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Being organised: a Practical Guide

Being organised

How to manage your time effectively and prioritise tasks.

Being organised : a Practical Guide

On this guide we've brought together some tips on how to find the right ways of being organised for you. On this page we'll open with some broad principles of organisation generally, and then we'll look at specific aspects:

Organising your files

The last thing you want is to be spending half your time looking for the right file, or to lose that crucial file near a deadline. Here are some tips for using IT effectively to manage your files:

Tips for managing files

  • Give sensible names.
    Don't name files 'Copy of copy of second draft 5'. Give files and folders names that make sense and can form a logical path if needed. Use dates for drafts so it is clear exactly where they fit into your writing process. If you create notes for different texts or chapters, make sure you can link that file to the text without having to open it, by using a relevant name.
  • Back up your work.
    You don't want to lose files, whether notes or drafts or data, so make sure you always back up your work. Using a cloud storage system like Google Drive (which you have access to through your University Google account) also makes it easier to share work with others and access your files from different devices and locations.
  • Save in the right place
    Maybe it's easy to save everything on your Desktop or in your Downloads folder, but this won't make life any easier in the future when you're looking for files. Downloading a useful PDF? Put it in a useful folder and rename it to make sure you know what it is. Need to access a draft on the go? Don't email it to yourself, upload it to Google Drive or another cloud storage system so you can find and access it more easily now and in the future.
  • Manage your research data.
    If you're going to be generating research data, you need to know how you're storing and managing it. What is research data management?

Organising reading material

Reading material doesn't just need to be organised on a bookshelf (though there are plenty of arguments to be had about how you should organise books on a bookshelf). You need to keep anything you're reading or consulting organised in a systematic way that will allow you to retrieve that material if you need to refer to it again, cite it, or use it as a reference.

As well as keeping track of any physical or digital books you read, you'll want to ensure you know which articles and web pages you use and how to find them again. If you download PDFs of journal articles, make sure you don't just leave them all in your Downloads folder with a name like 'downloaded_pdf_768' — instead organise them in a folder with useful filenames for easy location. Keep track of website URLs and when you accessed them (as websites can change) - you could even get the Wayback Machine to capture a page if you know you might need that specific version of the page again.

For more tips on keeping on top of your reading, see the Managing your reading guide:

Collaborative organisation

Organisation isn't just about your own work. Often you have to communicate and collaborate with other people, using tools like email, instant messaging, and collaborative applications.

These can be difficult to organise and keep on top of, so we'll take a look at some tips for staying organised when collaborating and communicating.

Keeping in touch and managing email

There are so many tools we use for keeping in touch with people digitally, but sometimes it can be hard finding the right way of contacting the right person, or managing work-related notifications.

Email is a vital tool in the modern world, but it can also be one of the biggest sources of stress! Here's a few suggestions for ways to combat that stress:

  • Check email at specific times, rather than being distracted by every new email.
  • Use labels or folders to move emails out of your 'inbox' view, but still keep them for later.
  • If you have loads of old unread emails, go through and deleting them in batches to clear your inbox (and have a less imposing number of unread emails).
  • Use a filter in Gmail to mark particular emails (such as those from a particular person) as important, or star them. You can also change your inbox layout in Gmail so that starred or important emails appear at the top. Then you'll only see ones you really need to right away, and can check others when you have time.

Video calling is very useful, especially when researching remotely. The University has access to a range of video conferencing tools. You can set up a Zoom or Google Meet meeting easily to communicate with anyone you need to, and you can also do things like screen sharing if you need to work on research together remotely.

Collaborating digitally

Many digital tools these days have been designed with synchronous (i.e. at the same time) collaboration in mind. This makes it easier to work with other people, or share your work for feedback with others.

Your University Google account will give you access to the range of Google Apps that have collaborative functionality, such as Google Docs and Google Sheets. Our Google Workspace guide has ideas for how you can use these effectively.

Organise yourself

Need some help getting organised? We showcase a selection of digital tools and apps that can help you keep on top of your to-do list, manage your time, and stayed focused.

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