I’ve always liked to consider myself an organized person. My mom says my favorite game as a little girl was secretary, and I can drool over office supplies for hours. I even worked in project management for a couple years before grad school, and I can make a damn good Gantt chart.
So it’s no surprise that I’m always looking for ways to improve my day-to-day organization! Fancy organization schemes mean nothing if you can’t stick to them (I’m looking at you, bullet journaling). Because I recently had a pretty big change in my work life, going from a pre-candidacy, classes-attending grad student to a post-candidacy, research-machine PhD candidate, I decided it was a good time to re-evaluate my productivity habits.
When I was attending classes, I frequently had to carry around notebooks and writing utensils for taking notes, as well as papers for assignments and other bits and pieces. Now, I pretty much just need my laptop, a notebook for working out things by hand, and the equivalent of my purse. So I switched from a big, bulky backpack to a sleek, minimalist backpack. After a lot of research, I ended up with my new Everlane bag (this is definitely not an ad, just my personal experience). It was a bit of a wince to hand over the money, but I love my new backpack! It makes me feel more professional and is more suited to my daily needs. A simple switch like that can really help boost my mindset and productivity!
In my old backpack, I liked to have a little notebook for writing down my to-do list, often having to pull it out during class to add a due date for an assignment, talk, or project. But that list became less helpful as I’ve transitioned into more open-ended tasks associated with my research. I also don’t usually come up with new to-dos away from my computer anymore. I decided to ditch the notebook in favor of an easier digital format. There are an overwhelming number of options out there for to-do list apps. In my personal life, I’ve been using Todoist for years. But I wanted a simple option, and one strictly for work, so I opted for Google Tasks. My institution uses G-suite, so I already am used to having my Gmail page open in one of my workspaces. Google Tasks integrates into the sidebar of my email, so I can keep it up all day. It’s been working great! One nice bonus of moving to a computer-based to-do list is setting up recurring tasks. For example, I’ve always wanted to be better about keeping up with new papers in my field, but it’s been hard to build up a habit. Now I added a daily workweek task to review arXiv, and I’ve actually been doing it every day!
Keep and Tasks are both right in my inbox.
Another thing I have implemented is a daily work log. This was an idea I got from my boyfriend, who had a simple text file he kept where he updated what he was doing every day. I often find myself getting sidetracked and then forgetting what I was doing before the detour, even with my comprehensive to-do list. I opted to use another Google tool here, for the same reason as above. I’ve started using Google Keep, and I write a new note every work day. I just jot down what I did and brief explanations of my thought process, the kind of notes that used to get haphazardly put down in my research notebook and then be hard to find again later. I use labels to track which categories of things I am working on, so in the future I can quickly find all the logs where I worked on a certain area. Although I don’t have performance reviews anymore, this is the kind of thing that is really handy down the line when you need to brag about all your own accomplishments! I also make sure to keep track of things I do that aren’t strictly related to my research. That’s important to keep perspective when I feel like I’m wasting all my time, because admin, mentoring, etc. are all a part of my job too!
These two items have been a huge level up for my productivity. I feel like I’m more organized, more on top of things, and more understanding of just where all my time goes to. It’s not quite as satisfying as fancy pens, thick paper, and office supplies, but it’s something I can actually integrate easily into my workflow, so I count it as a win!