Notion: A Game-Changer for Penn Students

Friday, February 9, 2024

Notion is an all-in-one workspace that allows users to create a personalized digital environment to enhance productivity and organize their academic journey. In this blog post, we will discuss how Penn students can be successful by using Notion. We have even included a sample Notion page! You can duplicate this Notion template and begin customizing to make it your own. We have also included useful YouTube videos, links, and add-ons to make your Notion personalized for you.

Feature #1: Customizable Task Management

One of the key features that makes Notion stand out is its customizable task management system. As a Penn student, you have multiple courses and responsibilities to juggle, both academic and non-academic. Notion allows you to create individual pages for each course, where you can organize your lecture notes, readings, and deadlines.

Not only can you manage your tasks efficiently, but you can also prioritize them based on importance and deadlines. Notion allows you to set up a kanban-style board where you can move tasks from “To-Do” to “In Progress” and finally to “Completed”. This visual representation of your tasks helps you stay focused and motivated, as you can see your progress in real-time. By having a clear overview of your tasks, you can allocate your time effectively and avoid procrastination.

Feature #2: Note-taking and Organization

Notion offers robust note-taking capabilities. With Notion, you can create organized and structured notes for your classes. You can use headings, bullet points, and checkboxes to structure your notes and make them easier to review and revise. Additionally, you can embed images, files, and even audio recordings into your notes for a more comprehensive and interactive studying experience, helping you keep everything in one place. With Notion’s search function, you can quickly find specific information within your notes, saving you valuable time when studying.

Feature #3: Time Management and Productivity

Notion offers various features to help Penn students effectively manage their time and boost productivity. You can create a personalized calendar to track your classes, assignments, and extracurricular activities. By visualizing your schedule and setting priorities, you can optimize your time and accomplish more with less stress.

In Conclusion!

Notion is a powerful tool that can revolutionize the way Penn students manage their academic journey. By leveraging Notion, you can stay on top of your academic goals while staying true to your personal ones. Please use the template we have included in this blog post to help you get the most out of Notion – you can just duplicate the template and begin using Notion!

Some other resources:

Active Reading

Thursday, November 30, 2023

One of the most frequently asked questions at the Weingarten Center by undergraduate, doctoral, and professional students alike is: “How do I manage the ungodly amounts of reading I am assigned?” Many of us have internalized the narrative about ourselves as a “slow reader” while others seem to have somehow unlocked the secrets to “speed reading,” as if human processing speeds can be adjusted like the dials of an audiobook app. And so, we trudge along, berating ourselves for our perceived deficiencies in reading speed.

We suggest reframing those narratives you hold about yourself.

Many of us have been socialized to believe that reading should happen the same way regardless of genre, whether it’s the latest young adult romance novel or an academic research paper: start from the first word on the first page and continue in a linear fashion until you’ve soldiered through to the last word on the last page.  This is not only time consuming and inefficient, but also a very passive way of reading.

The problem is not your natural reading speed but how you’ve been socialized to read. 

A revelation about reading at the collegiate or graduate level: you are not expected to read every word of every assigned reading (really). However, we do recommend re-reading that sentence again, word-for-word, until it really sinks in. Some of the skills you are expected to build in college and graduate school is to read selectively and to develop the skills to quickly, and efficiently distill a large amount of content into useful takeaways for further application or analysis. In other words: how you approach academic readings should be different from how you approach reading for pleasure.

Below are some tips to help you reframe how you approach your academic reading to both maximize efficiency and learning:

    • Preview the reading: Start by taking a look at the headings, titles, sections or chapters, relative lengths of parts, and prioritize your reading accordingly. You don’t have to read the sections in order, and you might choose to skip entire areas altogether.

    • Read with a purpose: Before you start reading, identify the piece of information you are expected to glean from the reading, whether that be a new concept, theory, perspective, or answer to a particular question, etc.  You should be able to get a general sense of this by perusing your syllabus. Then read as if you are on a quest searching for that specific piece of information.

