While finding ways to spend time that didn’t involve studying for an entrance exam, an out of context quote popped into my head.

I also believe that the usefulness of software tools is usually greatly underrated. Better tools can act as a significant multiplier on everyone’s productivity.

(From the announcement for the Computation Graph Toolkit. Based on Theano, it’s a cool library for neural net implementation. It’s also written by a PhD student I actually know. Check it out!)

This came after I’d done the bare minimum to organize my life. I cleared out my inboxes across three email accounts. I set up email forwarding to send everything to one master account. For classes and events this semester, instead of memorizing the times, I added them to Google Calendar. As an added bonus, I can check my calendar from my phone and get notifications ahead of every event.

Setting this up took me around 1-2 hours, and it’s saved me so much more in just a few weeks. The real reward, however, has been the peace of mind. My inbox has unread messages if and only if I have something to check. If I’m not sure about my schedule, I can check my calendar from my phone. If I forget an event, I’ll get a notification with 30 minutes of lead time, and an email notification with 10 minutes of lead time. In the future, I can add HW due dates and job interview times. These are all simple, obvious ideas, and I’m incredibly disappointed I’m behind the curve.

Back when I was applying to colleges, I based one essay around planning for only the short term. The main argument was that no plan survives contact with the real world, so it was better to plan at most a few weeks ahead, and make a new plan when necessary.

Sure, parts of that are true. Uncertainty in the real world is the big reason agile development is a thing. But my god, I was so, so stupid. It’s a cute saying, to say that it’s pointless to plan when reality won’t match your plan, but that means your plan was bad in the first place. It still makes sense to talk about where a company is going in 3 months, or the goals a long-term project should achieve. “No plan survives the real world” doesn’t mean “Don’t plan at all”, it means “Plan in broad strokes, come up with plausible ways to achieve your goals, expect your methods or goals to change along the way, and make sure you keep slack for when things go wrong.”

I’m convinced I wrote that essay because I was too lazy to organize my life, and needed a way to justify it. But there’s no justification for bad organization. I cannot think of a single scenario where messiness is better, because organization is a meta skill that improves literally everything. It means never disappointing someone by forgetting about an appointment. It means knowing where to look when you need something, whether you need a textbook or a bag of flour. It means having a system for note taking that is conducive to learning the material, both while taking the course and when you need to review it two years later. Although there are obviously other factors, the organized and well-regimented are the ones who are going to make the biggest impact in the world.

And I’m not one of them.

I need to start optimizing my process.