contacts in
Address Book or Thunderbird, and not just relying on a cell phone.
Trust me. I
learned the hard way.

Assignment Planner: Sometimes school assignments get lost
in a general calendar, so I keep them separate in this application but sync
them with iCal. Assignment Planner allows you to enter the due dates and
details of all of your assignments, and it comes with a Dashboard widget
checklist that lets you to check off each assignment as you hand it in.

Transcriva: Transcribing hours and hours of interview
tapes is, in my opinion, the worst part of this profession. While I haven’t
been able to find a robot intern to do the work for me, this program makes the
whole process much easier. I tested out a dozen different transcription aids
and this is by far the best; it easily cut my transcription time in half.

Google Reader: One of the hardest parts of journalism
school, especially in the beginning, is coming up with killer story ideas. A
great way to stay ahead of the curve is to read about everything that is going
on in the world, but keeping up with dozens of news aggregates and blogs
individually can be close to impossible. Enter Google Reader. It keeps all of
your favourite blogs in one place and allows you to categorize them however you
like. Not sure what you should be reading? Here’s a good place to start.

Remember The Milk: This is an online to-do list. You can
enter any task that you’ve got coming up and then sync it with whatever other
tools you’re already using (like Twitter or your smart phone). The best part?
It won’t let you let things slide. Remember the Milk will send you a text
message whenever you’ve got something coming up that needs doing. It’s almost
like you’re back living with Mom.