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4 Tips Grad Students Can Use to Stay Organized

Getting organized is a great way to start off the semester, and Ball State University recently brought expert organizers Kathie Nix and Melissa Daniels to lead a Learning & Development session on the topic. We learned some helpful tips for getting—and staying—organized that we’d like to share.

  1. Strategy: the 5 Why’s

This is a strategy developed by Sakichi Toyoda and still used by Toyota to get to the root of a problem. When you find the same problem cropping up over and over, ask yourself why a minimum of five times to help find a solution. Here’s an example:

  • Problem: I’m often late to my morning class. Why? Because I oversleep. Why? Because I stay up late working on homework. Why? Because I often put off doing my assignments until the night before. Why? Because I would rather be watching Netflix. Why? Because it’s addicting.
  • Although there’s little you can do about the addictive nature of Netflix, you can make an effort to stop cramming for tests or working on homework until the wee hours by setting deadlines, starting early and breaking up large assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks.
  1. The power of habits

Habits are very important when talking about organization because they can help, or hurt, your ability to stay organized. Analyze your habits to identify areas where you can make improvements. For example, I have a goal to cut back buying food on campus, but I usually don’t have time in the morning to pack food to eat throughout the day. I can make it habit to pack a lunch and snacks the night before, so it’s all ready to go when I’m walking out the door in the morning.

  1. Urgency vs. importance

Too often we focus on putting out small fires instead of letting our priorities guide where and how we spend our time. Kathie and Melissa suggest identifying three major priorities and creating a to-do list of action items around those overarching goals. We all know urgent things crop up, but having these set helps keep you on task after the fire has been extinguished.

  1. Delegate

This sounds like something you can only do in the workplace when you’re leading others, but students can use technology to delegate tasks. Don’t have a personal assistant to remind you about that meeting? Use a calendar app and set a reminder. The 30 seconds it takes to input the meeting time and location can save you time and stress later. Need to stay current on a certain topic for class or a project? Use Google News alerts. These tools can save you time, allowing you to work smarter, not harder. Here’s a flowchart that can help:
workflow chart

Are you already organized and on top of things? We’d love to hear your strategy. Let us know in the comments. Ball State graduate assistants can attend the university’s Learning & Development sessions for employees on a variety of topics including leadership, speaking, project management and communication.