If you haven’t already figured out through all of your past schooling how to organize your life so that you can keep on top of everything, then now’s the time to do it. If you have, you may find your past organization scheme doesn’t work as well in grad school as it did in undergrad. Or maybe your system is perfect and you should just skip this post. 🙂

For me, I’ve always tried various methods – to-do lists, weekly agendas, giant wall calendars, emails with pop-up’s close to the date, constantly looking back over outlines to remember when things are do. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. And really, it took me most of my first year as a grad student to find a system that works for me.

First, I use a calendar. I’ve mentioned before that I use iCal (included with Mac OSX), but I know people who love Google Calendar as well. I like using a calendar on my laptop since I’m always on my laptop, and therefore always close to my calendar. I use my calendar to keep track of:

  1. Courses – when it is, when assignments are due, any group meetings.
  2. Research meetings – I have a weekly group research meeting. The time may change, or we may add in extra sessions if needed.
  3. Talks with my supervisor – we usually meet once every 2 weeks or so. This may increase or decrease depending on if a paper is due or some other deadline is coming up.
  4. Paper deadlines – or really, any deadlines I have. But mark the date where conference or journal papers must be submitted by.
  5. TA-ing – this includes any classes or labs I need to attend and any TA meetings that may occur
  6. Travel – what days am I gone so I can plan around them.
  7. Sports – if you’re on a team, any practices or games you have. That time is booked, so any work that needs to be done will need to be worked around it.
  8. Exercise – I find if I schedule in exercise, I’m much more likely to take the time to go do it. So I try to book in time to go to the gym, go for a run, whatever. And exercise has been key in keeping me sane during very stressful times.
  9. Appointments – doctors, dentists, haircuts, massage, financial, whatever appointments are coming up, put them in the calendar.

Depending on the time of the year, my calendar may look very empty or very busy. My schedule usually changes every 4 months or so as we enter a new semester. At that time, for me, there’s a new course or TA to schedule (if you have either of those) and my research group chooses a new meeting time and length.

For me, having the calendar filled out means I can glance at it in the morning and see what’s coming up. What meetings I have today, what’s due this week (or next), etc. I find a calendar is a great way to get a quick look at where I have “free time” and to help me figure out when and where I can get certain tasks done.

Having a populated calendar of events, also makes it easy to recheck the last time you did x, whatever x may be. Or how many days you ran this month. Or whatever information you may need in the future. Something I don’t do, but you may want to consider, is attaching notes to calendar events as a way to keep track of information.


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