What is my organizational preference?
What is my organizational style?
Why do I use this style?
How is it working/ not working for me?
How can I improve my organizational skills?
Being organized involves having an understanding of the task to be done, the estimated time to complete the task and time available, and the tools needed. While there may be a connection between neatness and organization, it is not always the case. People have different styles and tolerances, and some people are "selectively organized" in areas that reflect their personal values. In broad terms, individuals may adopt a style that is "left brain" (logical, detailed, sequential, linear) while others favour a "right brain" (holistic, relational, creative, gestalt) approach or a mix of the two styles. Depending on your personal cognitive style, different strategies will be helpful around "task, time and tools". If you'd like to know more about your cognitive style, go to:
On the surface your schedule may appear very open. Unlike undergraduates who often have their school days filled with classes, grad students, especially those in non coursework streams, don't have a great deal of structure in their day. Therefore, creating a self-imposed plan of action for each year, term, week, and day is paramount to keeping on track. Planning a schedule can be particularly difficult at the beginning of one's program if "things haven't started yet" e.g. reading courses not yet laid out, thesis unclear, etc. For some students setting up supervisory and group meetings and research studies may take weeks. During this phase students who have not organized a tentative plan might find themselves wasting precious time. Getting into a routine too late may also lead to procrastination. A sense of openness or too much space in your schedule accompanies some students throughout their programs with dire consequences. They might chronically hand in work late, not be well prepared for presentations or comprehensive exams, and/or get further and further behind in their research. This "fluid" feeling is particularly challenging for students whose cognitive style is more "right brain" as they are not naturally predisposed to highly structured routines. "Right brain" students might find sticking to a self-imposed schedule very difficult, even though, it is critical to achieving their goals. To assist you in planning your schedule, review the strategies in:
Learning Strategies for Right-Brain Thinkers (110 KB) Regardless of your cognitive style, regularly revisiting your values, goals and priorities will give purpose to your schedule.
Large projects, e.g. researching and writing a dissertation, may span many years. Even with clear goals and time management skills, the project may feel daunting and energy levels may ebb and tide. In addition, there will be certain aspects of the project that are in your control (e.g. making a plan to finish your literature review) and others that are not (e.g. waiting for your supervisor to read and feedback on your research proposal). Finally, a large project will be competing with many other tasks, both academic and personal, so managing your time is paramount.
Issues graduate students face when managing large projects are:
Do any of these statements or a variation sound familiar to you?
"What if I can't do what my supervisor has asked?"
"I'm way over my head."
"If I can't get this done when [my supervisor] asked for it, will s/he think I'm lazy? not smart enough to be a grad student?
"If I don't finish this degree, what will my [family, friends, partner, kids] think of me?"
"I'm not grad student material. Who was I trying to kid?"
Negative thoughts have a negative impact on your ability to perform. They will increase your stress levels and, consequently, interfere with concentration, focusing, and managing your time. If you are feeling this way, you might consider a professional consultation with a learning strategist and/ or a personal counsellor at Queen's Counselling Services.
Create a Positive Learning Environment: Organize your study space/ desk area. Make sure it is a quiet place where you cannot be distracted.
Stick to Your Schedule: Make a contract to get and stay organized. List what you will do in the presence of a family member, friend, colleague, faculty member, or learning strategist. Have him/her witness it. Review it regularly.
Show Progression: Allow yourself to see that you are moving ahead, e.g. Mark Xs on your calendar days to denote work days complete leading up to a big event.
Supervisor & Faculty Support
Faculty can play a key role in helping you stay on track.
Set regular meetings with faculty involved in your learning.
Have regular, ongoing email communication, even when your supervisor is not physically available.
Keep a personal record of weekly goals and achievements and next intended steps and share these with your supervisor at each meeting. Make a copy for his/her files.
Professional Support & Mentoring
Get professional support to help you organize: learning strategists, Writing Centre tutors, other faculty members inside or outside your department. Sometimes there are retired professors in the community with expertise in your area who are very willing to lend a hand.
Colleagues can help you stay on track. Find a colleague who is very organized as your role model. Ask what his/her time management strategies are.
Explain your student life to your partner and family, and enlist their cooperation in making realistic plans involving you.