Getting Organised!

How to Master (Or Attempt to Master!) the Art of Organisation

by Fiona Martinez


In many ways undergraduate education prepares you for life as a postgrad. Learning how to write academically, how to read critically and how to balance your time in university with the world outside of it can make PG and PhD life a lot easier. Despite this, your time as an undergrad is unlikely to prepare you for a word count in the tens of thousands, the need to balance conference attendance and presenting with writing your thesis, or the challenge of adding teaching commitments to your workload. Though it’s extremely unlikely that PhD life will ever allow for a streamlined, simple and easily manageable schedule (Perhaps the hard work and diversity of tasks is what you thrive on, and actually enjoy?! No? Just me?) there are some things which might make the organisation of your day to day life a little easier.

To-Do Lists/I Have Done Lists

Far from a new idea, the to-do list is probably something many academics use throughout their career. However, actually sticking to a to-do list is probably far less common. Try making a list at the beginning of a week, and breaking it down into daily lists. This can give you an overview of what you need to achieve and also allow you to plan your calendar for the week. Whether you use a paper to-do pad, a task management app like todoist or simply write it on the back of some scrap paper, nobody can underestimate the positive feeling which comes from ticking off completed tasks.

A fellow PG CWWN steering group member, the wonderful Krystina, made me aware of the brilliance of doing a ‘I have done…’ list. Writing down all that you’ve accomplished at the end of a day can be a great way to feel positive about your progress. For example, if you’ve had a day where tapping away at your word count has felt impossible writing a list of what you have achieved can be a great way to boost your mood and increase your motivation for the rest of the week!

Keeping Your Work Separate

Organising different aspects of postgraduate life into separate notebooks and folders is incredibly useful. Carrying around the masses of handwritten notes you’ve accumulated over years of studying or every article you need to read for your entire thesis is both laborious and impractical! Not only is it likely to cause back pain when bundled into a rucksack, there’s nothing more painstaking than riffling through masses of paper to find the information you’re looking for. Having notebooks dedicated to one subject, for example ‘Supervision Notes’ or ‘Thesis – Chapter One’, can make life a lot easier. It might be time-consuming to begin with but ultimately it’ll make daily life easier. The sooner you do this, the easier it’ll be!

Stationery – Highlighters/Post-Its/All the Paperclips

I’m sure I’m not the only postgrad student to still get excited about the September sales of stationery! It’s not just because the pens are all new and shiny and the paperclips come in a variety of colours, but also because they make PhD life easier! If you want to get really organised, you can use different coloured highlighters for different subjects, put post-its on articles which you’ve already read with a brief overview of what it contains and how it relates to your research and use paperclips to group together articles which focus on one topic. These things might be a step too far for the least organised PhD students, but they are useful tips and at the very least can excuse a little more spending in Paperchase…

Overall, organisation is something you need to do daily as a PhD student. We all have deadlines that often cannot be adjusted, and as you’re essentially working on your own there’s nobody who can cover for you if you fall behind. Doing things like I’ve mentioned above can help you stay calm, safe in the knowledge you’re organised and prepared, and allow you to work towards your aims in a more methodical way. It’s far from always easy, but I don’t think any PhD student makes it all the way through their PhD without mastering (or at least attempting to master!) the art of organisation.