Tag Archives: notes

My favourite study applications – MindManager, Feedly, and Pocket

In my last post I wrote about one of my favourite applications that I have used during my MBA, Evernote. However, I also regularly use a number of other applications, including MindManager, Pocket and Feedly.

MindManager

MindManagerI mentioned MindManager in a post early in my MBA studies, where I wrote about the different ways of taking notes. In addition to this, I also use MindManager for preparing for assignments – I find it’s a great way to capture lots of ideas and thoughts, which can then be easily manipulated into a structure that forms the basis for the assignment.

Although there are a number of mind mapping applications to choose from, I selected MindManager a number of years ago for the following reasons – although it’s likely that the competition has since caught up in some areas (and if you find a good alternative, please add to the post in the comments area below).

  • It is very feature rich which allows me to both create mindmaps that capture all the required information, and review them quickly and easily. These include: extensive formatting, different map styles (eg. map, tree, hierarchical), callout topics, notes, links, and icons/flags – a full list can be found here, but a few that I find particularly useful are:
    • Notes – I often included a screen clipping or image from the my.wbs lectures into the mind map
    • Links – I sometimes added a link back to the WBS lecture notes page, providing me with quick access to the content when reviewing the mind map
    • Boundaries – when writing notes these allowed me to include all the module notes on one single map, but then split into key sections that could be easily navigated when preparing for an assignment
  • The application can be downloaded on a PC or Mac; although there are a few web-based alternatives, I found these were not quite as responsive and easy-to-use
  • It has a really usable iPad application, when I often preferred when studying on a train or in a hotel room
  • Warwick University has paid for a student licence, giving all this functionality at no cost (many of the web-based alternatives charge for creating more than a few mind maps)

There are three  ways I have used MindManager over the last few years:

  1. During a module I would use it to take notes from the textbook and online lecture notes.  I originally created one mindmap per lesson, but subsequently moved to creating one mindmap per module, as this allowed me to add links between the various lessons, and made it easier when writing assignments (see below). I also tried capturing varying levels of detail – sometimes I recorded every key point from the lesson in the notes, whereas at other times I tried recorded the headings and subheadings. Eventually what I found worked the best was to include everything but the last level of detail (e.g. all of the headings, and the one comment for each paragraph, instead of all the detail in each paragraph) – this was enough to remind me of the content, but not too much that reviewing it was unwieldily.
  2. I created a template map that had headings such as ‘structure’, ‘relevant articles’, ‘essential facts’, etc.; then for each assignment I would duplicate this to capture all my thoughts both before and during the writing process.
  3. During the last few assignments I found a really helpful way of using the mindmaps of my notes. Firstly, I would duplicate my ‘study notes’ mindmap, and then I would review all the content and quickly delete sections/notes that were not applicable to the final assignment. This helped me in three ways – it highlighted the parts of the module that would be useful to support the assignment, it helped me identify additional areas that were relevant but I had overlooked. and finally it made it easy to quickly locate the information I needed in order to write the assignment.

Feedly

FeedlyIn addition to studying the module content, MBA students are also encouraged to keep up-to-date with current trends and news articles, both to support specific modules, and also to encourage an awareness of general challenges faced in a business environment. However, the wealth of information out there can be very difficult to keep on top of – especially if you want to keep up to date with both general business news and module-specific news.

To make this easier, I use Feedly to collect all these articles together so I can quickly review the day’s key articles and pick out those of interest. Feedly is a web-based application that links to a variety of news sources and journals (eg. FT.com, HBR, Business Insider), and can also aggregate lots of different news sources to find articles that are related to a specific topic (although the latter is a chargeable feature).

