Get Organized!

MESSY No, it doesn’t have to be this way! (Flickr/Creative Commons photo)
MESSY No, it doesn’t have to be this way! (Flickr/Creative Commons photo)

Every year, it’s the same old thing: New Year Resolutions and Good Intentions topped with a big helping of Early Disappointments. Still, we do it because some will make it and the result will be personal, social, and/or business  successes.

This is the time of year that many will clean out closets and rearrange  things to prepare for the new year. It's the time of year when business folks feel pressure to organize their tax information to save a few dollars.

Sometimes, we organize and in our haste, fail to consider the possible consequences of making the wrong choices. Fortunately for all of us, there is a saying in business that can help us avoid creating more chaos:

"See It Big, Keep It Simple"

or SIBKIS as it is commonly called. It is better to start with a simple plan to reorganize, then expand on it as you move forward. The key is to avoid having the plan become the task.

So what resolutions have you made for this year? Will you continue to do the same things or find better ways to reach your goals?

Here are some basic tips that may make your life easier and save lots of time as you commit to your academic endeavor. These things won't require days or weeks to learn because you don't have that extra time.

I will only skim the surface of tools and techniques available to help you do the best possible job in the least amount of time. That's why I wrote a book to expand on each of the topics discussed here and more! These things help you reduce the clutter and focus on using your most important tool more effectively: your mind. Your ideas and creativity are the most valuable things you have so don't waste your time on trivialities like finding a document or remembering important appointments/deadlines, it's hard to make the most of this challenging and wonderful experience.

You are becoming one of the few who have achieved an advanced degree so why not make the most of it? Below are some things that you can do to make your academic life easier.

Filing System

One simple thing you can do is to have some organized storage system for the hundreds of documents you will generate while completing an advanced degree.

A filing system can take many shapes and depends upon individual preferences

It can be as simple as creating folders for each course taken or as complicated as a tagging system that allows you to find anything located anywhere in your document storage.

I use that phrase rather than “your computer" for an important reason. If you are now in an advanced degree program and not using online storage, you are inviting disaster.

I realize that some still use paper files and file cabinets; no complaints from me because short of a fire or flood, that is the ultimate backup. However, that is not the ideal place to look for a paper you wrote in a course you took a year ago. If you must use this method, why not use this workflow:

With this system, you have the best of both worlds, access and storage (in two places!). The folders can be anything you want them to be and can each have sub folders if you choose. At some point, you may need to add, rename, or delete folders but that will get easier the more you do it.

Here is a practical example. I encourage my students to continually research scholarly journals to keep abreast of the changing number of publications about their selected problem. I provide a form to make it easier to find the key material in each article and suggest that they save a copy of the form for each article they read to make it easier to review when writing their literature reviews. Having a simple folder system can make the task even easier if each main section of their literature review has a separate folder. I have no idea how many take my advice but at least, it's there for them.


Every computer operating system comes with some kind of calendar app and there is an abundance of third party apps.

Having access to a calendar is not the issue; using the calendar to help you remember assignment due dates and appointments is the point.

Why use a calendar to remember things? You may have the best memory possible but even the best memories can become cluttered with too many things and that can interfere with the critical thinking essential to doing quality academic work. This is especially true for a thesis or dissertation; why waste space with things that can be noted in a calendar, then set with alarms and reminders?

Try this little experiment. Make a list of 10 numbers and an hour later, try to recall all of the numbers in the correct sequence. No problem? Good but now try the same thing with 50 or 100 numbers. Not so easy, is it! It would be much easier if you kept the list handy so you could refer to it and use your decluttered memory to do more important finish your thesis or dissertation!!


You are probably thinking, "I've got this one!!!" Do you? An easy test is to count the number of emails you have in the Inbox. If it is over 20, you have a problem. How many of those emails are junk, doing nothing but cluttering your Inbox? In the mass of emails, do you know where the important ones are? How many times have you missed something important and never knew it? I send 3-4 emails a month to all my students containing documents critical to their academic success. I know all my students don't regularly check their email or can’t find the ones I’ve sent because their comments and posts speak louder than their words.

Almost all email apps, including the ones that come with the computer software, will let you create additional folders then create filters or rules that will move incoming emails to those folders and notify you to read them.

Task Management

Just like email apps, there are lots of task management apps available to help you keep track of all the things you must do in an advanced academic program. There are lots of things you need to do daily, weekly, or monthly so most task management apps let you set these as recurring events and send you reminders when they become due.

These apps are similar to calendar apps but all have more sophisticated ways to track everything you need to do. You can add anything, assign a priority or due date/time, then focus on the immediate and important things. Some will allow you to attach related documents to the task.

Going Further

If you are really motivated and want to do some major restructuring to your workflow, there are many more powerful tools available. I am mentioning a few that have helped me but read reviews for the ones you are considering.

Writing With Scrivener


is a cross-platform app to help you organize your short and long writing projects then finish them in more traditional apps like Word.

Notes, reflection papers, short papers, theses, dissertations. Store them all in Scrivener.

Why Use Scrivener?

As you begin the writing process using a word processing app like Word, keeping track of different parts of writing soon becomes a nightmare despite using a template.

You will need to move or expand paragraphs and sections and while you can do those things with a word processing app, it's much like hammering nails with a pair of pliers; you can do it but why would you do it!


lets you rearrange, insert, delete, and view all or parts of a large document so it is easier to avoid distraction and focus on one aspect of the larger text. That is only a taste of its powerful features. When ready, you can export to a Word document with minor formatting. There is a slight learning curve but you can learn new features while using the app.

Task Management With Omnifocus or Todoist

These are two task management apps that can keep track of anything from a grocery list to deadlines for parts of a dissertation. My favorite is Omnifocus but it is only available on Mac and IOS. Enter tasks from any app, including email or files.

Todoist is my runner up app and works on all platforms.

Get The Book!





This is brief post about some tools that will help you in the academic process. I wrote a book that discusses these and much more so consider getting that to save time, effort, and money. Here is a sample,

Before deciding on any components for technology, it is critical to know what tasks you want to accomplish. If your field of study involves mostly document research, your needs will differ from someone whose field is graphic arts. So to reiterate, a systems approach will require a broader view of the types of tasks that will be required in a graduate program. Many graduate students learn early in the academic process that an outline or a concept map done before starting a project can eliminate missed key topic points that lead to multiple paper rewrites and an unnecessary waste of time. Sometimes, that same principle is overlooked or skipped when acquiring technology. How can you plan if you don't know where you want to go? -

Getting Through Graduate School