Some of my favorite things to stay focused, productive and motivated in graduate school. |


I am in my fifth and FINAL year of graduate school. It’s crazy to think that this has been my life for the past five years – juggling assignments, work, reading, research papers, group meetings, confusing homework, all of it – and in under six months it will be over. And I will take a deep breath, a long nap and give thanks for making it through. But until then, focus and motivation is essential. And to do that I need some of my favorite tools to stay productive and get assignments done, little by little. This list is certainly not exhaustive but as we kick off a new year and new semester of school, these are the five essentials I turn to.

  1. My Favorite Planner
    Graduate School Essentials |

    As much as I love technology and see great use for it in most areas of my life, I am still a fan of a paper planner and to do list. This is my second year using the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley and it is by far my favorite tool for organizing my day and my to do list. Most stuff initially gets placed on iCal (that syncs with my husbands calendar as well) but then every Sunday night I sit down with my planner, my syllabi/course assignments, and my calendar. I plug in any appointments or meetings that are coming up, mark out when I will work on things like particular courses or blog posts, and then add particular reading or writing assignments to each day. I’ve found it to be much more manageable if I break up, say, a 50-page reading assignment between two or three days. You eat an elephant one bite at a time, right?
    Most importantly, however, is not which system you use but that you use a system that works for you. The reality is that if you’re juggling work + home life + graduate school most people aren’t checking in on you to make sure you get things done. So whether it’s an app like Evernote or Wunderlist or Notes or a pad of paper, sticky notes, or planner, find a system that works for you and your life and stick to it.
  2. A Good Work Space
    Graduate School Essentials |

    I’m not the only one who’s motivation significantly decreases if my home is a mess, right?! I can’t be…but it’s totally true. And for so long I fought it – frustrated with my inability to focus, distracted by the dirty dishes or the clothes that needed to be washed. And as much as I wished our home was 100% clean 100% of the time, friend that just ain’t happening. So I’ve had to make a list of things that are create an optimal work environment: large desk/table, power outlets to charge my computer, a yummy drink, minimal clutter, and an appropriate amount of background noise or music. Once I stopped fighting this reality, it seriously increased my ability to get work done. So whether it’s spending 15 minutes before I sit down to read to pick up a couple things around our apartment or heading out to my new favorite coffee shop in the Springs, I need to take the couple of moments to prepare for study time as opposed to just jumping straight in.
  3. Amazon Prime
    Seriously, a lifesaver. As much as I prefer a paper calendar, I also prefer digital books. I love having all of my course books on my iPad that I can carry with me wherever I go, making use of in-between time to catch up on some reading. However if a book isn’t available in Kindle, 2-day shipping is the winner! I can sit down on the first day of the quarter (like I did last Monday) and order all of my books. Any that weren’t available digitally where delivered by Wednesday. Also, if you are a student and don’t have Prime, you can get your first six months for free as a trial run.
  4. Coffee, Snacks, Water
    Graduate School Essentials |

    Whether it’s a good cup of Peet’s coffee made at home, my favorite protein snack, or a yummy pastry from the coffee shop, it’s so important for me to have everything I need before I jump into work. And, honestly, sometimes when my motivation is at a minimum, I need that little extra boost of a mocha and croissant from the coffee shop to boost my focus. It’s the little things right?
  5. Motivational Reading
    When I’m really stuck and just not feeling it, two of my favorite places to turn are blogs and particular Instagram accounts. Whether it’s following Lara Casey or Jess Connolloy’s Instagram stories (serious motivation on little-by-little growth and God’s immense grace) or catching up Michael Hyatt or The College Prepster’s latest blog posts, after a couple moments of reading how other people are tackling their goals and staying focused I also feel re-aligned with my priorities and ready to conquer whatever task is before me.

// Okay, so those are some of my favorite tips – now your turn! Whether it’s sitting down to write a big research paper or gearing up to do your least-favorite chore or needing to buckle down and get a project down for work, what are your go-to essentials for getting work done and staying motivated?

Some of my favorite things to stay focused, productive and motivated in graduate school. |

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  1. Planners and a good work space help me too 🙂 Depending on the subject, music helps me to stay focused or gives me energy to finish what needs to be done. I love a good coffee shop, especially Starbuck;s frappucinos and pumpkin bread.


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