How I Stay Organized in Grad School

It is almost back to school season! And with classes being all online this term (again) I want to make sure I am super organized to keep up with everything. This semester I am also starting a new degree, this is the first year of the MCP portion of my dual MST-MCP degree, and MCP has way more course requirements. This means I need to maintain the same RAship I had last year with three courses, while taking 4 and a half classes. Plus with getting more involved in some extra-curriculars I have a ton to plan.

I have a three part system I have refined over the years:Outlook calendar, a daily agenda and a weekly priority list. This system has taken awhile to refine but it is what I find now works best, particularly with the work from home I find I need to add more structure to my day to stop myself from getting stuck on doing only one thing

To be honest I could get away with just Outlook and a daily to do list but I just feel so much more organized with an agenda to write everything done in. And again being at home, I find I really like the therapeutic aspect of planning my day in a paper book every morning. If you are a person that doesn’t find that helpful you can save yourself the money and hassle and just use an online calendar.

Outlook/ Online Calendar Planning and Time Blocking

The main thing I use is Outlook. This is the first place any deadline I ever receive goes- the second I get an invitation or deadline I make sure to add it to my online calendar. This is for a couple reasons: A) Online calendars can follow you anywhere and some with reminder functionality to make sure you never miss a thing, and B) it is easier to change things in Outlook than in an agenda. By putting things here first I can capture a deadline far in advance without constantly rewriting dates in my agenda as things change.

Semester Planning Put all Due Dates at Once

At the beginning of every semester when I get my syllabi I will sit down and start inputting everything into the calendar. With recurring events and all this is pretty easy and goes by quickly. As you will see I use a color coded system by class, research and then due dates. I think it is super important to put everything in the second you get it, even if you think you will remember later the nice thing about online calendars is that there is no punishment to change a date so put it in the second you get that syllabus.

One of my biggest tips that I have is I don’t just create an event for the due date itself but I will also block off time for a couple hours day before the due date with the title “Finish XX” to make sure I have appropriately allocated time to finish, review and hand in, and that nothing creeps up on me. I love this strategy because I am a huge proponent of time blocking my day and having extra time to complete work already booked in is always such a pleasant surprise.

Also when I am doing this I make sure to include the location ( when life is in person) or the Zoom link because there is nothing worse than prepping to go to a meeting and then realizing you didn’t write down where it is and having to dig through your email… truly the worst.

Time Blocking

After all my due dates, classes and events are in the calendar I will start to time block general research time. I am on a 20 hour/week RAship- so while the actual work varies a lot week to week I always make sure to budget at least 20 hours in my calendar to make sure I get it done. As you will see further down in the Agenda section this time blocking done now is super rough and often changes but it serves as a reminder to me to still spend 20 hours working towards my research goals while getting things done for class.

Example from last semester ( emails crossed out). As you can see I do most of my school work at night and days are reserved for research and class.

Agenda and Weekly To Do Lists

For day to day planning I use a weekly to do list and my Day Designer agenda. I went with a daily planner this year as I find being at home I need more structure to my day and love the process of writing things out on paper. If you are a weekly planner person I have used the Weekly Day Designers for the past two years and love them!

Weekly Planning

I always start each week by scanning my Outlook calendar for upcoming events and due dates, and I make sure those are recorded in my agenda. I then start slotting priorities to my weekly to do list- I keep both a work and personal to do list as I find being at home all the time I often forget to do the personal things I would typically do at the end of a day as there is no separation. This then gets hung up on the wall above my desk so every day I can remind myself what I need to do, and start tackling my personal to do list if I have time in between tasks.

Daily Planning

I then use a combination of the set events in my Outlook calendar and the priorities on a weekly to plan every hour of my day every morning. I love this as I can think when is the best time to do a task and see clearly how much time in between meetings or classes I have to actually get things done. My weekly to dos are typically very broad so the daily to dos help break those out by specific tasks.

Below is an example from this week- I do Pink for classes, Blue for meetings and Green for work. During the school year there is a lot more pink but right now with just research I am in a lot of meetings or just independent work. I don’t do anything else fancy in my agenda, I write with pencil or black pen (whatever I have in front of me) and then go in with mild liners if I am not in a rush. The spread typically get marked up as the day goes on: I will jot notes for tomorrow in the notes section, add and cross off my to do list and time block smaller tasks that come up.

There you have it! A quick run down of how I stay organized and on top of my hectic schedule in grad school! Do you have any tips for time management and organization?

One thought on “How I Stay Organized in Grad School

  1. Great share, thanks 😊

    I also rely heavily on my digital calendars (phone calendar for personal things, google for work related)! I have a kanban system for keeping track of and managing my weekly to dos (I find Notion fantastic for this organisational/productivity stuff).

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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