Making the most of your experience: Organising yourself and managing your workload

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Task

Try to write a list of remaining tasks at the end of each day so that you know what needs to be done when you come in the next morning. This will help you to manage deadlines and any capacity requests that subsequently come in.

Notebooks are good for capturing input (e.g. more detailed instructions), but not so good for reminding you what needs to be done and helping you to prioritise tasks. Once you have taken detailed notes, summarise the task(s) deriving from those notes on a shorter to-do list.

Try to break larger tasks down into a series of more manageable tasks. This can help you to better prioritise tasks and keep track of your progress more effectively (whilst also making the overall task seem less daunting). For instance, rather than writing “Prepare presentation”, you could use “Presentation” as a heading, and split this into sub-tasks, for instance: research topic x, find a PowerPoint template, discuss the topic with my supervisor, write a first draft of my speech, work on the PowerPoint slides etc.

Calendar

Use your calendar wisely. Make sure your appointments are all set up with reminders and get in the habit of checking your calendar at the start of each day (and if necessary, the night before) so that you can keep track of how much time you actually have available to carry out tasks. This can help when managing capacity requests and keeping your supervisors informed of your progress.

For example, one morning you may be given a task that you think will take seven hours. If you tell your supervisor you will have it to them seven hours later, then discover that you have a three hour training session late morning, you will end up missing your deadline and messing that supervisor around. This is easy to avoid!

Email filing

Every time you deal with an email, make sure you file it immediately. You should aim to have an inbox that only shows emails that have yet to be dealt with – this way, your inbox serves as a back-up task list. Don’t rely on leaving emails as “unread”, as it is easy to accidentally mark these as read and then forget about them. You are far less likely to miss/forget about an important email if your inbox only contains emails that you have not yet dealt with.

File important emails into folders/sub-folders that will make those emails easy to retrieve at a later stage. You will be surprised how often you are asked to find/resend things for supervisors, so a good filing system can really help. Also, unsubscribe from newsletters that you don’t read, as spam can be very distracting and you will likely otherwise waste ample time having to repeatedly delete/file these emails.

Work log

You may have to provide a record of the work you have done to help with your appraisal and/or may be expected to discuss the work with supervisors. Keep a work log from day 1, as it may be difficult to remember the range of work you have completed 3-6 months later.

Also, keep a record of who you have worked for, as you may need to ask a range of people to provide feedback as part of your appraisal process.