    • Synthesize the reading: After you’ve completed the reading, make quick notes to distill the main takeaways in your own words. You will especially want to think about how that particular reading is in conversation with others you’ve been assigned in that class.
        • Pro tip: These notes should be useful in helping you decide whether you want to use that reading as a potential reference in a future essay assignment, so be mindful of that as you take notes.

Some of you may bristle at the idea of not reading every assigned reading to completion; it can be hard to fight that deep socialization and many years of habit. But we challenge you to let go of this notion that there is virtue in word-for-word reading.  We recommend that you try out this selective active reading strategy with your elective classes or other classes that are lower in your priority list. You will quickly find that there is only a marginal benefit to word-for-word reading, and that your overall improved wellness and time is worth the effort of selective, active reading.

Of course, there is nothing stopping you from reading more deeply and closely, especially for topics you find particularly fascinating. We encourage you to follow your intellectual curiosities as they arise.  After all, that is one of the greatest delights of life as a student: discovering entirely new intellectual passions.  But you might find that you do not have the time to pursue these new curiosities if you’re too busy trying to read every word of every reading in every class.

Written by Ayoung Lee, Learning Specialist and Fellow, Weingarten Center

Wellness: Get Moving with Some Brain Breaks!

Friday, April 21, 2017

With finals just around the corner, it is important to set up “brain breaks” in order to increase productivity. Studying is most effective when done in relatively short chunks of time to ensure focus. Once you’re feeling distracted or have been studying for a decent amount of time, consider taking a brain break. Since the weather is finally warming up (hello, Spring!), now is a great time to get outside during your study breaks and enjoy the weather. Here are three ideas that will get your body moving and give your brain a break.


Meditation is a perfect study break because it can be done anywhere for any duration of time. For guided meditation, check out weekly offerings from Campus Health.

Walk/Run the Schuylkill River Trail

The Schuylkill River Trail is a beautiful path that spans over 60 miles. You can pick up the trail right on Spruce Street and stroll north to see some beautiful Philadelphia sights. Additionally, Campus Health has developed 1, 2, and 3-mile walking/jogging loops around campus. Check it, and other valuable information, out here.

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk

Visit the Morris Arboretum

Visit this beautiful garden for a quick break from city living! It is free for Penn students and you can hop on a shuttle at the Penn Bookstore to get there. Some highlights include the rose garden (pictured here) and an amazing rock wall garden. The Morris Arboretum is open year-round and offers seasonal specials, including a Cherry Blossom festival in the Spring and Fall foliage events.


Staff Writer: Cassie Lo

Time Management: Scheduling to Reduce Stress

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Many of the students I see in the Weingarten Center come in because they feel like they are not using their time efficiently or are studying all the time. When I ask them how they schedule their day and manage their workflow, many students pause then explain that they keep their schedules, deadlines, and assignments in their head, referring to planners or schedules as too rigid. There are many stated reasons that students dislike the rigidity of keeping a planner or calendar, but the most common objection is that the perceived rigidity stresses them out, or they feel they don’t have enough time in their day as it is, so planning daily would be another burden added on to an already stacked plate. The reality is that it takes time to develop new habits and planning sufficiently should reduce feelings of stress over time. There are a variety of resources students can use to fit all working styles such as Google Calendar, Apple iCal, a traditional paper planner and methods of planning referred to as “unscheduling.” This last one tends to resonate with students most hesitant about traditional planning methods.  This blog post is the first in a series that will cover each one of these methods in detail. This first post will focus on traditional paper planning with electronic planning (via Google Calendar and iCal) and unscheduling to follow in subsequent posts.

