Most people will tell you that a computer is nothing more than a time waster, and that doing something productive usually requires that you log off. In this case, however, the popular knowledge doesn’t hold. Computers and the Internet are some of the most important tools college students have to make their lives easier, more efficient and a lot more interesting.
Going beyond Wikipedia, the Internet boasts a wide range of websites and blogs that offer tips on everything from beefing up your productivity to simplifying your life. Luckily for you, some are even geared specifically toward college students.
Many of these sites provide an array of so-called lifehacks — basically tips that solve casual problems in non-obvious ways, ultimately increasing productivity.
“Lifehacking is just thinking outside the box,” said Chris Lesinski, co-founder of the website Hackcollege.com. “It’s using shortcuts and saving time. I honestly think that one of the most valuable resources in life is time — more important than money and even beer. So, saving time doing things you hate leaves time to enjoy yourself. Why do it any other way?”
After Googling “productivity tips for students” one day, a whole new corner of the Internet opened up, a new face of the all-too-familiar World Wide Web that (unexpectedly) provided something useful and interesting, not just funny and distracting.
The preeminent site for lifehacks is — surprise, surprise — Lifehacker.com. Part of the Gawker Media network, the regularly updated blog features unusual guides to everything from office setup to do-it-yourself tech solutions. The bulk of the tips prove eminently useful, and, because of the large number of posts per week, readers are bound to find something that applies to their lives from time to time.
SavvyStudent.com, another site aimed at helping college students, is basically a catchall for college advice. Beyond the requisite financial aid tips, everything from lists on unusual and lucrative college jobs to cooking ideas for the gastronomically disinclined student.
Another must-read is Tim Ferriss’ blog. Ferriss, the author of the New York Times best seller The 4-Hour Work Week, is a veritable well of unexpectedly useful information. Whether it’s physical health — because apparently people need to be told that a ramen–heavy diet is not a guarantor of six-pack abs — or learning new languages, some of the best guides and product reviews can be found on his site.
One of the best websites for making college life easier and more enjoyable is the aforementioned Hackcollege.com. Created by Lesinski and Kelly Sutton, two Loyola Marymount University students (the duo now teaches a class on web video distribution there), the site features tips and reviews on things ranging from finding the best espresso machine for the lowest cost or “10 ways to find a lost Word document.”
What makes these websites and blogs so useful, more so than, say, books or just trying things out for your own? The fact that everything is changing. Look at social media, for instance: It has gone from early e-mail to Myspace, Facebook and Twitter in less than 10 years. Who is to say what will be the best tool in the next two or three years?
“Real world sources like books stale quickly,” said Sutton. “New software is constantly being released. We’re big fans of Google Docs, but it might not be around forever or a better service might come out. By reading HackCollege and other sites, you will always stay up-to-date on the best tools for students.”
Part of the reason these sites are so true to life is because they are written by college students, for college students. These websites aren’t corporate-run proxies intended to imply the need for some new product. Instead, these are simply a collection of advice from students writing from experience on
what works, what doesn’t and what makes life a lot easier.
“Reading about and implementing lifehacks teaches some great life skills usually not learned until students enter the real world,” Sutton said. “Having a cohesive organization system is key to getting your work done on time. Analyzing your productivity on a meta level allows you to make much more pragmatic choices in life.”
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the Internet is not some magical cure-all, instantly able to fix any problem you encounter.
“It’s tempting to throw the Internet at every problem a student has, but it definitely won’t solve everything,” Sutton said. “The first step to applying the capacity of the Internet is to understand what it enables and what it does best.”
So technology and the Internet may not be the ultimate solution to all the problems college throws at us, but it is still an invaluable tool. The next time someone tells you to get off the computer and do something productive, tell him you already are.