How organized are you?

Photo credit: Mark Fromberg

If college will teach you anything, it will be to recognize the importance of being–and staying–organized.  In fact, if you are going to a successful college career, the time you can save–every day in any given semester–will be completely dependent on your organizational skills. And, as pointed out in a previous blogpost, getting great marks is all about time.

In order to avoid wasting time and marks misplacing books, or notes, or references, or worse, forgetting about assignment due dates or scheduled exams, your commitment to organization needs to start before the semester begins.

Here are some structural considerations:

First, create a study/work area in your home that you can call your own, if possible, that no one will also be using for their purposes.  This space needs to have enough space to pile the teaching materials for each course you are taking, and keep them separate. Hopefully, this space is a safe, well-lit, secure spot, free of distractions, such as other people, pets, TV, significant noise; it has a comfortable chair, and enough workspace to spread your stuff out in front of you while studying.  In most cases, your study space will also need room for either a laptop or desk-top computer (with a keyboard and mouse), and possibly a printer, along with the necessary electrical and reliable wifi connections to stay fully functional all semester.  

And speaking of your computers, this needs to be organized for optimal function as well.  Is your operating system up to date? Are all the software programs you need on board and up to date? Do you need a refresher on how to use any specific program? Do you have enough RAM for all the projects you will be undertaking this semester? Can you find files easily among your desktop files, or is it a mess?  Is your computer running more slowly than you would like because of all other links or programs you are keeping open? Have you got an organized documents file set up for this semester? Does your printer have enough ink? Having spare cartridges to get you through the semester can be a lifesaver if you run out of ink on a project the night before a project is due.  

And then there is the issue of your phone.  Consider one of four steps:  1) Turn it off; 2) Put it on “airplane mode”; 3) Turn off all of your notifications; Turn it upside down, turn off the volume and ignore it.  If you are checking it more than once an hour while in school, your phone is a distraction to you.

Depending on your preferences, some simple old-school desktop needs should also be reviewed before school starts.  A fresh set of pens and pencils, some scribble pads, spiral notebooks, highlighters, sticky notes, staples, and a daytimer/scheduler should normally be considered as part of your setup.  To keep your schedule of your academic deadlines front and centre, you might consider a writable monthly blotter for your desktop, or a whiteboard on a nearby wall.

Being organized includes several functional steps as well:

Get to know what is expected of you in each course you are taking–intimately.  Print off a full copy of each of your course’s outlines, and study them well.  You can transfer all the deadline dates of each course onto your scheduler, whether that is in a handbook, on your desktop blotter, or your wall-mounted whiteboard.  These course outlines will clearly outline what percent of your marks go to specific projects or exams, allowing you to anticipate and prioritize your reading and study time needs for each course.  If you have any questions about the outline, be sure to ask your professor promptly, whether in class or by email.

Once your semester is underway, you will need to stay organized, so you can preserve a time cushion throughout your semester–a great way to keep the stress levels down.  After each class, clean up your notes, and then organize them (along with any newly-provided teaching materials, such as PowerPoint presentations or pdf handouts), whether in your computer documents file, or within your notebook.  Get in the habit of dating these, and even give them a reference label of some kind that would make them easily retrievable later in the semester.

After each class, post any new deadline or to-do entries into your daytime calendar, and update what needs to get attended to later the same day.  And be sure to tick or cross these entries off once they get done.  Post an asterisk by anything pressing.  

Finally a warning:  No matter how organized you think you are, there are two realities that every college student knows only too well: First, is that, as virtually all semesters progress, the intensity increases, with major deadlines and crucial exams coming due, often concurrently.  This means that whatever time cushion you may have had built up in the early weeks of the semester may have dwindled to nothing with the increased workload presenting itself in the last weeks of the semester.  Second, as the late semester time crunch takes hold, the ability to stay organized is challenged, of not impaired.  In the last weeks of the semester, students are commonly burning the midnight oil, missing classes, and no longer keeping good notes or organizing them. And they are increasingly a mess–too much coffee and fast food, not enough sleep or fresh air or exercise.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Make the commitment to stay organized–and keep your time cushion alive for the entire semester.