Multitasking for the 21st Century Grad Student

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By Laurence Dumouchel
June 15, 2016

The month of May is often a whirlwind! Everyone is busy transitioning from the semester to their summer research (or, for the lucky ones, vacation!). I am preparing for several months of thesis research in Africa and moving out of my apartment while maintaining my regular day-to-day: research, museum work, meetings, etc. It’s hectic!

If there is one thing I’ve learned in grad school it’s the art of multitasking and time management. There is an app for everything nowadays, and even though I am not always the most technologically inclined, I too have turned to technology to stay organized. There are a few staple apps I use almost every day and that have greatly improved my grad school experience. If I can do it, anyone can!

1.     The infamous to-do list

With so many meetings, seminars, events, talks and classes, there are a lot of things to juggle in the life of a grad student. I couldn’t do any of it without my trusty to-do list. After toying around with a few different apps, I finally fell madly in love with OmniFocus, a task management app. But these are not your grandma’s to-do lists. You can set and modify deadlines, classify items by category, “flag” items that are urgent and, best of all, you can sync your list between all your devices. If I suddenly remember something on the bus, I just write it down in OmniFocus on my phone, and it pops up when I open the app on my computer later! The app is a little pricey, but totally worth it for me. Get Omnifocus here or in the App Store (sorry Windows/Android users, Omnifocus is Apple only at the moment – check out Evernote (another favorite), Todoist or Trello).

2.     Taking advantage of long commutes

I like to use the time I spend on buses and trains (and waiting for buses and trains) to catch up on my reading. I’m sure you’ve heard of reading e-books on your phone or tablet, but I actually use an app to read journal articles. Pdf-notes is a free app that allows you to download pdfs, highlight text, and take notes – and it’s much eco-friendlier than printing. Find it in the App Store and have a productive commute!

3.     Boomerang it

What is Boomerang? Well, let’s say you’re working on a research paper at 2 am and need to send it to your advisor, but you hesitate because you don’t want to send an email in the middle of the night. Never happened to you? Me neither. But if you ever find yourself in this situation, you need Boomerang. It lets you to draft the email and schedule it to send at, say, 7 am. Your advisor’s phone doesn’t ping in the middle of the night, and you get to sleep in the next morning! I also use it to schedule meeting reminder emails. Boomerang is an extension of Gmail, so it works with GW’s email addresses. And it’s free! Get it here.

Despite all of this tech help, I still sometimes forget to answer emails and miss the occasional talk. Apps haven’t solved all of my problems, but they do help!