My reasons for using Feedly are:

  • The interface design makes it very easy (and quick) to scan a large amount of content and identify articles of interest
  • It is based on RSS, which is a standard way of sharing articles, and means that it can collect news from almost any source
  • Although the recent increase in use of tablets has led to many really good applications for reading the news (Flipboard is one of my favourites), I wanted to be able to review the news articles on my Mac, and Feedly has got a really good web application
  • It integrates very well with Pocket – see below

Pocket

PocketAlthough Feedly has the advantage that it can quickly bring together a huge number of articles, which can then be quickly reviewed to see if they are of interest, actually reading them can take time – which I often didn’t have when I wanted to quickly scan the news. This prompted me to use Pocket.

In its simplest form, Pocket is an application that allows me to store articles that I want to read later. However, as well as storing a link to the articles, Pocket also takes a copy of the article content (without all the menus, adverts, etc), and stores it with the link. These articles are then synchronised to the Pocket application on my Mac, iPhone or iPad, which means I have quick and easy access to all the articles that I want to read, and these are available regardless of whether I am sat at my desk, or travelling without Internet access.

In addition to the basic ‘store for later reading capability, Pocket also allows you to archive, favourite, and tag articles. However, I prefer to use Evernote for storing articles for long-term reference – this integrates directly with Pocket for Mac, so it is really easy to transfer articles between the two applications.

 

Including Evernote, these are the four applications that I use on a regular basis to support my MBA studies. However, I am aware that there are probably many others, so if there are any that you find particularly useful, please feel free to mention them in the comments area below for everyone to have a look at as well. That’s it for this post, but in my next one I’ll be writing about my experience during the final stage of my MBA, the Project & Dissertation.

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My favourite study applications – Evernote

Over the course of the MBA I have used a number of different software applications to support my studies, for writing study notes, collecting and reviewing useful articles, and keeping up with business, management and leadership news. I was originally intending to write about a number of them in one blog post, but found that I’ve already filled it writing about Evernote, so will write about the others in a later post.

EvernoteEvernote is categorised a note-taking application, although the functionality added to the application over the last few years has led to it being far more useful than just for taking notes. Here’s a summary of how I have used, and continue to use Evernote to support my MBA studies:

Writing notes with EvernoteWriting notes

Initially I started using Evernote just for writing notes whilst studying, alongside MindManager (I’ve written previously here and here about where I used traditional notes vs. mind-maps). I created a different notebook for each module of the MBA, within which I would create the following notes:

  • 10 lesson notes, one for each of the module lessons
  • A note for each of the wbsLive webinars (see below)
  • Notes with reminders and ideas for the TMAs and final assignments
  • Other notes for ad-hoc purposes such as end of lesson tasks and Warwick Week activities

Each note can contain a combination of freeform text, tables, lists and images, and although the level of control over formatting is not as comprehensive as a traditional word processor such as Microsoft Word, it is usually sufficient for general note-taking. To make it easier to structure the notes, I created a template note with some pre-set headings, and then used this as the starting point for each of my new notes.

Evernote Quick NoteNote-taking during webinars

My next use of Evernote was to take notes during the wbsLive online webinars. I used the Quick Note feature for this purpose: this is invoked by clicking an icon in the toolbar on a Mac (and presumably something similar on a PC),  and creates a note without having to open the Evernote application. Within this was an option to take a screenshot of a portion of the screen, so I could take a copy of slides or whiteboard content that were being shared in the webinar, and embed it in the note alongside my comments. Although most of the slides were shared at the end of the presentation, they didn’t include annotations and whiteboards which were often used by some of the MBA lecturers. By embedding the slides directly, I retained the annotations and could also write my notes next to the slides themselves, and all of this was fully searchable thanks to Evernote’s image search function (see below).

Storing articles

One of the capabilities of Evernote that I have started using recently to support my P&D research is the Evernote Web Clipper. This is a browser plug-in that allows you to copy webpages into Evernote. Each webpage is stored as a note, along with any comments and tags (eg. strategy, innovation, leadership) that are entered when you ‘clip’ the web page.

