Time Management and Lists

Last week, Brandon wrote an awesome post about his five priorities as a graduate student. You can read it here. Time management is always such a huge issue for us as graduate students, since we’re often pulled in so many different directions. We are students with classes, but we’re also scholars with research projects, instructors with classes to teach, and so much more. That’s why staying organized is one of the keys to staying sane in graduate school.

Brandon’s prioritized list made me think of the tools that I use for time management as a graduate student, one of which is list-making. Here are some ways that I use lists to get/stay organized:

1. Making a list of all the things to be done:
This is the most obvious use of a list, and what makes lists great. Most days as a graduate student, I have a lot of things to get done, which fall into a variety of categories: experiments, lab maintenance, administrative, teaching, personal, etc. On those really, really busy days, having a list of the things that I need to get done is great because it really helps me with task-switching. Generally, if I don’t have it written down, at least one task will slip through the cracks, such as not remembering that I have to stop by X’s office until 6:15pm when X is already long gone.

2. Using lists as incentives:
I use this particularly on writing days (days when I’m not in the lab, but instead I’m working on my dissertation) and usually with a friend. What we’d do is make a list of five things we’d like to accomplish while working in the library. Once we’ve both finished two or three things on our lists, we take a cookie break. This type of list is good for setting clear goals, and also nice for rewarding yourself for reaching them. Another example is my little brother: each day he makes a list of three things he would like to accomplish. He doesn’t consider the day to be over until he’s accomplished those three things, which gives him incentive to get them done early.

3. Using productivity apps:
In case you couldn’t tell from the title and first few sentences, I’m a fan of list-making. So much of a fan that I have two specific list-making apps that I use daily (in addition to having a planner and Google Keep). The two apps that I use are Any.do and Todoist. [If you’re a fan of making pen-and-paper lists so that you have the satisfaction of crossing things out, the swipe-to-cross-out feature of both of these apps is almost as satisfying, I promise.] Both apps also come in a free version and a paid premium version. In true grad student fashion, I’ve only used the free versions of both of them. Here are my thoughts on each of them:

Any.do: I really like this app because it’s very intuitive and easy to use. You can set list items for specific dates with or without reminders or for a generic “someday”. The app and website both make it easy to drag and drop an item to another day, and you can view your list items either by time view (in order by due date) or by folder view (in order by category). In Any.do you can also add sub-tasks and notes to a to-do list item, and it has a collaboration feature as well (which I’ve never used). One of my favorite features of the Android app is that your to-do list always appears in your pull-down notifications list (but not as an actual notification in the bar at the top, so it doesn’t get annoying). This way whenever I check my notifications I see the things that still need to be done on my list.

Todoist: One of the best things about this app is the Gmail integration feature. This allows me to add emails to my to-do list directly from my email window in my browser. Then when I click the item in my to-do list, it will open the email. I’ve found this to be very convenient when there’s an email that requires action that I can’t address as soon as I’ve read it, but I need to respond to relatively soon. Other features include list categories called projects, prioritization of list items with different-colored flags, recurring list items, project sharing with friends or peers, and sub-tasks. Todoist makes it especially easy to add recurring items to your to-do list, as it is designed to recognize certain phrases as cues to create a recurring item (e.g. “Bowling every Tuesday” will create a list item called “Bowling” every Tuesday until the end of time).

What about you? How do you stay organized? Do you have preferred apps that you use? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Time Management and Lists”

  1. I love Google Keep! I use it to make a shopping list with my fiance so we can share the lists with each other with the collaboration feature. I also really like Notability as a productivity app for note taking and organizing. Thanks for the other app suggestions!

    1. Usually for notes I prefer to handwrite things, so this Notability app looks really great! A good way to integrate handwritten and digital parts of a project. Both of the apps that I wrote about have collaboration features, so you might find them useful too!

  2. Shanique, thanks for posting something a little more productive for people struggling with their time management that my Power Rankings. I’m still using old fashioned Post-It notes to make lists, but these apps do sound really cool. The only other thing I’d add, is that when I’m dealing with several tasks in 1 day, I always start with the easy tasks first. Personal preference, but they give me extra motivation as I can say how productive I’ve been and use that positive energy to get the difficult tasks done. Great post!

    1. If you like Post-It notes, then I think you’d find Google Keep really useful! Each item looks like a Post-It, and you can even make them different colors if you want to color-code things.

      I like to do simple tasks first too! (Or at least quick ones.) They make me feel accomplished. Also, when I have more complex or involved things to accomplish, I’ll break them down into sub-tasks to make the project seem more simple, and to help me track my progress. For example, I’d have an item that says “Grading” and I’ll break it down into “Outlines for section 1”, “Quizzes for Section 2”, etc. It makes me feel like I’m getting stuff done that way.

  3. This is fantastic. Todoist is definitely up my alley. I think I like making lists more than I actually like doing the things on them (resolutions, anyone?), but MAN, it is satisfying to tick off a box. Love an app that lets me do that.

    1. I’m guilty of that too! That’s why I had to “reward” myself for actually getting a certain proportion of the items on my list done…so that I’d do them, lol. I also try to put down mandatory things on my to-do list (like grading, because it has to get done), that way I feel accomplished for getting things done that I needed to get done anyway.

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