Graduate students—and faculty—often find themselves overwhelmed with tasks. Good time management skills are essential, but succeeding in graduate school requires the ability to organize more than your time.
Being unorganized—not knowing where your stuff is—is a time waster. The unorganized student spends precious time searching for papers, files, notes, wondering which pile to check first. She forgets and misses meetings or arrives late, repeatedly. He finds it hard to focus on the task at hand because his mind is swimming what the details of what must be done next or what should have been done yesterday. An unorganized office or home is a sign of a cluttered mind. Cluttered minds are inefficient for scholarly productivity. So how do you get organized?
1. Set up a Filing System
Go digital when you can, but don’t forget to organize your paper files, too. Don’t skimp on file folders or you’ll find yourself doubling up on files and lose track of your most important papers. Whenever possible, go digital (with a good backup system!). Maintain files for:
- Research/thesis ideas.
- Thesis references (probably divided up into additional files for each topic).
- Exam materials. As you prepare for comps, will have copies of old exams, study materials
- Professional credentials – vita, sample cover letter, research statement etc.
- Reprints and professional articles, organized by topic.
- Life (bills, taxes, etc.).
- Teaching materials (organized by topic).
3. Acquire and Use Office Supplies
Though supplies can be expensive, it’s easier to get organized when you’ve got the right tools. Purchase a quality stapler, paper clips, binder clips, stick on notes in several sizes, sticky flags for marking important pages in texts, etc. Go to a supply store and purchase office supplies in bulk to maximize savings and to be sure that you don’t unexpectedly run out of supplies.
4. Organize Class Materials
Some students use binders to organize class notes, with dividers to separate your notes from assigned readings, handouts, and other materials. Other students keep all of their class materials on their laptop and use software such as OneNote or Evernote to save and index their notes.
5. Remove Clutter at Home and Organize Your Study Space
Sure you’re desk and study area should be neat. It’s also helpful to keep track of the rest of your home too. Why? School is overwhelming enough without worrying about whether you have clean clothes, differentiating between the cat and dust bunnies, or losing unpaid bills. Set up a command center near the entrance to your home. Have a bowl or spot for you to put your keys and empty your pockets of important materials. Have another spot for your bills. Each day as you open your mail sort it into stuff to throw out and bills and other materials that require action.
Additionally, make sure you have a dedicated space to work in your home. It should be free of distractions, well lit, and have all supplies and files nearby. Even if your living space is small or shared, be sure to designate a portion to your graduate studies.
6. Create a Schedule for Household Tasks
Set up a schedule for accomplishing household tasks like laundry and cleaning. Break cleaning up into smaller tasks, by room. So you might clean the bathroom on Tuesday and Saturday, clean the bedroom on Wednesday and Sunday, and the living room on Thursday and Monday. Clean the kitchen weekly then spend a few minutes each day on it. Use the timer trick to keep on task while you’re cleaning and show you how much you can do in just a little time. For example, I’m amazed that I can clear out the dishwasher and wipe down the countertops in 4 minutes!
7. Don’t Forget the To-Do List
These simple tips can make a difference in your life. From my own experience as an academic, I can attest that these simple habits, though challenging to set, make it much easier to make it through the semester and maintain efficiency and productivity.