For most students, my preferred approach to planning includes a combination of setting a regular but flexible weekly schedule, combined with making a daily task list. The first step I suggest to students is to make a list of all of their classes and then estimate a total number of hours of study time necessary to maintain academic success in each class. A typical schedule for a Penn student might look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.23.36 PM

The next step in the process is to map a typical week on an hour by hour basis including class schedule, meals, work study, athletic requirements, sleep, and any other regular weekly meetings other commitments you might have and then fit in study time and self-care/free time in the remaining space.  A typical student schedule may look like this:

Sample Schedule

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.26.11 PM

This approach is also helpful when registering for classes. It is important to consider the demands of each class and how demanding they are of your time. There is only so much time in a day and making time for things such as self-care, exercise, sleep and free time is essential to prevent burnout and promote academic success. You may have noticed that I scheduled in general study time instead of assigning work for specific classes in each of those spaces. This is to allow for the flexibility that is necessary for the changing workloads typical in classes throughout the semester. A heavy week in one class may be paired with a light week in another class. I suggest students spend the first 15 minutes of their study time each day making a task list of work for the day. Make sure to break up assignments into smaller tasks of approximately 45 minutes for each task. This is referred to at Weingarten as “chunking your work” and should help to mitigate the desire to procrastinate. You should also take frequent study breaks of about 5-10 minutes after every 45-60 minute work session. This will help maximize productivity and increase knowledge retention.

Staff Writer: Randall Perez

For Returning/Non-Traditional Students

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Many students at Penn have returned to school after a break in their formal education. Some programs such as PhD, MBA, executive MBA, Dental, and Medicine have many students that have professional work experience and have not been inside a classroom for years. Below are some tips that will help for a smooth transition to student life.

  • Manage your time: Time management is one of the most important aspects of being a successful student. Getting back into “school mode” may be challenging, but if you effectively manage your time, you will maximize your chances of succeeding in the classroom. A few tips for managing a student schedule:
    • Being a student most likely is not a “9-5” lifestyle. There will be late-night study sessions, group assignments that keep you on campus, and dreaded papers and finals. Student schedules tend to have gaps throughout the day- make these gaps productive! For my scheduled gaps, I like to read for class, catch up with friends or colleagues, or outline a paper that’s due soon.
    • Make sure you schedule time for your personal life. Students who are a few years removed from formal education are more likely to have large life commitments, such as partners, children, pets, and jobs. The best way to make sure you are balancing your life well is to schedule time for all your commitments.
    • Understand that early on it will take longer to read those articles and write those papers. Budget longer for school assignments until you fully transition into the student lifestyle.
    • Use any form of scheduling that makes sense for you! You can purchase a planner at the Penn Bookstore, use Google Calendar or Apple’s Calendar app, or come into Weingarten for a free semester one-page calendar. You want to make this process as smooth as possible, so make your calendar work for you. Check out older posts on this blog on advice for types of planners. 
  • Seek help and advice: There are many people on the Penn campus who have returned to school after taking a significant break in their studies. Seek help and advice from your classmates, professors, staff, and advisors.
    • It is highly recommended that you build a network of friends and classmates while at Penn. These relationships will not only make school more enjoyable, but both parties can benefit from the additional resource.
    • Check out the vast services Penn offers; from academic support to health and welfare.
    • You can also schedule an appointment or drop in during office hours with a Learning Fellow at the Weingarten Center. We are here to help you with study tips, reading strategies, time management, technology support, essay reviews, and much more!
  • Bring your experiences into the classroom: Use your experience to your advantage and fill the classroom with anecdotes that are related to the subject matter. This can help you understand the content more and it will help your classmates see the real-world implications.

Use these tips to start off on the right foot. If you have advice of your own, feel free to leave a comment!

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill

How to Create a Finals Week Study Plan

Monday, May 2, 2016

Want to keep your sanity during finals week? So you have 5 classes this semester with at least 3 final exams and 2 final projects or papers. Need to accomplish them all in 7 days? No problem. There’s a process you can use to deal with this situation that seems to always sneak up on us every semester.   Here’s a suggested step-by-step process:

1. Rank Your classes

Rank your classes according to which one is sooner, which one is more important for your major, and/or which one is harder and needs most of your attention.

