Tools Every Grad Student Needs

As a 5th-year grad student, I’ve tried out a bunch of productivity tools to help me survive grad school. Some have worked for me, and some were total failures. Here are the tools that worked best. If you are interested in boosting your productivity, you might want to check them out. 


  • Writing Groups These can take lots of forms, but the basic outline is you sit your butt in a chair and have other people either physically or digitally with you. You all agree to work for a set amount of time, and everyone peer pressures each other to actually working that whole time. You don’t have to be writing during that time, but you do need to be doing actual work toward your degree. That might be reading, studying for comps, or writing your dissertation. It works at all levels and has been crucial to my success as a grad student. Check out to get a taste of this experience. Want some funds to support the caffeine habit of a real-life working group? Check out this page from Grad Life
  • Task and Time Management System Personally, I use a paper planner. I have a month, week, and day view and I keep track of all of my appointments as well as my tasks. I also use Trello to help plan out weekly tasks in advance. The most important thing is that you have a way to manage both your TASKS and TIME. I prefer paper because stuff sticks in my brain better that way, but you gotta do whatever works well for you. Here is a free printable planner you can start with if you like the idea of that analog life. 
  • Accountability Buddies An accountability buddy is someone you meet with regularly to report what your specific goals are and when you plan to complete them. Your accountability buddy then checks in with you to confirm if you have reached your goal, and most importantly, help troubleshoot why you may not have met them. I meet with my accountability buddy every Monday to report what I will accomplish by the end of the week and again on Friday to report whether I was successful. An accountability buddy is incredibly powerful, especially once you transition out of course-work and into the less structured components of your program. You can get some support from Grad Life for Accountability Buddies that want to meet in real life. 
  • Pomodoro Tracker The Pomodoro technique is one where you work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break. Repeat for four rounds and then take a 15-minute break. I live and die by this technique, but the most valuable part of it for me is tracking how many pomodoros I have done. I’ve got almost three years worth of data on how many pomos I have worked and it is by far the biggest motivation I have ever found. There is nothing more satisfying than beating your own previous goals. I use focusbooster to track my pomos, but there are lots of options out there. I record how many minutes I worked each day using this printable
  • Zoom This is a radically stable version of Skype. As a student, you have access to a very robust version of it through Notre Dame. You can get it here. As grad students we are often traveling for conferences, working from home or coffee shops, and just generally spread out. Zoom is a great way to meet with your advisor, your writing group, or host a reading group without everyone having to be in the same place at the same time. It’s a game-changer.