Post Academic

Grad School and Academia Time Management Tips Galore

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 7, 2010
Tags: , , ,

time management in graduate schoolOne of Arnold’s columns asks how to tame the time-management problems that come with academia. Regarding grad school work, I look at it the same way Betty Friedan looked at housework in “The Feminine Mystique”: Housework expands to fill the time available. Not to equate grad school with housework, but they absorb your time in the same insidious fashion. The more you get done, the more you think you have to do. The work in academia just doesn’t seem to stop …

… unless you take charge of it yourself. The following tips show you how to construct reasonable barriers between yourself and your work.

Read Getting Things Done: David Allen is a productivity guru who is often credited with helping people change their approach to work. You don’t really need to read the whole book, but looking up either “David Allen” or “GTD” online will bring back a wealth of time-management tips. Whether you use GTD or not, you have to have a system for prioritizing and completing your tasks, or you won’t feel like you’ve finished anything. The mere sensation of crossing a task off a list can boost your mental health considerably.

Set Aside a Few Minutes a Day to Maintain Your System: Starting an organizational system in graduate school will help you either in your first academic job or in your first hamster-world job. Being able to find files on your computer or in a cabinet can impress people, even though it seems easy. You just have to be smart enough to set aside organizational time. Create a task list, and create folders to go with the tasks. Break tasks down in small chunks, cross them off, and see what’s left. Then keep everything associated with those tasks organized. Say, your task is “grade papers.” Well, do you mean grade papers for one class or for two classes? And where did you put those papers? In a folder in an organized drawer or in a stack on that chair you don’t use? You see what I mean. Taking the time to remember what you’re supposed to be doing and when you’re supposed to do it can make you feel like you have more control over your life.

Try Evernote: In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a bit of a geek. Evernote is a terrific program that you can download and use for free (there is a premium service that has more storage space, but I haven’t needed it yet). You can clip notes online or type them into the program. They are stored online, and you can access the notes everywhere, even from a cell phone. The best aspect of Evernote is that you can tag your documents (“work,” “dissertation,” “resume,” and so forth), and the full document is searchable.

Visit does exactly what you think: It offers tips for hacking your life and for creating shortcuts. For those of you unfamiliar with, don’t be scared when you see it at first. Many of the tips are for programmers and Web designers, but it also offers advice for non-techies on how to get organized.

These are just a few ideas for squelching the sensation that you are constantly overwhelmed. In academia, there aren’t many people around to help you set priorities. You have to do it yourself. But, with these tips, you’ll realize that you can make time work for you after all.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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