Student Tips for Staying Organized During the Summer Months

by Brenda Straka

Last month, our Student Members offered advice for staying productive during the summer. This month they share tips on how to keep themselves organized in order to make the most of their summer break.

Do you have any tips on how to organize your time to work more efficiently (so you can also get to enjoy the summer some too!)?

Start with a plan

  • Before finals start in the spring semester, come up with the key projects you'd like to work on (e.g. finish writing a manuscript, read that backlog of articles, work out the details of that study, etc.) With clear objectives, you can then set aside some time every day to do something fun. Fewer meetings and a quieter department mean more time for you! Use those extra hours to do something outside.
  • At the beginning of the summer, I do a lot of debriefing from the year and create a variety of to-do lists. I clean off my desk, clean out my inbox, and get everything organized before I start working on anything in-depth. I identify two or three major writing projects that I would like to complete before the end of the summer, and one project that I'd like to explore through research and brainstorming. I try to make sure I'm working a bit on both every day.
  • I identify end-of-summer goals and break those down into 1-month goals. At the beginning of each month, I make 1-week goals for each week of the month, and every day I make sure I have tasks on my to-do list that are helping me achieve my 1-week goal. Part of this process is not being too ambitious with your time, so that you are regularly meeting your goals and feel as if you are making progress.

Give yourself deadlines

  • Put a big deadline in the middle of the summer. That way, the first half of your summer will be productive. Don't put a deadline at the end of summer. It will be so far off that you will slack at the beginning, whilst stressful enough that you will never really enjoy it!
  • Set deadlines with your adviser and keep the big picture in mind. How long does it take to get published? Do you have to teach during the semester? It's time to write and plan fall semester studies.

Be judicious with your time

  • I keep strict summer work hours — I don’t work weekends, and I don’t work weekdays after 5pm. Those times and days are reserved for other parts of my life.
  • Set a few days during the week (in advance) to be days off.
  • I set myself two tasks for each day; I am allowed to do only those two things. When those things are done, I'm done for the day, whether it's 10 am or 5 pm. When you only pick two things to do each day, you tend to pick wisely. (I usually set my tasks for the week on Monday, although of course that may change throughout the week as things come up). What it makes clear is the cost of doing X instead of Y. If Y and Z are my two things for the day, and I do X instead, I have to move Y to tomorrow. That sucks.
  • Set a routine and stick by the routine.
  • Close your office door and turn off your email during dedicated data analysis or writing time. Do not let the impending doom of other projects and tasks prevent you from working on the current project or task.
  • Work with a stopwatch to quantify how long you spend on tasks.
  • Schedule specific time slots for email and close your email program otherwise.
  • Take social media and email off your phone!
  • Decide what proportion of time you want to spend on literature, data analysis, writing, supervision, and all other areas of work. Track how much time you actually spend in each area. Use that information to shift your priorities if necessary!
  • Collaborate and spread your research load. If data analysis takes too much time, bring someone on as a co-author to analyze and write the results section. We all have strengths and weaknesses in the research process. Use collaborators to balance these and focus on the parts you enjoy doing. If teaching, apply to co-teach a course. This provides teaching experience with half the necessary effort of course prep. Next time you teach, you can prep the other half. Don't prep from scratch. Use previous instructors’ slides as a framework.
  • Set realistic goals. We are all guilty of creating giant to-do lists and then beating ourselves up for not tackling the lists. Know that you are going to be balancing work time with summer activities.

Still keep a schedule

  • I make sure to work when I know I'm most productive. For me, it is the morning. As difficult as it is, I continue to get up early throughout the summer to make sure I get some work done so that I have time to enjoy activities in the afternoons.
  • I try to schedule work days earlier in the week. If I've accomplished my goals - I take time to enjoy my summer and relax a bit. Taking care of yourself is just as important as being productive, and summer is the best time to catch up on that self-care.

Any additional comments, advice, or tips?

Tips for motivations

  • If you are struggling with motivation, get a team together for some "working time" or "writing time." Keep each other accountable for getting something done. Even one other person who is working helps inspire you sometimes!
  • I use the music service Focus@Will to boost my productivity. It provides music that interferes less with your verbal processing. You can choose different intensities and styles, and there are separate channels for individuals with ADHD.


  • Take time to relax and regroup so you are focused and energized when the Fall semester starts. This is a great opportunity to focus on what you think needs improvement and to develop your strengths! But don't let yourself burn out either!
  • Take a vacation or trip -  a few weeks without working - but try not to lose the edge.
  • Be sure to give yourself time to rest. My policy during the summer is that I wake up when I wake up, and I go to work when I wake up. I don't set an alarm. Typically, the first few weeks I'm not getting to work until noon, but as the summer goes on I get rested and start getting in by 9 (like I do during the school year).
  • Enjoying the sun and warm weather is a necessity. We should not feel guilty about not getting enough done in the summer!