notebooks with a pen on top, next to a laptop with a cup of tea next to them

Time to get organised!

Starting university for the first time can be overwhelming. Even if you are in your second or third year, you’re still likely to have lots of information and materials coming your way. From your courses, modules and reading lists to sources, societies and sports (then throw in your personal life and perhaps a part-time job on top of this) it’s no surprise managing your work-life balance can be difficult!  

Being organised is a core skill you will need to develop and improve upon throughout university and your future career! As a PhD student in now my 8th year at university, I have tried and tested many organisational methods to help me excel in my studies, whilst having a good, healthy personal life balance, including a job!  Here, I share just a few ways I keep on top of my studies…

notebooks with a pen on top, next to a laptop with a cup of tea next to them

Keep an academic diary

Pop all your important dates (deadlines, meetings, lectures, labs, workshops, etc.) into a dedicated diary or planner. Personal life apps and events are useful to put in here too. Having all your important dates in one place is extremely helpful! 

Time block your calendar

Block out all your time on a Google Calendar – how long are you allowing yourself for tasks? Are you being realistic? There are lots of helpful YouTube videos on this! 

Set notifications

I set notifications on my Google Calendar to give me notice when, for example, I have an upcoming doctor’s appointment, when my time allocated to working on a chapter of my PhD is over, or when it is time to move on to another task. Setting notifications can help remind you to either get organised, when you need to be somewhere at a specific time, or for time-allocated working. It also helps to minimize distractions. 

Keep a daily list pad

Every morning write a to-do list for that day starting with your most important to least important tasks and events. Prioritise, and know that it is ok if you do not get everything done! There is always tomorrow. 

Make a done list

Write tasks that you have completed at the end of the day. Even the smallest task – write it down. It will help you feel accomplished and will show you how much you have done, even when it feels like you have not done much at all!

Use USB and cloud organisation

Back everything up! Read that again. Organise all your documents into easily accessible folders. No more ‘doc 1’, ‘doc 222’. Name your files exactly what they are to help you find them! 

Label your physical folders

For any loose documents, booklets, etc. Ensure you have a good filing system for you to easily find and refer to! 

Consider your food prep

Why not try and save money by preparing a packed lunch to take to university? You can make this the night before and leave in the fridge – although make sure you don’t forget it! Instagram & Tik Tok have some tasty and cheap, recipe ideas for packed lunches. I would also advise a cooler bag to keep your food chilled! 

Pack your bag every night

Clean your bag out and re-pack for the next day. 

Learning how to organise yourself is a process!  

Student Advisor Liz, wearing a check dress and glasses, smiling at the camera

It is important to remember that everyone is different, so you’ll want to take the time to experiment with the methods that work for you. There is no right or wrong way to organise your studies. My organisational skills are by no means perfect, but having at least a few strategies in place is better than doing nothing at all!

Why not have a go at implementing some of my suggestions? I hope they work for you, too!  

To find out more about being organised at university, discover UniSkills’ Getting Organised Pages. You can also book a UniSkills workshop or attend a 1-1 support session, which they offer both in Catalyst and online.

By Elizabeth Devine