Storing articles in Evernote

One of the great features of the Web Clipper is the ability to store the article in different formats:

  • Full article – stores the article without menus, headers, advertisements and other distracting content on the page;  if it is a multi-page article, Evernote will also attempt to capture all the pages in one note automatically, which I have found to be a real time saver for longer articles
  • Simplified article – based on the above, this copies just the text & images, and removes all formatting specific to that website
  • Full page – stores the entire web page
  • Screenshot – although the above methods allow highlighting of the text, taking a screenshot also allows full annotation of the webpage before it is sent to Evernote, with arrows, text, markers, etc. (see below)
  • Bookmark – this just stores a link to the webpage with a comment, which I have found really useful for keeping a reference to videos (although if you can find a transcript of the video, its better to use one of the top three options because the transcript can be searched whilst retaining a link to the video)

In addition to using the Web Clipper, Evernote also allows PDF documents to be stored as notes, by dragging the PDFs onto the Evernote icon in the Mac dock. This has been really useful as I undertake my P&D research, as I now have every document I have read or found interesting stored in Evernote for searching and easy reference.

Annotating research content

Annotating documents in EvernoteEvernote also produces Skitch, a complementary application that allows images and PDFs to be annotated, and whose functionality is now built directly into Evernote. When reviewing articles for my P&D research I can highlight text, write notes, leave markers, and make other annotations directly onto the PDFs themselves. These annotations can be made and viewed not only on the Mac application, but also within Evernote for iPad – great for when I’m reading articles on the train or away from my laptop.

Another really nice feature that they created is an annotation summary – at the top of the PDF is a section that shows all annotations made throughout the document, so rather than having to review a 30-page article, I can quickly see the 5-10 points that I commented on or highlighted.

Searching for content

Evernote’s search facility includes all the capabilities you would expect, including searching by notebook, tag, keyword, creation date, etc., and also searches the content in attached PDF documents as well. As I am uploading all my research documents into Evernote, this means I can now instantaneously search all of them for a keyword or phrase, which I am sure will be extremely valuable when writing my dissertation, and wouldn’t be easy if they were just stored as files on my laptop .

In addition, Evernote can also search images as well – this means it searches all the screenshots I captured from the various webinars, including handwritten annotations, plus any images that I have uploaded from the notes.  This is really helpful for PDFs that are just a scanned copy of an older article or book, and do not contain the text in a format that is searchable using normal PDF readers.

Tip for those using Evernote during the modules: Creating notes with just one image of a model/framework, along with the title of that model, is a really good way of keeping all the models in one place – I did this for one of my later modules and it was really valuable, I just wish I had done it from the start!

Studying on the go

Evernote is completely cloud-based, so my notes are always available from any device & platform (Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, web and others). Although this is expected given the increase in tablet and smartphone use over the last few years, Evernote have done a fantastic job with implementing these applications, and preventing the mobile/tablet versions from being a cut-down version of the desktop ones. This means they are very usable for reviewing, searching, and adding content – for a number of modules most of my notes were written on the iPad using a bluetooth keyboard, as was most of my revision for the exams.

Evernote on the iPad

Another benefit of the cloud-based approach is that search results from Evernote can be shown alongside my web results if I search for something in Google – this has been very useful in reminding me about content I had written in my notes when I started the MBA over two years ago.

And more…

That’s a quick overview of how I use Evernote, but there are lots of other features that I haven’t mentioned but use regularly, including:

  • checkbox lists
  • reminders
  • shortcuts
  • presentation mode
  • notebook sharing
  • emailing notes

As you can probably tell, I am very impressed with Evernote, particularly as I have recently started using some of the functions that are well suited to studying, such as article clipping and annotations.  Best of all, you can download it for free, although there is an affordable Premium version if you want to use some of the more advanced functionality.

Hopefully this post has given you a useful overview of how Evernote can be used to support your studies, and if any current students also use Evernote (or other note-taking applications), it would be great to hear how you use them – just post in the comments area below.

