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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Workflow Strategies

A guide to help you choose methods and tools for organizing your research and work in meaningful ways.

About this guide

With all of the responsibilities that go along with being a student and worker, it can be difficult to keep everything organized. Organization of our tasks and projects can assist with getting things done in a timely manner and may help reduce stress. In this guide, we’ll go over several key areas of organization for students and researchers and present tips for creating a workflow that works for you.

General tips

An effective workflow is going to be what works for you and your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all of organization. It is useful to consider what stresses you out, as well as what is working well, in your current workflow. 

This guide provides suggestions for the key areas of a workflow for students and researchers. It will not address balancing your personal and professional life (we recommend the Graduate College workshop "Managing Your Time as a Grad Student or Postdoc). Having a system in place for each of these areas ensures that nothing is left out and works with systems that you are likely already using. 

Batching and monotasking are similar workflow methods​. Batching is where you work on similar tasks in the same work time (i.e. emails and to-do lists, or lesson planning and libguides, or class readings and research). Monotasking is working on one thing at a time, as opposed to multitasking (don’t respond to messages/emails while working on a task). 

It can also be useful to make time to plan and prioritize your tasks. Eisenhower's Principle can be used to determine prioritization and is shown below.

 

Eisenhower's principle matrix

 

 

Long-term projects

It is important to plan your workflow for long term projects to ensure you are making progress on the project. This can be for semester long projects or year(s) long projects, such as a thesis or dissertation. 

Things to consider for long-term project planning:

  • Project management life cycle (i.e. initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, closing)
  • Work breakdown structure - large to small tasks
  • Risk management and assessment

We recommend the Graduate College workshop "Managing Difficult Projects" for more in-depth tools for dissertation planning.