Unclutter Your Life - Tips for Staying Organized in Grad School

photo of April TownsonGoing to grad school can lead to many exciting opportunities. At the same time, grad student life can be quite the juggling act. With work, classes, research, daily chores, family, friends, and your own health and wellbeing all vying for your attention, graduate school can seem very overwhelming - especially if you’ve been out of school for a while.

As a graduate student currently balancing three part-time jobs, an internship, a full-time class schedule, and a research project, I can personally say that, while grad student life can be hectic, it IS manageable! Here are some techniques and resources that I, and many other graduate students, have found incredibly valuable in staying organized in graduate school.

Create a weekly schedule in advance

Whether you prefer physical calendars and planners or electronic calendars - such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook Calendar - it is essential to create a personal schedule at the beginning of each semester.

By setting aside time for different projects and tasks, and knowing in advance when you’ll have down time, you can keep track of due dates and lighten your mental workload.

  • My personal recommendation
    In my own schedule, I color code different activities and set up regular reminders ahead of each block. These are the categories I add to my electronic calendar:
    • My work schedules (and whether I’ll be working from home that day)
    • My class meeting times
    • Assignment and project deadlines
    • Events I am interested in attending
    • Study, reading, and writing time - my goal is to complete one thing for each class every day
    • Household chores and weekly errands 
    • Personal time breaks - I set aside time to practice yoga, take walks, read for fun, and take short tea breaks during the day. By building these “appointments with myself” into my schedule, I don’t feel guilty about taking this time for myself, and I don’t feel burnt out partway through the semester!

Keep a daily to-do list

It’s often not enough to know when things are due; you also need to break down your projects and tasks into what needs to be done each day. Creating daily to-do lists can be a useful way of organizing your time and breaking down large projects into smaller chunks. Personally, checking off each task as I’ve completed it is also very rewarding.

There are many resources and methods available online related to task and project management! Here are a few of my favorites:

  • For those who prefer physical methods, bullet journaling can be a functional and creative outlet!
  • Trello can be very useful for project management and collaboration, allowing you to sort tasks by “to do,” “doing,” and “done.” The pages are also highly customizable!
  • Todoist is my personal recommendation! It is very user-friendly and allows you to create not only daily and weekly to-do lists, but also project checklists, which can be very helpful for tackling those large assignments and research projects!
  • Google Keep is a more minimalist option that I find very useful for on-the-go checklists and note-taking. 

Keep your documents organized

Whether you prefer a cloud storage service - such as Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, or Box - folders on your personal computer, or physical filing methods, keeping track of your documents is key! As a grad student, you’ll have to keep track of your notes, syllabi, readings, articles, and your own writing. It might be tempting to save time and place everything in one spot, but you might find yourself overwhelmed by the clutter (either physical or digital) and unable to find that one reading you need to finish your final paper!

  • My personal recommendation
    I like to create folders on my desktop devoted to each class. Within each class folder, I have separate folders for “Readings,” where I place articles and notes based on the week they are assigned, and each project/assignment, where I store my research notes, outlines, and drafts. I have a similar system for my work, internship, and personal assignments. I also keep a “junk” folder where I store everything that I don’t want to delete but don’t need anywhere else.

In addition to files and documents, you can also organize your emails in the same way! In many email clients, you can create folders for different classes and topics, and use flags to mark when and how you want to respond. I would also recommend unsubscribing from spam emails and mailing lists that you do not utilize very often - the fewer unread emails you have piling up, the less likely you are to feel overwhelmed and lose track of important information!

Note taking resources

Finding a note-taking method that works for you can help you stay on top of what you are reading or discussing in class.

I prefer physically taking notes during class discussions and meetings and using digital note-taking software for research and reading notes. Each person has their own unique preferences; for example, when I take notes, I prefer using unlined paper! Practice different note-taking techniques and explore your preferences to find what works best for you.

There are a number of online resources available to help you take notes and keep track of your research:

  • EverNote and OneNote for digital note-taking
  • Penultimate - a digital note-taking app made for use with the iPad Stylus 
  • Pocket - a browser extension and app that allows you to save online articles and webpages for later reading. Essentially a more advanced version of bookmarking a page.
  • Citation managers - to help you keep track of your research and create reference pages
  • Purdue OWL - academic writing guides and citation style guides
  • Grammarly - a good way to double-check your spelling, grammar, and syntax before you submit an assignment
  • Google Scholar and the Open Dissertation Database (EBSCO) - useful in combination with library resources and database for finding scholarly resources
  • WorldCat - find books, DVDs, and other items available at libraries near you

Financial Resources

Finally, keeping track of your finances - especially when you have student loans to consider - can go a long way towards keeping you on track in your grad school career.

Thankfully, there are a number of resources and tools readily available to relieve some of the pressure associated with personal budgeting. These could include personal and financial “rules,” such as the 50/30/20 rule, that financial experts recommend to help give you some grounding on what could be useful in your own life. In addition, there are many online and digital organizational tools you can use, including:

At Rowan University, we also offer a wide range of financial resources for all students.


Feeling organized?

Now that you have what you need to stay organized as a graduate student, are you ready to conquer your next steps towards success? Check out our Rowan University graduate programs, register to attend one of our virtual info sessions or apply today!

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