Tips for getting organized for the new semester

The first week of the semester is a great time to set up a project management system for yourself before the chaos of actual coursework. In my grad school experience thus far, the first week usually consists of introducing yourself to your classmates, checking the syllabi, reading up on your professor, finding textbooks and reading those first couple of introductory chapters. Taking some time to organize your materials and make a plan for how you plan to approach the coursework, in my opinion, helps you get more out of the class and be less stressed along the way.

Project management is defined by Association of Project Management  as “the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve specific project objectives according to the project acceptance criteria within agreed parameters.” In the context of graduate school I think of it as the tasks and methods used to keep track of your materials, coursework and deadlines. Jargon aside, how are you going to organize yourself as a student and move projects along throughout the semester?

There are so many organizational hacks out there – planners, list-making applications, digital or paper calendars – that it is really about finding what works best for your learning style. Particularly in online MLS programs, there is a need to stay on top of things and build personal accountability. As each semester goes on, I pick up a couple more tricks for a system that works for me. These tips are pretty straightforward but hopefully they help in some small way. 

At the beginning of the semester, review the syllabi and course outline to track down major assignment due dates. I like to build these into their own individual documents from the beginning (Ex: “Discussion Posts – due each week” or “Midterm Paper – due Oct 1”) and link them into my own personal tracker, a Google doc called “Course Master.” Like your own personal syllabi, this course master document can easily be referenced at a glance. Looking over a semester’s worth of assignments all at once can be overwhelming but taking time that first week to build out the structures that will support you the rest of the course is worth it. 

  • Establish a routine of doing project management tasks at the same time every week. I like to sit down on Sunday nights and write out a schedule of homework, work, and personal responsibilities for the week, including times when these will get done. Giving yourself a set time for when you like to focus on this task is called time blocking and can help you stick to what you’ve prioritized. 
  • Check your program’s Open Educational Resources (OER) policy and take advantage of free e-textbooks if you can. Here is an example from Emporia State University that links to free resources. Bookmark your University library’s catalog and even the books themselves. Downloading the readings you need for the week and saving it to your Google Drive or hard drive for offline use can also be handy.
  • Bookmark frequently visited sites. Across semesters it is useful to have the University’s library research guides and learning tools like Zoom, Google calendar, APA style guides, learning management system (Canvas for me). Each semester I go in and bookmark that semester’s syllabi and any usual subject specific references, like Programming Librarian for ideas and inspiration, WebJunction for free webinars, and Colorado Virtual Library for local news across disciplines. 
  • A helpful tip that I received early on, and am passing along now here, is to frequently refer back to the capstone requirements as you go through each semester. In my program we are required to build a digital portfolio using assignments that match up with program outcomes and library values. If you can stay on top of which assignments are important for the big picture as you go along, hopefully there won’t be as much scrambling towards the end.

There is no manual on how to do well in library school. Project management might seem like a buzzword, but how you handle all of these juggling plates now is representative of your future career aptitude. I have found that spending extra time in the beginning of the semester to build a system helps throughout. There are always feelings of overwhelm and wondering how I can get it all done when looking at everything all at once, but getting organized in the beginning sets the tone for me by outlining what needs to get done when and how that fits with my other commitments. What are some organizational hacks you use to balance work-life-school?

“With organization comes empowerment.” – Lynda Peterson, author of Healing Journey

Taylor Worsham is from Gunnison, Colorado and is currently pursuing her MLS from Emporia State University’s distance program. After studying communication and political science for her undergrad at Western Colorado University, she worked briefly in marketing communications before finding her true calling in working in public libraries. Her current position as an adult services coordinator for Gunnison County Libraries focuses on public relations, programming, collection development, and circulation. In the future she hopes to expand her career to include more outreach and leadership duties. Outside of work and school, Taylor enjoys spending as much time outside as possible, traveling, photography, and reading contemporary fiction.

Image credit: Savanevich Vikvar

3 replies

  1. Thanks! I really needed to see this. This is my first semester of grad school in a 100% asynchronous online environment. I just received my bachelor’s degree in May, so I haven’t been away from school, other than not starting college until I was 45. My classes started this past Thursday and it seems like all I have done so far is shuffle papers on my desk. Currently working on a plan and will be looking into the Google doc you referenced.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much @trisha4012. I glad you found some of these tips useful and I wish you the best with this upcoming semester.


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