A UArizona Online Student's Guide to Enhanced Productivity

Author(s): Brandy Perkl, Ph.D.

Originally posted: January, 6, 2015
Tech Recommendations Disclaimer: The tools the University pays for change periodically so this advice may go out of date easily or not apply other places than the University of Arizona or my lab specifically, I always recommend using the tech your school supports so you can call them for help and so it's free to you. Unless you're planning to go to graduate school, then find what works best for you and get comfortable with it fast because you'll be using it for YEARS.

This post is shamelessly based on the wonderful Hack Your Life in One Day: A Beginner’s Guide to Enhanced Productivity, but tailored specifically to the University of Arizona and online students in particular.

It is meant to take you past the generic instructions and show you how to be productive online.

I often get asked from students how to get on track – and online students, in particular, have to be so much more on the ball with things or they slip, and there go their grades. These are my top recommendations for getting started online on the right foot, but you can implement them any time in your student career to get more productive.


Time Required: 5 minutes

Instead of paying for a backup service, use something you already have as a part of being a student at UA! A Google Apps for Education account! It’s free, works great, all of your classmates have it, and you get tons of free storage with it too.


  1. Go to UA’s Google Drive, log in with your full UA email and password

  2. Set it up to sync (install it on all computers you use for school if you can!)

  3. Start keeping everything related to school in there

All the details on how to do this can be found here, plus UA’s 24/7 IT support will help you figure it out if you get stuck.


Time Required: 1 min. per device

Install Google Drive on all your devices and then you can access all your files anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to be online to work with your files either, so that’s not a concern. (But you can still see versions if you need to, which helps if you did work online and then off and aren’t sure where the changes went.)

I find this so helpful – my favorite scenario is when someone asks me about something face to face in a meeting and I can send it to them using my phone in less than a minute.


Time Required: 0 – 30 min. (if you import a bunch of notes)

This depends on your method, but you should be putting everything into your Google Drive if you followed the backup plan above.

  • You can take photos of paper notes and save them in Drive – the app and the widget for phones makes that really easy and knows to fix up the photo to make the text really easy to read automatically too.

  • You can save ANY type of file there, not just Google files.

Paper is wonderful stuff, and you remember and learn better when you physically write things down. However, paper gets lost by most of us at some point. And it’s hard to take good notes while driving. So I like to use Google Keep to send me location based reminders and take quick verbal notes to self on my phone – I use it like a digital post it note and use Drive like a binder and filing cabinet rolled into one.



Time Required: 10 min. – 1 hour (if you do the Bonus stuff it takes longer)

You need to get better at passwords, but the only way to do that is to have a way to be sure you won’t forget them. LastPass.

The short version:

  1. Download and install LastPass for your browser

  2. Set up your account, use a good secure password for it that you can remember

  3. Start using it for new accounts

  4. Bonus: If you have a history of bad passwords you can take the time to change them (especially a good idea for anything with access to your money) using LastPass. Just go to those sites, find the change password option (usually buried in settings) and when the option comes up have LastPass generate your new password and save it for you.

A very detailed guide to LastPass and how to use it is located here. Plus the company themselves has great support and videos available online.



Time Required: Depends

Browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer) all have optional add-ons meant to make them more useful to you. So use that to your advantage! (Don’t install way too many, like + 20, it can slow things down.) Some of these have a cost, but most are free at a certain level.

My personal favorites (besides LastPass) are:

  • AdBlock (blocks ads)

  • Lazarus (usually can recover text in D2L when something goes wrong)

  • Ginger (spelling and grammar checker)

  • OneTab (for saving a bunch of tabs when I open too many – that way I can go back to them later)


Time Required: Depends

Google Drive also has a ton of apps you can use with it. Again I wouldn’t install ALL of them, but a few can really make your life better if they suit your workflow. Some of these have a cost, but most are free at a certain level (and I am usually at that lower use level).

My personal favorites are:

  • HelloSign & HelloFax (for those rare times I have to fax something – this means I don’t have to find a fax machine)

  • CloudConvert helps me to swap files people send me into different formats if I need to

  • Music Player for Google Drive makes it possible to store and play audio files right in Drive without needing to open them anywhere else

  • There are also Google templates you may find useful!


  • If you don’t set a default, you can open a file with an app by right-clicking its title in Google Drive.

  • If you’ve set a default and you’d like to open a particular file with a different app, right-click its title in Google Drive and select an alternate app.


Personally, I’m all paper for to-do lists (audio notes to self I make in Google Keep go on paper once I’m safely out from behind the wheel) and the Pomodoro Technique is amazing for when starting is the hardest part – often a problem with student projects.

Here are some of the best posts to get you started on this from Lifehacker:

The last thing is to make sure you’re self-managing all those different online classes and assignments and due dates well so that your To Do list has the right things on it to get you the grades and life you want.



I know this reads like an ‘I love Google’ piece, and I do love them, but it’s really because these are tools you already have and your tuition pays for you to have access to. I’m a big believer in getting your money’s worth out of your college experience – and this is another way to do that which will help you to be a more effective online student.


When it comes to whatever method you pick, if it’s working – DON’T FIX IT. Don’t go looking for other ways. Stick with it and focus.

Psychology researchers have studied how people make decisions and concluded there are two basic styles. “Maximizers” like to take their time and weigh a wide range of options—sometimes every possible one—before choosing. “Satisficers” would rather be fast than thorough; they prefer to quickly choose the option that fills the minimum criteria (the word “satisfice” blends “satisfy” and “suffice”). – Elizabeth Bernstein, WSJ, paraphrasing the brilliant work of Dr. Barry Schwartz

I am a maximizer, and it’s very very bad for my productivity. I have to force myself to satisfice when it comes to my productivity methods, and you should too. Doing the work is more important than trying to prioritize or organize the work in a better way.


All of this advice ignores huge aspects of your life as a human trying to reach your goals, like the fact that you can’t ignore your health or your finances, but I’m more of a techy than a health nut or a money manager. I recommend reading Ramit Sethi for money advice and for fitness (and everything else you need to be happy, like a social life) embracing the idea that work-life balance is a farce – you need to make it all work together.

Because there is no balance, don’t forget to be nice to yourself. Procrastination happens, and feeling guilty wastes energy you could be using to get started (or to refill your tank so you can start and finish later).

I encourage everyone interested in productivity, especially on their computer and in their work life, to check out Lifehacker: The Index, where this idea was sourced from.

Image of the UAZ Library sourced from Wikipedia.