3 Steps to Gain More Time as a Student

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Written by Tami Moser Ph.D., DBH

I’m a professional learner and professor. After spending 15 years in the corporate world, I moved to the crazy world of Higher Education. My learning journey resulted in a Ph.D., DBH, and a MPA. My free time is spent as a coach for working professionals and academics looking to expand their careers through higher education.

July 22, 2020

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin

Organization supports productivity and productivity spurs success. This statement is true in life. But, this is especially true for those pursuing advanced education. I have seen a number of doctoral learners lose momentum and even end up “ABD” (all but dissertation). These were intelligent people, but the lack of organization negatively impacted their ability to produce to the level necessary to finish a dissertation.

Some of you may be very organized, and developing an organization system is not stressful for you to tackle. Still, others may be having a mini-stroke ? even thinking about creating an organization system. I understand the pain and it is not uncommon to struggle in this area. The reality is that the earlier you start, the better off you will be throughout your program. Organization minimizes stress and increases your ability to focus on getting the work done. I’m sure that you understand the need, but getting a design in place is the stumbling block. The goal of this article is to help you start to think about an organization system that will support success in your program. This will not look the same for everyone, so you have some choices to make.

Step 1: Develop a Systematic way to Think about Organizing

Deciding on a system that creates a way in which to think about organizing material is a crucial first step. I recommend the PARA Method by Tiago Forte. His method is focused on organizing digital information, but I find this a useful approach for my life. I take some liberties with my organization system, but his method is the backbone of my system. In a nutshell, PARA organizes based on Project (P), Areas (A), Resources (R), and Archives (A). I add an additional component ⇢ Action Items.

Think of your program (eg DBA) as an Area. You might have Areas for school, work, and personal life. Areas help create buckets where projects and resources live. An example of a Project would be a class (eg Intro to Philosophy). This structure translates into your filing system or organization database. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Think About:

  • How do you currently have material organized on your computer? HINT: If you have a desktop full of icons (files, documents, etc.), you have a problem.
  • Think about an assignment you completed in the past (work, school). Can you lay your hands on that in under 1 minute?
  • If no, then your system is not well designed. I would even venture to say that you should be able to get to that information within 20 seconds.

Take Action

Before moving on write down your Areas and Projects. Think of projects as items that have a start and end date, but are made up of multiple action items.

The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information – Forte Labs

Step 2: Choose How ?

You have multiple ways that you can create your structure.

Option 1: A simple file structure can be developed in DropBox or Google Drive. The first level of folders would be the Area. Within each area, there would be a series of files for each project.

This is a simple structure but does keep everything organized. This is not an all-in-one solution. A simple file structure needs to be coupled with project management + task management solution. We will talk about that in another post! You could get a head start by watching this video.

Take Action

  • Find your Degree Plan. The degree plan has a list of all of the courses you need to take for your program.
  • Use the degree plan to create your project level folders.
  • This gets your structure in place with the basic folders needed for classes.

Option 2: This is a more complex option. Set up a system with all of your material stored in one place and connected through relational databases. Now, this sounds very difficult. But wait! There is an easy way to get this started and that is through the use of Notion. I use this software for my life. I have tried a multitude of project and task management software to keep organized while completing both of my doctorate degrees. I wish Notion had been around when I was working on those degrees. What I love about Notion is that it can handle a PARA management structure, create connections between everything you do, provide an easy search function, and surface information easily.

Does it take work? ??‍♀️ Absolutely! Your investment in time is at the beginning. Getting the system setup and designed the way that works for you takes some thought and time. However, the payoff is huge. The Notion community is wonderful and there is help for structuring your system. In fact, I have a series of videos focused on setting up a class structure with templates and build-along videos. There is a learning curve, but I truly believe anyone can get a system working in Notion. You can use the free templates and tutorials as your starting point. In addition, I will be releasing a course that walks you through building a system for managing your degree.

Step 3: Make a Decision and Get Started‼️

Don’t wait until the semester starts or delay because you are already in the program. Decide on how you want to get organized and get started creating the structure. Some of you may have a mess to clean up. In other words, you have completed one class, four classes, or are at the dissertation stage. That’s okay. Earlier is better, but it is never too late to get organized, increase productivity, reduce your stress, and gain some valuable time.

So, now what? Take Action:

  • Choose a direction – test out the system.
  • If you are going with Option 1, start looking at project + task management software that crosses platforms. Watch the video: Organization Software
  • If you are going with Option 2, start exploring. Notion pro is free for students. Download it now.

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