Jan. 26, 2021
It's never too late to get organized, even if you were the type of high school student who flew by the seat of their pants, mixed up deadlines, pulled all-nighters and then forgot their work at home. Even if think you can manage with such "organized chaos" in a more challenging collegiate atmosphere, you can save yourself a lot of time, stress and caffeine with these nine tips for getting and staying organized that will help you thrive from freshman year through graduation.
Whether physical or digital, calendars let you see not only your daily to-do lists, but also long-term goals, important dates and deadlines. Instead of being surprised to find that you have three papers due the same week, if you record each assignment as you get it, you'll be able to plan further in advance. Just remember to keep updating all your schedules in one place. Take it from us: Sticking an assignment on a Post-It and forgetting about it doesn't actually keep it from still being due.
As tempting as it is, don't skip the syllabus classes that occur your first week. Far more so than in high school, your college courses live and breathe by the syllabus your professor worked hard to put together, and it's unlikely to change. For that reason, use it to prepare for your busiest weeks throughout the semester, annotating your syllabi by crossing off assignments as you submit them. (Just remember to also add this information to your calendar!)
You don't have to spend a lot of money to have the tools you need to stay organized. The calendars and planners we mentioned? You can get free apps for your computer and/or phone, or if you prefer the physical route, buy a no-nonsense yearly calendar for around $10. You can also use highlighters and pens to color-code and organize material for each class. By repurposing these supplies each semester, you'll not only save on the cost of your initial investment, but you'll perfect whatever system you're using.
Though it may seem like an unnecessary second step if you prefer to use physical things like binders, notebooks and planners to stay organized, you'll want to incorporate some basic digital tools as well. Get familiar with free cloud storage for your files so you can always print or access a file you need. Learn how to back up your material onto your computer, external drive or thumb drive. If possible, organize your material on these storage spaces in a method similar to how you physically store them, so that your folder structure and naming conventions are intuitive. You don't want to search all over for an important file, only to end up grabbing an outdated version.
Inevitably, you're going to run into competing priorities in college. For example, you have a paper due in two days, but it's your roommate's birthday tonight. It's up to you to determine which to focus on. To help weigh your choices, consider how each decision will impact your academic success and mental well-being. You'll often find that when comparing priorities, it'll quickly become clear what's urgent and what's important.
You can't always control your schedule from semester to semester, but you can do your best to stick to the times that you're going to be most alert. When selecting classes, start with the most important ones for your career and try to guess which ones will be the most difficult. If you're not a morning person or you're easily distracted by social obligations in the evening, try to avoid slotting those classes into those times. Then build the rest of your schedule and your daily routine — eating, sleeping, work, activities, social time — around those core classes. This will keep you on track to graduate without keeping you from enjoying the full college experience.
Don't just schedule your classes and assignments. Set aside daily "study" slots where you're free to take care of any lingering work. If you've already gotten everything done, great: This suddenly free time will come as a relief. If you're behind schedule, this preallotted time will get you back on track. That said, try to break up your larger assignments into smaller, digestible bits. This way, you can get a little bit done each day during your regularly scheduled study time and you'll be less likely to get overwhelmed when it all suddenly comes due at once.
You can't stay organized if you aren't alert, and you won't be alert if you are exhausted! Make sure you're keeping up with your sleep. You can track this right alongside your assignments on your calendar, and if you start to fall behind on sleep to the point where it starts to affect you, make sure you give yourself time to catch up.
Trial and error are part of the organizational process. Experiment, and if it isn't working, try something new! Never be afraid to talk to your professors or someone in your resource center for suggestions. You're not failing at organizing; You're learning how to organize for your needs.