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Color Coding is Your Friend

Today we have a second post on academic schedules, this time by Karra Shimabukuro. Karra is a PhD student in British and Irish Literary Studies at the University of New Mexico. Her research focuses on how folkloric characters are represented in literature and popular culture- specifically the devil.

She regularly writes reviews for The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of Folklore Research Review and is a regular presenter at the Popular Culture National Conference. Her most recent work deals with the liminal space of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the paratext of its board game in Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, and Freddy Krueger folkloric roots as a bogeyman in Studies in Popular Culture.

I am a second year PhD student in English at the University of New Mexico. I am finishing my course work this semester, and taking my comprehensive exams in February. I have a TAship and teach two classes as part of that. My research focuses on the folkloric character of the devil in medieval and early modern literature as well as popular culture.

I was asked to meet with new TAs last week, to come speak and share with them some of my organizational tips. I came armed with show and tell items- my printed out schedule and my paper planner.

I shared with them the following tips that work for me:

  • Schedule everything- from personal time to personal projects. Grad school is busy and if you don’t schedule it, it probably won’t happen.
  • Color code items so you can tell at a glance which class you’re looking at (either classes you’re taking or classes you’re teaching).
  • It does not matter HOW you organize your life, it only matters that you DO.

I am a visual person, so I my desk area reflects this. I have my color coded weekly schedule above my desk so I have it for constant reference. My folders and papers for each class are color coded the same as on the schedule. The weekly schedule also has clear blocks as to when I leave home to commute to campus, and office hours. I have a written on copy in my campus office that also has all the office hours of my professors on it so I know when they are available. You’ll notice that my weekly schedule also has when grocery shopping gets done. And laundry. And house cleaning. These things are all important to surviving grad school or academic life.

Since I’m in the middle of writing my dissertation, I have an entire day blocked out for working on it. I don’t do any other work that day. I am either chained to my desk writing, or I have that day blocked off to meet with committee members about it. This ensures I have the time for this work, but is also a safeguard. I may sit at my desk all Friday morning and just stare at the screen, lost. I may knock out my goal of five pages per day. Either way I have the time set aside. If I just sit and stare and am not productive, I feel guilty, which is a great motivator.

I’m a huge tech geek and a use a lot of technology in my classroom. But for my own personal organization I have to have something that I can physically manipulate, so I have a paper planner that I live and die by that sits on my desk. It doesn’t leave my desk it’s so valuable. I also color code this- the same as my classes, plus colors for personal and to do. EVERYTHING goes on this- due dates for classes, conference dates, and back-tracking work I have to do in order to make deadlines. If an event falls when I’m away from this calendar, like a meeting with a student or professor, I put it in Google calendar so I get an email reminder to make sure so I don’t miss an appointment.

When I work from home, I get up at 6am because I have a dog. I set the coffee maker, and we go for our walk first thing. I feed her and then sit down with my coffee at the computer. No matter what day of the week this ensures I get at least a couple of hours of work finished before my day officially starts. Usually this includes responding to students, managing email, and checking in on social media. On days when I don’t have to go to campus until later in the day, I spend all day at my computer working. It may be short projects like this article, or a book review, but I try to check at least one thing off my to do list every day. This not only helps me feel like I accomplished something, but also frees up other days for longer projects that require more time.

This schedule may seem nuts and overplanned, but it means that on days I have class, once I get home I’m finished. I don’t have to work and can instead walk my dog, read a non-academic book or just relax. On weekends, since I do get up so early, it means I can stop work at 3p, ensuring I have personal time as well. This balance allows me to manage my workload and do it without feeling stressed. Because everything is scheduled I know everything will get done. Knowing that lowers my stress and enables me to relax and have outside interests.

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