Starting Year 2 of the Warwick DL MBA

Just over one year ago I started my MBA journey, and cannot believe that I am almost halfway through the taught content already. The first year was a fantastic learning experience, and I’m hoping this year will be even better given that I have chosen all but one of the modules (and I would have probably selected the compulsory module anyway given the choice) – see here for a list of the modules I am studying.

I always like starting a new year as I feel it gives me a ‘clean slate’ – I can change my approach and objectives without being held back by how I did things the previous year. So, what will I do differently in 2013?

Take a new approach to time management

I have written previously about the importance of time management whilst studying for an MBA, and this was definitely a big challenge last year. In 2013 I have decided to approach this differently; instead of allocating myself a specific number of hours for study every day (eg. 3 hours on Monday evening, 5 hours on Saturday, etc), and then distributing this time based on an average of 8 hours per lesson, I am going to try studying based on a schedule of lessons/activities to be completed each week.

To prepare for this, I have mapped out all the lessons, TMAs and assignments that I need to complete for each module, and then allocated them to a specific week over the duration of the semester. Then, I will approach studying on a week-by-week basis, rather than the day-by-day basis of last year; if I have a free evening then I will study more that day, and have more time free at the weekend; whereas if I am busy on a number of evenings I will expect to spend more of the weekend studying. So far this has worked well – I achieved my goal of completing lesson 1 of both Management Accounting and Management of Change by Saturday afternoon, giving me all Sunday off (although I acknowledge this is not really an appropriate sample size!). I’ll provide an update on how this is going later in the semester.

Revisiting my approach to note-taking

Another topic I have written previously about is the different styles of note-taking, and this is also something I have reviewed for my third semester. Although my notes were useful for last year’s modules, in some cases they were either not comprehensive enough, or too detailed (eg. I did not use most of my Economics notes, and then needed to refer to the textbook quite frequently during revision for the Marketing & Operations Management modules). I have also had a number of offline discussions with students in my and other cohorts on what works for them, and its clear that the best style of note-taking is specific to each individual. On this basis, I have decided to take the following approach this semester:

  • Management Accounting – Produce a mind-map that includes the key topics, but not lots of detail about the content. I intend to use these notes to help me develop the structure of my final assignment, but then refer to the textbook as required if I need to review specific topics when developing the content.
  • Management of Change – Write sequential notes that highlight any interesting points that I might want to bring into my assignment, and then create two separate tables for examples/case studies, and theories. When writing the final assignment I will review the notes prior to developing the structure of my final assignment, and then refer to the tables to bring in specific examples/theories into the content.

Changing the balance of studying vs. learning

Over the holiday season I was reviewing my original objectives for undertaking an MBA, and realised that although I was building a wealth of knowledge, insight and perspectives, I wasn’t necessarily achieving all my objectives to their full potential. During the first year, I mainly concentrated on reading all the suggested content (textbooks and lectures), attempting all the practice questions, interacting on the my.wbs forums, and completing the assignments / revising for the exams. Overall I am very pleased with my progress, but I also realised that the focus had been on learning the content of the course, with less attention paid to developing my own opinions and viewpoints in some of these areas,

As such, moving into 2013 I want to change how I am studying the MBA overall, and specifically the modules I have chosen. Instead of my aim being to understand the content delivered, I want to take a slightly wider approach: exposing myself more to the topics outside the teachings from WBS, taking time to formulate my own views in the areas I am studying, and at the end of each lesson asking the question, “Have I learned enough to engage in discussions on these topics in my career, and offer my own qualified opinion or perspective?”. I doubt I’ll be able to do this for every individual lesson, but hope to take this extra step for those lessons that are immediately relevant to my career, or those which are of particular interest. Obviously this will require more time, but hopefully the previously mentioned changes to time management and note-taking will help with this.

That’s it for this blog post – good luck to all new and current students starting a new set of modules; if you’ve not already seen it, here’s a post from 6 months ago that might be useful as you plan this semester, Ten tips for the Warwick DL MBA.

