Organizing and planning are two of my greatest strengths. I can see the “big picture” and break it down into the necessary tasks to bring it to life. These skills were particularly helpful when I was pursuing my doctorate.
Think this is no big deal? Just remember that a significant percentage of doctoral students never complete their Ph.D. programs. The letters Ph.D. are more impressive than ABD (all but dissertation). The proof is in the pudding – and the fact that I completed my doctoral degree program within 5.5 years.
Following are 10 organizational tips that have proven effective for me and others who have embraced them:
- Invest in an external hard drive and online storage to back up your data and drafts of your work. It takes only one second for you to lose all of your hard work. Also, flash drives are not as reliable as you might think.
- Determine the components of your literature review and use them to categorize your articles and books. Use labels if possible, and refrain from using post-it notes. This method will save you a lot of time when you develop the outline for the literature review and actually write it.
- Use a 24-slot compartment literature organizer to sort and store your articles and books by the authors’ last names, marking each slot with a letter of the alphabet. Double up on the less-frequently used letters, such as X and Z. You will frequently refer to your articles and books throughout the entire writing and research process, and quickly locating an article by Anderson each time you need it will save you a lot of time.
- Develop a checklist and timeline and stick with them. Use a table with five columns: Task Number, Task, Person Responsible, Deadline and Status (Done, In Progress, Not Applicable). This method will keep you and your dissertation committee chair on track.
- Schedule regular meetings with your dissertation committee chair. Determine if you will meet weekly, biweekly or monthly and determine if you will meet in person or via telephone. This method will give you regularly scheduled dates and times to ask questions and allow you to better manage your calendar and your time. Most important, it will keep the dissertation on your radar screen and help you focus.
- Tape post-it notes to the covers of your borrowed books to remind you who loaned them to you. Many people will be willing to help you during the process and will loan you essential reference materials. However, you need to return the materials after you use them – to the correct owners.
- Develop a file name convention for your documents to help maintain all of your drafts. Include the date in the file name (two digits for the month, two digits for the day and the last two digits of the year, for example, 020711). Refrain from saving over your drafts – instead save them with new file names (such as Linnie Carter – Chapter 1 – 020711 and Linnie Carter – Chapter 1 – 020711). You will find that, for example, information you may delete from draft 1 of chapter 1 may be needed for draft 3 of chapter 1. Saving all of your drafts with a file name that includes the date will help you to find the needed information quickly.
- Save your e-mail messages (and attachments) to and from your committee chair. Ask him or her to do the same. If one of you experiences a loss of data, the other one can “fill in the blanks” for the other one. Also, saving your e-mail attachments is another (though less reliable) way of backing up your data.
- Work with your dissertation committee chair to develop a process to submit and receive changes to your drafts and follow the process. Determine if you or your chair will mark changes in a different color or use tracked changes. Developing, discussing and following a process will save you both time and keep you on the same page – literally and figuratively.
- Keep all of your printed proposal and dissertation drafts. Purchase inexpensive tote bags; mark them as chapter 1, chapter 2 and so on; and store your drafts in these bags. Technology sometimes fails, so the printed documents will serve as yet another back-up. Also, being organized will save you time, because you will be able to quickly locate the first draft of chapter 1 – no matter how long ago you wrote it. Finally, those you live with will be grateful for the orderly manner in which you store the printed documents.
The best aspect of these tips is that they can be modified for any large project. What are some of your organizational tips?