We’re approaching that special time of year when the incoming class of 2016 will don their book bags, sharpen their #2 pencils, and open those squeaky clean textbooks for the first time. They will be attempting the horrific and terrifying: Going back to school after three or more years in the workforce. Instead of happy hours and video games after work, they will be chin deep in case studies and spreadsheet analysis. Leisurely coffee chats will turn into 30 seconds of hurried conversation on the stairwell. Hitting the gym will become hitting the pillow at 3:00am. Life as they know it is about to change.
Yes, business school can be overwhelming at first, but there are ways to ease the pain. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, b-school students now have millions of ways to save time, remember deadlines, and keep themselves from completely losing their minds. Here’s a roundup of essential tech tools for business school students.
Your Mobile Calendar
I’m not kidding with this one. Google Calendar on my iPhone was the only thing preventing me from missing every exam, presentation and project deadline as I rushed from one study group meeting to another. Pick one you really like and keep it updated as if your life depended on it. (It does.) Best to pick a popular service like Google or Outlook so you don’t have to waste time transposing invites to your calendar of choice.
Wearable Fitness Device
Let’s face it, business school is not going to put you in the best shape of your life. There’s something about the combination of little sleep, frequent alcohol consumption and sitting hunched over a computer for 15 hours a day that doesn’t exactly lend itself to rock hard abs. That’s why it’s great to have a little electronic device that sets goals for you and judges you when you don’t hit them. My FitBit not only records my steps, it also syncs with an app on my phone and cheerfully reminds me throughout the day what a lazy ass I’m being. The guilt is enough to get me to take a walk at lunch time, even if it’s just to the school cafe for that second latte.
One of the cruelest ironies of business school is that your professors expect you to keep up with current events while jugging classwork, leadership roles, job hunting, networking and managing to eat regularly. If you find yourself in class thinking, “What’s all this fuss about Gaza?” — it might be time to get yourself some mobile news. The WSJ app is my favorite, but maybe you’re more of an Economist or Financial Times type. Whatever your poison, it’s better to spend five minutes scanning the headlines over your morning cereal than to draw a blank when someone asks you what you think about the current situation in Ukraine.
Are you a Google Driver, a Dropbox Devotee, or even a Box Booster? Whatever your cloud storage service of choice, prepare to use up those free gigabytes. Every group project and case competition will be made 85% less awful by storing research, drafts and final documents in a shared location that can’t be wiped out by your classmate’s hard drive crashing at 2:00am on the day that the project is due. Another fun time-saving tip is to split up readings among your classmates and have everyone post their summary to a shared folder. (Don’t tell your teachers that I suggested that.)
I’ve filled out so many When2Meets over the past year that I swore I would strangle the next person who sent me one. Yet I keep crawling back to this ugly, terrible, wonderful piece of modern-day scheduling genius like my life depended on it. Because it does. Have you ever tried to organize a time for 6 busy people to meet? “Jimmy can’t meet on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, Jennifer can only meet after 9:00pm, Justin is only available every other full moon…” Stop the madness. Get When2Meet and join the cult of awesome.
I’m not a huge fan of group texts, but there are some occasions when you need to organize eight people who are incapable of responding to emails in a timely manner. Sure, it’s annoying to have your phone buzz every 10 seconds when someone feels the need to tell the group what bar he’s going to, what he’s drinking, and how EPIC the night is turning out to be. But when you just need your classmates to show up at the right time or remember to bring a flash drive for the presentation, these messaging apps will save your posterior.
It’s going to happen. All your carefully laid plans for a thoughtful in-person meeting with your study group are going to go up in smoke when someone has a meeting conflict, someone else has an informational interview, and a third person seems to have blocked out their entire calendar just for fun. That’s when you’ll be glad for video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangouts. With support for up to 10 people at once, it’s ALMOST like meeting face to face, except you can do it at home in your pajamas at midnight. My favorite Google Hangouts feature is being able to add video effects like giving yourself a mustache or a funny hat, turning every group meeting into a raging party! (*Note: Most meetings will not turn into raging parties.)
Music Streaming Service
The only thing that gets me through 8 agonizing hours of homework is literally hooking my brain up to a constant stream of music. We could get into a long debate about Pandora vs. Spotify vs. (insert favorite streaming service here), but that’s not really the point. The point is that if you were ever going to spring for that premium license to get unlimited songs or rid yourself of annoying ads, now is the time. Your cerebral cortex will thank you.
During business school, you are going to forget to buy important things. Maybe it’s a textbook you forgot you needed for the midterm in three days. Maybe it’s the toilet paper you just realized was at uncomfortably low levels. Or maybe it’s all of your Christmas gifts because how could anyone expect you to make it to the mall during finals? Whatever it is, Amazon Prime will get it to you with free 2-day shipping. And if you sign up as a student, your membership is free for 6 months and 50% off after that. Once you go Prime, you never go back.
A Way to Stay Balanced
After all of this hectic productivity, you’ll need some help unwinding. Balanced (only available for iOS, unfortunately) lets you create a list of “things you wish you did more often” and then reminds you to do them. These tasks could be anything from blogging or doing yoga once to a week, to checking your posture, to simply “being present.” If there’s one thing that MBA candidates need more of, it’s serenity. So when a message pops up on your phone asking, “Are you feeling balanced?” you may just be able to say, “Yes! Yes I am!” (We’ll also accept, “Yeah, sort of, as soon as I finish this case study and send a few dozen emails.”)
What’s your favorite techy tool?