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Tools for Staying Organized

A woman looks at her calendar on her computer.

Staying focused, prioritizing to-do lists, and being organized are essential skills for success. Throughout the years, I’ve tried out many apps and extensions to stay organized and enhance my productivity. Here’s a list of my favorite tools that I use throughout my workday.

For email: Spark

I started using Spark at the beginning of my graduate school career, and after four years, I’m still using it! Spark allows for email messages from multiple accounts to be seen in one shared inbox, which means I don’t have to check three different accounts to see all my emails. My favorite Spark feature is the “send later” option, which lets me schedule emails to be sent at certain times. Did you just remember to remind a collaborator about something, but it’s 4 p.m. on a Friday? Simply schedule the email to send on Monday at 9 a.m. Other nice features include follow-up reminders (when a recipient doesn’t reply to your email by a certain date, this will remind you to send a follow-up), and quick-replies (preset replies that you can customize).

For keeping track of projects: Todoist

Todoist is exactly what it sounds like: an application for making to-do lists. As a graduate student, I have many different projects to juggle and want to ensure that I keep moving forward on each one. In Todoist, tasks are categorized by project, which makes it easy to visualize what projects might deserve a little more attention than you’re currently giving them. For big assignments that seem insurmountable, Todoist has the option of creating multiple subtasks, breaking your work down into smaller bites. Before using Todoist, I tried using Trello for staying organized, but it didn’t stick — I spent more time organizing my Trello boards and making them look pretty than actually doing work.

For staying focused: Stayfocusd

This Google Chrome extension allows you to set a list of “blocked” websites. Each day, you’ll have 10 minutes to spend on those websites. Once your time runs out, that’s it — those websites will now redirect you to a page that says, “Shouldn’t you be working?” I’m a big fan of the “Nuclear” option, which completely blocks certain websites for a set number of hours. I have also tried using the Pomodoro technique, which calls for 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a five-minute break. Unfortunately, it was just too easy for my five-minute breaks to turn into half an hour of scrolling through social media, and I turned toward using Stayfocusd instead.

For scheduling meetings: When2Meet

When2Meet is a handy scheduler that looks a lot like a calendar. There’s no sign-in required, and participants simply drag their cursor through a block of time to highlight their availabilities. In my opinion, When2Meet is much easier and more visually appealing than Doodle polls.

For keeping track of papers: Zotero and Mendeley

These two reference managers make keeping track of references and papers a piece of cake. You can sort different papers into different projects, and when it comes time to write a paper, both have Microsoft Word plugins that allow for easy citing and bibliography generation. Although I started out with Mendeley, I switched to Zotero in order to use the same reference manager as my adviser. However, I wouldn’t particularly recommend one over the other, as I had great experiences with both of them.

Finding good tools for staying organized and productive is crucial to success at all stages of your professional career. However, the most effective organizational tool will vary from person to person. For example, though Trello and Pomodoro weren’t really for me, I know many people who love using those two tools. That said, if one of the tools recommended here doesn’t work for you, try another until you find one that suits your needs.

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