SHOC Tactics at Work: New Student Study Group Focuses on Student Productivity

Kelsey Brown ’13 considers herself a pretty organized person, but being part of a new study group on campus this semester, she’s learned there’s a difference between being organized and being effective. One thing she’s already doing to be more productive is using her cell phonenot to talk, necessarily, but to track all of her tasks and engagements, thus creating her own technology command post for all her to-dos.

In doing so, “I’ve found that I do not have those dreaded, Oh no! I was supposed to meet with that person this afternoon!’ realizations anymore,” she says. “I have learned to trust myself to put absolutely everything that I need to do into my phone. That way I can clear it from my mind because I know that everything I need to do at any given moment is right there.”

The point, says Brown, isn’t about whether someone uses a Blackberry or a pocketable notebook to track things. The point is that they write everything down in some format, whichin the bigger picturecan form the foundation for increased productivity, and improved focus and time management. Work smarter not harder, as the saying goes. Oh, and leave time for fun!

“It’s amazing how doing such small things have been making such a huge difference in my life, in the way that I organize myself and my time,” she adds.

Like her fellow “taskmaster” classmates at CMC, Brown, in her own words, “always has a lot of stuff going on.” So this semester, she was admittedly eager to join a new group on campus that goes by the name of SHOC@CMC: Study Hacks on Campus at CMC.

Advised by Calvin Newport, an MIT postdoctoral associate and author of such books as, How to Become a Straight-A Student and How to Win At College, SHOC aims to help students “take control of their lives” by forming local collegiate groups that meet regularly to strategize and implement time- management and study strategies.

After corresponding with Newport, Connor Barclay ’13 was given the go-ahead to form and lead a SHOC pilot group this year at CMC. Claremont McKenna is now one of a select and impressive group of colleges across the U.S. subscribing to the Do Less. Do Better. Know Why. Study Hacks slogan.

The fellow pilot groups span four continents, Barclay says, and include teams at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, Boston College, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of British Columbia, and University College London.

“In true CMC spirit, we plan to be the preeminent SHOC team and lead the charge to bring an innovative approach to higher education,” Barclay says.

Brown says that although she didn’t have clear objectives in joining SHOC, “I have been surprised by how much I didn’t know before. I had no idea that changing the way I do things in a minor way would help my productivity so much. Now,” she says, “I would say that my goal is to ultimately be able to be consistent with my implementation of Cal’s strategies.”

Barclay says that in SHOC’s first meeting at CMC, the group discussed Capturemeaning, full capture of everything each person is responsible for, coupled with regular review. Need to buy a birthday present? Jot it down. Have to chat with a professor? List it. Want to get to that party? Plug it into your calendar. Whether an engagement, an event, or a task, the whole idea is to get into the habit of recording and reviewing your items to make the most of your time and free yourself from the stress of latent mental notes.

SHOC meetings are being held on campus about once every two weeks, with times and locations still a challenge because of the busy schedules and campus commitments of its 20 or so members, he says. At each meeting student participants are given a new objective from Newport, and discuss how they fared with the previous week’s objective.

“Cal gives us topics for each meeting and provides us with readings and suggested strategies for tackling that topic,” Barclay says. “However, we are given complete freedom to modify the suggested strategies at our meetings, which allows us to account for the unique dynamic of life at CMC and the equally unique personalities and preferences of our team members.”

Barclay describes SHOC as half focus group and half think-tank.

“What better way to develop new strategies and improve upon existing ones, than to get twenty bright and already successful students, such as those at CMC, and pose them with the challenge of developing concrete methods to better themselves,” he asks. “The one thing I love most about CMC is that we are always eager for some competition, and when you make the competitor ourselves, there is no telling what we can accomplish.”

“We leveraged Cal’s readings and our own experiences to modify the suggested strategy,” Barclay says. “After the meeting (as after every meeting), I condensed our discussion and formalized our proposed system, which you can read about in our The Art of Capture’ blog post (”

Barclay echoes his mentor Newport’s view that the SHOC program is “not your average college study guide.”

None of the advice presented at SHOC, he says, was devised by professors or self-proclaimed academic skills experts. In the introduction to one of his books, Newport writes, “I promise that you won’t find any mention of the Cornell note-taking method, mental map diagrams, or any other ‘optimal learning technique’ crafted in an office or laboratoryenvironments far removed from the realities of typical college life.”

“The strategies take dedication, though,” Brown adds. “It is much easier to continue doing things the way that you always have, but once you get into the habit of using the SHOC strategies, life is so much easier.”

“It’s certainly an entire change of lifestyle and if you don’t have the motivation to do it in the first place then it won’t help you very much,” she cautions. “But if you are someone who is looking to improve your study habits, I would undoubtedly recommend using the Study Hacks approach.”

Barclay is excited about SHOC’s future at CMC and elsewhere. “We’re looking to get the word out so that we can help all of our peers, both at CMC and other higher education institutions, to reach their goal of a balanced and productive student life,” he says.