Insider Tips for Staying Organized in Grad School – Organization Tips

Being successful in graduate school means staying as organised as possible. Each semester your commitments and timetable will likely change (less so if you’re doing a PhD) and so you will have two organise your tasks and commitments so that they all get done.

Staying organised in grad school means using a calendar and ensuring that you have all your commitments and deadlines placed in the appropriate spots. Make sure you also set a reminder an appropriate number of days ahead of the task so that you have enough time to get it done.

There are also some other awesome tools such as Evernote and OneNote that can help you organise your thoughts and to-do list.

Reducing the clutter in your work areas will also help you achieve a clear mind and stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Learning how to manage your time and your attention will be the number one vital skill that will help you get through grad school.

This article will go through all of the insider tips for figuring out what works for staying organise in graduate school.

How do you organize for grad school?

Some of the best tips on how to get organized for grad school include:

  • creating a study schedule,
  • using a calendar to keep track of any important meetings,
  • keeping your email inbox as searchable as possible,
  • developing ninja level to-do list creation,
  • setting up a clean and tidy dedicated study space, and
  • building a support network of family and friends.

Additionally, it can be helpful to connect with other students who are also attending grad school in order to compare notes and share advice.

Here are some specific tips for your grad school organisation.

Keep Track of Assignments and Appointments

It is so very important to keep track of your assignments and appointments. Knowing what your commitments are ahead of time will keep you organised and free of stress.

You also need to factor in enough time to write your thesis or dissertation – working on it from the very start will help you finish on time.

This can be done by using a planner or calendar. I like to use my Google calendar.

Any calendar will do. As long as you have access to it on a variety of devices such as your laptop, phone, tablet et cetera. This means you’ll never lose track of the most important parts of your week. They will be easily accessible at a glance.

I also set alarms on my phone or computer to remind me of upcoming deadlines so that I don’t lose track throughout the day.

If you have a lot of assignments, it may help to create a to-do list alongside your calendar.

Checking things off as you complete them can give you a sense of accomplishment and help you stay on track.

It is also really important to allow yourself some downtime so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that grad school is a marathon and not a sprint.

Sure, sometimes you’ll have to have a sprint finish but keeping your energy levels and enthusiasm up as high as possible for your daily tasks is just as important as focused work.

Make sure to schedule breaks into your day and take some time for yourself every once in awhile.

Keep your inbox clean

During grad school, you are constantly bombarded with emails.

Emails from your courses, supervisor, friends, family, institution, university, and many more. It can be very easy to become overwhelmed by the number of unread emails in your inbox during grad school.

Keep your inbox as clean as possible so that you can find important information easily.

To do this, you can create folders and tags to organize your emails.

Here are some of the folders that I recommend graduate students start with:

ResearchUniversity adminSupervisor
Course informationPapers and publicationsPersonal

You can also set up filters to automatically move certain emails into the appropriate folders.

Taking a few minutes each day to go through your inbox and delete or file away old emails will help you keep it clean. I like to do it at the end of the day just before heading off so that I can be sure that my inbox is ready for the next days onslaught.

Manage Your Study Schedule

Assuming you have a set schedule for classes, the first step to managing your study time is to find out when your free time is.

This can be done by looking at your class schedule and finding the gaps in between when you have classes.

Once you know when you have free time, you can start to fill in those gaps with study time.

It is important to be realistic when planning your study schedule. Reading and understanding new study material can take much longer than you think.

For example, I had to work one month before any exam to get all of the information into my mind. Some of my course colleagues had better memories than me and were able to revise just a couple of days before the exam – that was certainly not me.

Work with what you know works for you and generally you should not try to cram all of your studying into one night before an exam.

Instead, try to spread out your studying over a period of time so that you are reviewing the material regularly. This will help you retain the information better and be better prepared for exams.

If you find that you are struggling to stick to your study schedule, there are a few things you can do to make it easier:

  • try to study in short bursts rather than long blocks of time. This can help prevent fatigue and help you stay focused. I like to work in one and ½ hour blocks
  • Try to create a study space that is comfortable and free of distractions. This will make it easier for you to concentrate on your work. I like to work in the silent spaces of a library.
  • make sure to take breaks and allow yourself some time to relax. This will help you avoid burnout and keep your motivation high.

Being as proactive as possible with your studying schedule will mean that you are as stressfree as possible.

Organize Class Materials

Organizing your class materials can help you feel more prepared and confident when studying. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep a master list of all the materials you need for each class. This could be a physical list or a digital one. I like to have one binder for each class.
  • Check off items on your list as you gather them. This will help you keep track of what you have and what you still need.
  • Label everything clearly. This will save you time when preparing for class.
  • Store study materials in a way that makes sense to you. This could be by subject, by class, or in some other system.

I’ve never been a big fan of having all of my class materials in electronic form, such as PDFs. Having a physical copy and a binder has always worked well for me but maybe I am just a little bit out of touch!

Do what works best for you.

Organize Your Study Space

I know that I work my best when my study space is as clear as possible. Now I’m not talking absolutely clean and avoid of everything but organizing your study space can help you focus and be more productive.

A tidy desk or work area can help you stay organized and on task. Here are a few tips to help you organize your study space:

  • Clear off your desk or work area. Only keep the essentials within reach.
  • Invest in some storage solutions, like baskets or bins, to help keep things tidy.
  • Create a filing system for papers and documents. This will help you stay on top of assignments and projects.
  • Label everything! This will help you find things quickly and keep track of what goes where.
  • Keep a schedule or planner to help you stay organized and on top of due dates.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch and move around. This will help you avoid burnout and stay fresh while you work.

By following these tips, you can create a study space that works for you (and not against you) and helps you be more productive.

Keep track with a To-Do List

To-Do lists are a great way to keep track of what you need to do. They can help you stay organized and focused on your goals.

To-Do lists can be simple or complex, depending on your needs. You can use a notebook, a whiteboard, or even an app on your phone to keep track of your To-Do list.

The important thing is to find a system that works for you and helps you stay on track.

Some people like to keep their To-Do list in their calendar so they can see it all in one place. Others prefer to keep it in a separate notebook or on their computer so they can add to it and cross items off as they complete them.

Whatever system you choose, make sure you review your To-Do list regularly and update it as needed.

This will help you stay on top of your tasks and ensure that you are making progress towards your goals.

Also, I like to have a do not do list.

These are things that I should avoid at all costs as they are a distraction to my primary goal of being successful in grad school. Distractions come in many forms but I know that I am always interested in learning new things and, therefore, adding extra hobbies to my day is not something that I should do – even though my brain tells me that I should be learning new and interesting things all the time.

The things on this list can wait until after I have completed my graduate school semester.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about staying organised in grad school and my best tips for grads.

One final point is to be kind to yourself and take breaks when you need to.

We are not machines and sometimes organisation and efficiency can make us feel like we need to produce the same amount of work every day. That is impossible for almost everyone.

Some days you produce more some days you’ll not be as organised and less efficient.

Nonetheless, keeping or moving forward and staying as organised as possible using the tips mentioned above will help you stay as organised as you possibly can.

Good luck with your studies and keep on moving forward little by little!

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.