Capturing Information…

April 19, 2008

My first tip for those trying to survive in graduate school is to set up a system that allows you to efficiently and effectively collect all incoming information. Capturing information is going to be crucial to your success as a student. You need to develop a means by which to capture information, process it (make decisions on how/when to do it) and organize it. Capturing incoming information is the first step of survival for grad students and it is essential to keep it as simple as possible.

While there is a host of sources for incoming information (coursework to tackle, research to read, things to grade, emails, phone calls etc…), there are only three means needed to keep this information organized.

1. A Centralized Email address

A few guidelines here…

  • First, have one email that consolidates all your other digital information to one location. I suggest gmail. It can hold an enormous volume of data, allows you to sort mail by tags (categories), filters out spam very well, and it easily allows you to forward information (like your contacts) into an account.
  • Second, close accounts you don’t need or rarely use. You don’t ever realize it, but the more digital inboxes you have (yahoo, hotmail, myspace, facebook, gmail, school accounts, work accounts) the more time you end up wasting everyday simply to gather information.
  • Lastly, limit email as a distraction. This means you turn off the new email arrival notices, and close email down when its not being used. Nothing is worse than working away on a project when “DING” a message arrives. Now, you know deep in your soul that the contents of that new email are not of grave importance, but you have to stop what you are doing to check it. I am not sure what this impulse is, but its up there with other innate/evolutionary skills like finding food and sex. The next thing you know, thirty minutes have gone by and you have completely forgotten what you were working on in the first place. Set email limits for yourself and stick to them. I check my email 4 times a day: in the morning (6am), before lunch (11 am), the end of the workday (6pm) and an hour before bedtime. If it takes 2 minutes or less to respond to an email, go for it. Otherwise put it on your To-Do List (see #3 below)

2. A Physical Inbox.inbox

Have a place for paper versions of incoming information at your desk. I have a small bookshelf with a tray. Big things get stuck on the shelf, paper goes in the tray. Everything is in one spot and everyone that comes near my office (professors, students, administrators, secretaries) know where information is to go. It works well. Whether I am in my office or not, information can still reach me and be kept organized until I am ready to do something with it.

3. A To-D0 Book.moleskine

This bad-boy should somehow be surgically stapled to your body and follow you everywhere. I am pretty frugal, but I suggest buying something that is nicely made (like a moleskine notebook for example) and that you enjoy using. Also, find a nice pen to accompany the book. Anytime you have something come up (teaching, writing, reading, lab meetings, service…) write it in your to-do book.

The last thing I want to mention is that you should go through all the information you have captured each day. Check your emails, the physical inbox and your to-do list.

So thats capture in a nutshell. Next time, we will discuss what to do with all of that information. Feel free to add in your suggestions.

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One Response to “Capturing Information…”


  1. […] Grad School Survival Weblog wrote an interesting post today on Capturing Information…Here’s a quick excerptYou don’t ever realize it, but the more digital inboxes you have (yahoo, hotmail, myspace, facebook, gmail, school accounts, work accounts)… […]


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