Most big ideas start with something small. Shovel began with a simple request – “can you tell my kids what you did to be successful in college?”
I’m Jim. The old guy on the right. I was a horrible student when I was in high school but I turned it around in college and made pretty much perfect grades. I went on to law school and had a successful career.
Many years later my nephew was about to head off to college too. My brother asked me to tell him some of the things that I did in college to get good grades. I wrote a few emails explaining what I did and why I thought they worked for me. Pretty soon I started forwarding them to others as well.
Over the years I forwarded those emails to others so many times that I decided to put them up on a website to make those ideas easier to share. I didn’t even look at it for many months but when I did, I noticed that I was getting a lot of visitors, hundreds of thousands of them. I had over two and half million page views from almost every country in the world.
Enter Shovel co-founder Petr Placek.
I’ve had the opportunity to host exchange students over many years. About ten years ago one of our Czech students invited her brother to visit for the last month of her stay.
Petr was a great hockey player. He came to the U.S. to play hockey at an elite private high school and wound up playing hockey at Harvard where he majored in Economics.
Petr called me one day and said that he was struggling in his economics class. He knew about my website and wanted to get some advice. I asked him to bring up his books, syllabus, and other materials so we could go over what he was doing.
The first problem was time. With practices, games, and social activities, college athletes never have enough of it. It is even more important for busy students to have a solid understanding of their time. Petr didn’t.
We also went through his workload, how he read his textbooks, took notes in class and studied for exams. It was clear that he wasn’t doing things efficiently or effectively.
Petr figured out how to get things done and long story short, he graduated from Harvard and went to work as an Assistant Project Manager on a new skyscraper being currently under construction in New York.
His experience there was the beginning of the Shovel Study Planner.
Petr was responsible for coordinating the endless movement of people and materials needed on a specific aspect of the project. There might be hundreds of people from many different companies and dozens of trucks dropping materials exactly when they were needed at each stage of the project.
Any mistake could create endless delays, increase costs and create even more chaos. What Petr noticed is that even on a project of massive size, things still worked. Never perfectly, but well enough to keep things moving.
How do they do that? They do it with careful planning. They know how long things take and can make very accurate estimates on when to get started.
Petr would visit my house and tell me about his work experience. We realized that trying to get things done in college is really no different. You have a big project – your semester. You have to do a whole lot of small tasks in the right order and with a high degree of quality. Getting behind on any one of them starts a cascade of problems that cause delay and reduces the quality of your work.
Sound familiar? What we realized was that there is a big difference between a construction manager and a college student. While they both know how much time they have, only one takes the time to estimate how long things are going to take.
How can they possibly do that on a project that big? The answer is experience. Everyone at every stage of the project knows how long their tasks take because they’ve done them many times before. Sure, they are often wrong, but they learn from their mistakes and get better the next time.
When I put together this website at first, it was full of advice about managing time and understanding your workload, but I could never recommend a tool to do it. There was none. Most students run their studies directly from their syllabus, a day planner, or an online calendar. The apps that are out there are really just calendars and simple To-Do lists. That’s not good enough.
Planning a skyscraper is way harder than planning a semester. Why couldn’t students do a study plan the same way? One that showed them the time they really had available for studying but also the time they needed to get things done?
We realized that we had to create an app that would do just that and the Shovel Study Planner was born. It gives students a way to create a highly accurate study plan. They can simply and efficiently manage their time and workload, and do it automatically, in real time.
But even that isn’t enough.
You can have all of the time in the world, but if you aren’t doing things correctly with that time, you are still going to be wasting a lot of it unnecessarily.
It’s important that students know and understand good study habits and study methods as well. This is the ‘how’ of how to study in college. Knowing how you take notes, read your textbooks and study for exams the right way is critical to getting the best results with every minute you have. We’ll explain how to do things from start to finish, right here.
We don’t try to do everything. We keep it as simple as we can. We can’t cover every possible study method. We stick to the basic behaviors and study methods that get the best results for the effort you put in and we give you the tool to manage it.
We have to make sure you succeed or we have failed.
We intend to continually improve our site, our content and our app to make sure that every student has the chance to be their best. When they do, we all win.
So thanks to my brother for asking me to send that email to help my nephew do better in college. From that simple start, we hope to help millions of others do the same.
Your Shovel Team