How to Be Organized When You’re a Disorganized Disaster

Welcome to #STEMSupport, a bi-monthly article that will tackle common questions and issues others may face within STEM. Today’s article will talk about one of the most important first steps you can take when you start any new job, degree, or project: getting organized!

Let me start this off with a confession: I am absolutely the wrong person to be writing about being organized.

That being said, since I started my PhD, I’ve been trying to make strides towards being better organized. And although I’m still not the most organized person in postgraduate studies (I believe that title goes to my dear friend in Sweden who has multiple drawers of washi tape. Yes…multiple drawers.), I have definitely noticed a difference in my productivity in the office!

If anything, I think getting organized might be a good first step towards any new job, degree, or project that you might be a bit intimidated by, so here are a few tips on getting started to be a more organized person.

Well, at least more organized externally. I’m definitely still a mess inside.

  • Understand What Kind of Student/Worker You Are 

    This is, by far, the most important advice I can give! No one learns or works the same, so I won’t be providing a list of “Must Have Items” to be organized. It will definitely vary for everyone. For example, I find it difficult to read papers off of my computer – I much rather print out articles so I can highlight and annotate it. So in my case, I wanted to get binders, highlighters, and Post-It notes to take notes and organize all of my reading. I also have a better chance of remembering things if it gets written down, so I also require more notebooks, notepads, and planners to keep myself on task with scheduled appointments. Consider how you work the best and tailor your organization methods to it. 

  • Make a “Task Shopping List” 

    If you’re anything like me, you might worry that investing in a load of stationary and organizers might be a bit…well, overwhelming. In order to narrow things down to the absolute necessities, I find that making a list of daily tasks that you’ll need to do as part of your work and then match each task with the necessary tools you need will streamline the process of organizing and keep you from buying too much. It also keeps you focused on the key tasks for your work! For example, if I have to work on a writing project, you will need the necessary writing supplies, like pens or highlighters to edit your draft printouts. You can also use a lot of online features or apps for your organizing needs, in case you aren’t the printout everything kind. Evernote is a great tool for building task lists, writing, and for taking project specific notes.

  • Divide and Label the Space 

    I am definitely guilty of creating “junk drawers” where I shove absolutely all of my things into, never to be seen again. One of the best ways to combat this sort of disorganization is to simply designate areas for certain things. For example, I have a drawer just for notepads and Post-It notes, another one for all of my binders of notes, etc. This keeps me from designating a junk drawer that will ultimately become a magnet for the disorder.

    The same thing applies to email folders, if you have a bizzilion emails and no separate folders, you will always be overwhelmed. To stay organized in your mailbox, create separate folders for people, projects or departments. It is extremely helpful when you are looking for a specific email. Another good tip is to have a folder or a document nomenclature system, for example, you can always name your document: Initials_Project_Document_Date. You can modify this to however it makes sense to you. This will avoid having a cluttered desktop or email account. 


  • Don’t Be Afraid to Get Sparkly Folders with Cats 

    I’m not terribly proud to say this, but one of the best ways I motivated myself to get organized? By looking at pretty stationary. It works though! My desk looks quite nice with little bottles full of pens and paperclips, and it keeps them organized. If you find yourself unmotivated to organize your workspace, think of it as redecorating your desk. Take a trip to your favorite stationery/ office supplies store and find the cutest things you can find. The following image is an inspiration for a super cute desk (only if you like pink)! 

    Finally staying organized is a gradual habit, so be patient and experiment with the above tips! You’ll be surprised how organized you’ll be in just a few months.


Super cute desk inspiration. Image Courtesy Pinterest.

Thanks for reading! If you have suggestions for topics you would like #STEMSupport to cover in the future, feel free to contact me on Twitter @ArchaeologyFitz. I also write at animalarchaeology.wordpress.com.

Read more about Alex and #STEMSupport in her intro post by clicking here.


For more great tips read this as well:



1 thought on “How to Be Organized When You’re a Disorganized Disaster”

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