Organisational Behaviour – TMA feedback and essay writing tips

My previous blog post provided some insight into the Accounting and Organisational Behaviour TMAs, and in particular some of the challenges associated with the latter. I received feedback within a week of submission, which was really helpful as I could then use this insight to improve my approach to the second TMA. I have summarised below some of the challenges I encountered, along with some ways to respond to these:

  • Lack of coverage of some of the key concepts – This was not directly covered in my tutor feedback, but having reviewed the specimen answer I found that a credible essay could be produced without having to refer to topics that had not been discussed. However, this highlighted one of the discussion points around case studies and essays: is there an expectation that we will all arrive at an answer based in a specific area (eg. personality, power, decision-making), or is any answer acceptable if it is justified and backed up by theories. I have recently posted to the discussion forums to get clarity on this, and will post a comment below when I get an answer from the tutors.
  • Applying the theories – The specimen answer gave some really good examples of how to relate the concepts back to theories in an appropriate manner, and provided the ‘light bulb moment’ for me that helped me understand how to incorporate these references in the flow of the essay. Some guidance for anyone attempting an essay for the first time, who has limited experience in linking analysis to documented theories – find a sample answer for a similar question, as this will help you understand how to approach the analysis and provide the linkage back to the theories.
  • Selecting a specific recommendation – The feedback on my options, recommendation and plan of action, was that they were too “vague” and “not consistent”. On reflection of my original answer I can see this also, and the approach I used for the second TMA (described below) will help address this. I also posted to the discussion forums to find out how to deal with multiple recommendations. The guidance was that the recommendation could be flexible including multiple options, as long as it was justified. I think the expectation is that you should focus on one key approach, but also have a contingency plan in case that fails.
  • Referencing – Although I didn’t discuss this in my previous blog post, some useful feedback from my tutor included the style of referencing; specifically the importance of separating primary vs. secondary references. This was also complemented by a useful thread on the discussion forums, which discussed the “balance between rigour and practicality”; essentially, it is preferable to get a reference from the primary source, but there is the recognition that in a part-time distance-learning MBA that might not be possible, and so secondary sources are acceptable as long as they are referenced as such.

In summary, despite finding the first Organisational Behaviour TMA difficult, as a learning exercise it was invaluable. The tutor feedback, specimen answer, and discussion forum activity have all provided some very useful guidance for attempting the second TMA and final assignment.

 

I recently submitted my response to the second Organisational Behaviour TMA, which had a similar case study based around an organisational conflict. I approached this very differently to the first, and have summarised the main changes that made this much easier to write:

Plan the story in advance

Prior to starting writing, I produced a bulleted outline of the key points for each of the different sections (problem identification, analysis, options, recommendation, plan of action). This helped give the essay a better ‘flow’, and allowed me to identify any gaps or flaws in the approach I had taken.

Structured note-taking

In a previous blog post I discussed the options I considered for note-taking. However, I found that an approach recommended by a member of my study group, Simon Bristow, was far more effective. This approach was to produce a table with the headings: Topic, Author, Description, Location, and then populate this with each of the theories as I read the textbooks and lecture notes. Then, after writing the outline as above, I was able to look at each bullet point in turn, find theories relevant to the point I wanted to make, and insert the author/title/location in this outline.

Map against real-life experiences

When dealing with a fictional case study it is usually straightforward to consider the obvious consequences of an interaction between individuals, or a proposed recommendation. However, it is very easy to miss some of the more subtle, or hidden consequences. To address this, I imagined the specific interaction/option taking place between different individuals/groups within my organisation, and looked not only at how they would immediately react, but thought through the discussions I would have with them the following day. Although time consuming (so I couldn’t do this with every interaction), it did highlight some interesting effects that I probably would not have identified if I was just focussed on the case study.

 

This TMA has now been submitted, so the focus for me now is on completing the remaining lessons, submitting one last TMA (for Accounting), writing the final essays, and revising for the Accounting exam. With less than four weeks to go until the semester is finished, I am unlikely to be making any further blog posts until I have finished now, but will post a few updates to Twitter for anyone who’s interested.