2. Break Down the tasks needed to study for each class

This varies for everyone’s needs and for the subjects being tested. For example, some people need to carve out time to skim their class notes and lecture slides and then need more time to actually practice their knowledge on old midterms or practice problem sets. Make sure you allocate your time wisely, 30/70 is what we recommend: 30% review and 70% practice.

3. Realistically Assign time for each task for each class

Now that you’ve figured out what you need to do for which class, it is now time to figure out the answer to each task: “for how long?” Some people read slower and may need an hour or two just to skim a chapter or notes, others may require less. The recommendation here is to caution against assigning more than 3 hours per task.

4. Plug in all studying tasks in an hourly schedule

So at this point, you got the which subject, what tasks, for how long, and now you need to know when. Try Google Calendar, iCalendar, or an old-school paper schedule template. Tip: avoid burnout by being realistic vs. overly ambitious in scheduling. Make sure to switch up the subjects so you don’t overload and keep breaks and meals in the schedule as well! Make your time as visual as possible.

If you would like more support on how to do this, come into Weingarten and a learning instructor would be happy to help!

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

Use Time Constraints to Tackle Perfectionism (and Avoidance)

Monday, November 16, 2015

It seems like there’s never enough time. Between what we feel we have to do and what we think we should do (to say nothing of what we’d rather be doing) every obligation begins to feel like an enormous time-suck, with everything taking way more time than it should – or maybe, more precisely, everything taking longer than we have. In short, unpleasant.

If you really want to minimize the unpleasantness, you first need to figure out if you have a tendency to treat your time in an open-ended fashion. Why? Because chances are that the more open-ended you are about allocating time for tasks, the more likely you are to fall behind overall.

Perfectionism compounds the unpleasantness. Let’s say that tonight we decide that it’s high time to complete a task and, of course, we plan to spend as much time as it takes to complete the task to absolute perfection, because what’s the point of doing something if it’s not going to be absolutely perfect in the end? Of course, the task winds up taking considerably more time than expected. We also planned to do other tasks tonight as well, so the open-ended perfection of the first task has created a domino effect. We’re falling behind.

Daunted by our continual open-ended, unmitigated perfectionism, we then look for comfort in the arms of outright avoidance. In other words, if we can’t do it to perfection, we won’t do anything at all.

Sound familiar?

If so, try constraining your time. Give yourself a finite amount of time for a particular task. Tell yourself, “I only have an hour to make this as good as I can,” and then get to it. Stop when the hour is up.

The dirty secret about perfection is that not everything needs to be perfect, and often times something just needs to be good enough.

But what if something needs to be perfect?

Then perfect away. But be honest about whether any one task needs the full perfection treatment. And doing something is always better than total avoidance.

Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: You Have Plenty of Time. Really.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ah… fall semester. If you’ve lived most of your life on the academic calendar year, like I have, you probably think of the new year as beginning in September. (Okay fine, August, but I find it best not to dwell on such unpleasantness, thank you very much.) In any case, this time of year always feels like new beginnings, an opportunity to do better, think deeper, become a better person. And I’m not alone. We all want to do so much. Students, faculty, administrators, humble blogging learning instructors, we all want to not only accomplish that certain something, but a whole bunch of other things, too. If there’s such a thing as a Penn gene, that’s it, and we all got it.

It’s no secret that here at your learning center, we get lots of early fall students who want to do ALL THE THINGS. So the worry grows: do I have enough time?

Let’s take a moment and consider the Basic Math of Undergraduate Time.

There are 168 hours in the week, and (theoretically) you are asleep for a third of them, leaving 112 hours. A 5cu load should, when accounting for class time, recitations and class-related tasks (you know, all that readin’ and writin’ and figurin’) you’re looking at a 45 hour commitment, leaving 67 hours for non academic stuff. So far, so good. Figure that the average meal should take about 20 minutes to consume and you’re left with 60 hours. Are you an athlete? Even after your 20 hour weekly commitment to the team, you still have 40 hours left. So, yeah, quantitatively speaking, you have plenty of time.

But these are just raw numbers, and when it comes to managing time, raw numbers are only part of the challenge.

But that’s a different post.


Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor