The Race to the Publish Line – How to Set a Pace for Grad School

August 14, 2013 | Posted by Fraser Tan in Grad School Help |
Word Notebook layout

Organizing with Word Notebook layout. Tip: each line is drag-and-drop-able!

I don’t believe there is a person out there who can’t be organized. They may not color code their shoes (who does that anyway? *ahem*), but everyone can manage their time efficiently. Now, this doesn’t mean everyone has to work from 9 to 5; different strokes for different folks. But knowing how you work, why you work, and what you’ve got coming up can help you stay on top of the myriad things grad school – and life! – throws at you.

Keeping track of everything you need to do will quickly outstrip your ability to remember it all. Writing everything down is the best way to never forget anything – and never worry you’ve forgotten something!

In grad school, I kept track of all my daily tasks in a Word document, using the Notebook layout. I set each week as a tab, and each day as a header within the tab. I kept track of all my tasks for the day: mouse work (such as colony maintenance), basic experiments (run genotyping PCR, run PCRs out on gel, 3-5: confocal imaging time), planning tasks (check for sufficient NaCl), events (12 noon: Lab Meeting, 3 pm: Coffee with Sara). I broke up multi day tasks into their daily components, so I wouldn’t forget to do things as required. Each line in the Notebook layout is drag-and-drop-able, so if I didn’t get to something one day, I simply dragged it to the next day. However, I did have to keep up with adding my tasks manually, which made the repetitive ones annoying. In the end, though, it was very easy for me to see everything on my plate for that day and week, and to adjust items around to balance my work load.

Asana: Tasks by date

Asana: Tasks by date

I’ve seen some very innovative ways of keeping track of your tasks; my favorite was a friend who wrote everything on post-it notes, which she then stuck to the shelf above her bench like a short-order cook’s orders. My post-it notes would have gotten hopelessly mixed up, but it worked for her like a charm. I borrowed her idea – but I posted my most used buffer recipes (and which plasmids carried which resistances).

Trello lists

Trello lists

Now, a good old pen and paper (or Word Notebook layout) is a fine solution, but in this age of technology, there are several digital alternatives with added features, such a repeating tasks and reminders.

There are several online task management tools; my two favorite are Asana and Trello. Asana’s interface is intuitive and easy to learn, while Trello’s layout is easy to interpret for the visually oriented (like myself). I currently use both (one for work, one for personal stuff). Both offer mobile apps, email reminders, repeating tasks, and subtasks (although only Asana lets you assign different due dates to your subtasks). Multiple people can access projects and see their associated tasks, making close collaborations easy to track. Strong search features, file attachment and integration with Dropbox and Google Drive also make Trello and Asana very powerful tools. And, most importantly, both Asana and Trello are free!

Once you’re set up, a quick glance in the morning shows you the shape of your day, and what you need to get done when. A final glance at the end of the day tells you what to expect for tomorrow. And, hopefully, you don’t get swamped as often!


About the author

Fraser supports our customers on Science Exchange. She completed her graduate and postdoctoral studies at Stanford University and served on the Marketing and Development Team for before joining Science Exchange..

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