How to Stay Organized in Graduate School
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
When you begin graduate school, it is crucial that you learn to be organized and that you remain organized. You will accumulate a large volume of documents from your courses that you must manage and keep handy, and losing just one could, during the application process, jeopardize your chances of getting into your dream program, and during the school year, cost you a necessary grade. Proper graduate student organization involves managing time and materials, as well as utilizing strategies and handling multiple tasks.
To keep from drowning under a sea of paperwork, you will need to set up an organization strategy to which you can stay committed. One of the most important organization tips for school is to set realistic goals. Set short- and long-term goals for each semester and write them down. When you begin to feel unorganized, it will help you to revisit your list of goals and get back on track.
Motivation is one of the keys to organization in graduate school. Staying organized will help you become a better student and will instill lifelong skills you will use in your career and your life. Chances are that you have other responsibilities in life besides your graduate education, so keeping your school materials together and in order becomes especially critical.
One of the first steps of graduate student organization is to create a schedule and stick to it. You must learn to plan your time efficiently and schedule time for your family, friends, work and leisure. Remember that it is okay to say "no" if you cannot fit something into your schedule. You should try and be flexible, but it is important to maintain a routine. Let your friends know that you are applying to graduate school, and that you may be a tad scarce for the next few days, weeks or months.
It is necessary to create a sequential list of to-dos in order to achieve efficient performance. This will encourage you to be more productive and contented. Time management simply pertains to your responsibilities and the choices you have made in using your time.
Using a planner or date book is an indispensable part of being organized in graduate school. You may decide to keep a master calendar at home, but it is important that you have a planner or date book you can carry with you wherever you go. You should have daily, weekly and monthly entries, as well as deadlines and due dates.
Establishing an organized study area is also crucial for school organization. Your study area should be equipped with all the office supplies you need, and it should be devoid of clutter. You will need files and folders for notes, professional documents, handouts and graded exams. Create a folder for each course in your file cabinet as well as on your computer. Organizing your computer files is just as important as putting your papers in order.
You may decide that labeling your desk drawers is helpful, and color-coding is a method that many students use on a daily basis. Whatever works for you. The area you choose as your study area should be quiet and private. If you have children, be sure to child-proof the area so you can maintain your organization.
Put things back where they belong when you are done with them - every time. Otherwise, you will waste too much time cleaning up instead of studying. If your paperwork gets out of hand, don't panic. Take one pile at a time and file the papers either in folders or in the trash. Tearing out and filing lecture notes you have already used is another important organization tip for school, as it helps keep your course notebooks neat.
In these days of environmental awareness, it is noteworthy that not everything must be printed out. You can save information on your computer, and use the Internet and e-mail. To keep your computer organized, save the information on CDs or flash drives and label them carefully.
Ask other students for help, as your classmates are likely to feel the same demands. Perhaps you could take another student's children for several hours one evening, in exchange for that student taking your children for several hours another day. This way you can both get some homework done while knowing your children are well-supervised.
Once you have completed your school organization, grad school will be much easier to manage. You will appreciate knowing where things are exactly when you need them, and your establishment of a routine will reflect itself well in your coursework. Attending graduate school is a big commitment, but becoming organized is a commitment you make to yourself.
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Photo by ccharmon