To anyone who’s also on the Warwick MBA … hope the assignments go well, and good luck in the exam!

Taking notes on a distance-learning MBA course

One important, but often neglected aspect of preparing to study for an MBA, is deciding how to take notes. Initially I started to write notes summarising all the key points from the textbooks and online lectures, often duplicating complete lists and paragraphs from the text. However, I quickly realised that this was producing copious amounts of notes that I probably wouldn’t refer to in the future, and when I did need to use them I wouldn’t be able to access them in an efficient manner. So I decided to spend some time looking into how to effectively write notes, starting with the question ‘Why am I taking notes?‘.

Although this seems obvious, it is a question that I didn’t consider prior to starting the course, and have since identified the following three possible reasons (please add in the comments if you can think of more!):

Exam revision – I expect this is one of the most common reasons for taking notes, which requires notes to be succinct, providing reminders to key concepts, and definitions of key terms.

Essay support – I’ve never written notes to support the writing of an essay, but I think the main addition over exam revision notes will be quotes or useful explanations of topics, along with their location in the textbooks/lectures so they can be easily referenced.

Work-related future reference – For this use case it might be appropriate to take more notes, which include not only key concepts, but explanations, supporting lists and detail. I would personally question the value of this approach when studying for an MBA, as trying to write a reference at the same time as studying is likely to take a significant amount of time that might not contribute to the learning process. Plus, in my experience, textbooks written by professional authors are of more use than my own notes when referring to them in the future.

For the first semester on the Warwick Distance Learning MBA, two of the modules are assessed via an essay and one is assessed via an open-book exam, so the notes for each of these will need to differ slightly in format. I found the exam revision notes straightforward as I have produced these for various exams over the past few years. However, the essay notes have proved more difficult to produce, as I have not written an essay in over ten years. Although I think I am using an effective format, I hope to validate this when completing my Tutor Marked Assignments (TMAs) – these are essays that are marked by tutors, but do not count towards the final grade. When writing these I will need to refer to my notes, so hopefully they will identify how effective these are before I get too far into the course, and also highlight gaps in the notes that can be filled for future lessons.

A second question to consider when preparing for note-taking is ‘How should I record the notes?‘. There are three ways of taking notes that I have tried (although as before, please share any others you use in the comments below):

  • 1. Highlighting and writing comments on the text itself – this is probably the most convenient of note-taking methods; however, it has the disadvantage that every time you need to refer to your notes, it is necessary to review a full lesson / chapter in order to find the relevant comments. These types of notes are also more difficult (although not impossible) to search.
  • 2. Writing text / lists that summarise the key points, along with any particularly pertinent information about those points – this has been the traditional way that I have made notes in the past, and is very easy to search. The disadvantage of this approach is the time it takes to write the notes, and reviewing these can be difficult unless a lot of time is invested in structuring the notes into a readable format.
  • 3. Mindmaps that summarise the key points, along with any particularly pertinent information about those points – mindmaps are a concept that I have used in the past, but not for note-taking purposes. Although they share the disadvantage of the time it takes to write the notes, they are often easier to refer to in the future, and provide a more flexible environment in which to take notes.

My original intention was to use a combination of approaches 1 and 2 for note-taking. However, I found that highlighting did not give me the control I wanted to structure the notes, as I was forced to record them in the order they were presented in the text, and the second approach was taking a significant amount of time even before I started to apply a structure to the notes. I then tried using mindmaps, and so far am very pleased with this approach. I plan to continue using them until the first TMA, at which point I can decide how helpful they were, and whether to use the same or an alternative method in the future.

Although this is my current view on writing notes, I am sure that at the end of the first semester I will have a different perspective, especially after completing the open-book exam, so I will probably post back then with an updated opinion. In the meantime, it would be great to get your thoughts on writing notes – what works, what doesn’t, and any other tips to help fellow MBA students.