Organizational Tips For Grad Students: How To Keep It Together While Writing Your Thesis

The Planner

Having a planner or agenda will become more important than ever, when you are a grad student preparing to write your dissertation. At this point I cannot tell you though that this or that particular planner will be your savior – you will have to figure it out for yourself, which kind works the best for you. Some people prefer digital calendars and to-do lists on their phones and computers, others (like me) however are still pretty much paper based and need to write it all down by hand. I personally prefer weekly planners with a vertical layout that have the week on two pages along with a calendar each month. Whichever works best for you, make sure to find a planner and make a habit of checking it regularly. Checking it in the morning before getting started with your work or heading out the door, as well as in the evening before going to bed will help you always be conscious about the things you will have to do that or the following day and you will not forget anything important again. If you would like me to go into detail about tips and tricks for using your planner and making your schedule more efficient, let me know and I’ll write a post on that too!



The Routine.

I suggest you to try and establish morning and evening routines. They will help you be more time-efficient as you repeat them again and again every day and also not to forget anything. When you are busy with school and work and thesis writing, sometimes you will have to wake up really early, get home really late – and being tired all the time is not very helpful with keeping it all together. However, if you have your routine down, you will not feel all over the place but can just go through the usual steps without the stress of forgetting something. You can even write up the steps of your routine on post-its and stick it above your desk, bed or on your mirror to remind you at the beginning. If you are not really sure how this should look like, check out my previous article about the College Morning Routine For a Successful Semester.


The Tidiness.

We have all heard that having a clean and tidy environment is good for the mind, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that does not only mean your room – but also your computer. When you are working on a project or your thesis, it is important to have your files organized. Start out with your desktop as it is the first thing you see when you turn on your computer, then organize the files for you project or paper into thematical folders as well. If every file has a place, it will be much easier to find the one you are looking for and it will make your work flow much faster and more efficient.


The Notebook.

This is especially for your thesis or research paper. Having such a big project might seem really intimidating at first, such a huge task to conquer that lots of us just sit there with no idea where to start – and this is when the little notebook comes into the pictures. I highly highly recommend getting a small notebook that you can always take with you to keep all your research-related thoughts, ideas and questions all in one place. You can have different sections for the literature you’ve read and your comments on it, your research questions and hypotheses, your methodology, anything you can think of. This way if you suddenly have an idea when you’re sitting on the bus or eating your lunch, you can quickly jot it down before you forget and will still have everything organized and in one place instead of having notes scribbled on random pieces of papers, tissues, notes in your phone. It will also help when you start out as you can sketch up your outline in it at the very beginning as well as your first to do lists for each section. And that leads me to…

Workplace in my office with coffee

The Lists.

Lists are your best friends (alongside your planner of course) when you are in grad school, working on your thesis. Having lists about your deadlines, your daily and weekly to-dos, your library books you borrowed, your weekly readings and home works are crucial to stay on top of your work load and get everything done in time. You can keep them in your planner in the appropriate section so you can always see it at the right time – or if you have something particularly important, try writing it on post it notes and then stick them where you can definitely see: I usually have some above my desk as reminders.


These are my most important life organization tips for grad students – let me know if you have any questions, tips that I missed or topics you would like me to elaborate on next. Good luck!


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