I used to be horribly disorganized.

Although everything was in its proper color-coded folder, that did not mean things were actually organized. When I got to college, I learned the importance of organization the hard way. I became more serious about it, and the improved system genuinely helped my grades.

However, getting organized and staying organized are two different things. Getting organized is usually the easy part, however, staying organized is much more difficult. To make things easy for you, I will be addressing both in this post.

Open up your favorite calendar app, pull out your school devices, and let's get organized!

WHY You Need to Stay Organized

As David Allen says in his book, Getting Things Done, "Your brain is for having ideas, not storing them." The best reason to get organized is to dramatically reduce your stress levels. When you are less stressed, you will feel better and perform better on assignments. In addition, you will have time to do things you enjoy.

Getting organized does not automatically equate to a higher GPA. However, if you do have a solid organization system in place, you will have more time to focus on studying class material, going to lectures, taking good notes, doing homework assignments, and receiving help from a professor or TA when you need it.

HOW to Get Organized

  1. Use a calendar! This applies to professionals too, and I am continuously surprised at how many people don't use a calendar. Instead of having to remember a slurry of dates for appointments, classes, or projects, calendars free up valuable brain space. I'm a big advocate for digital calendars because you can automate recurring events and get reminders of important events before they sneak up on you. Some key things to include are class times, important due dates from each syllabus, workout schedule, meetings, move-in/move-out dates, work schedule (if you have one), and any payment due dates. I would recommend Google Calendar, but you could even go old-school with a paper planner.
  2. Keep a to-do list. Having a calendar is the bare minimum to get organized but having a to-do list will elevate your game. Simply put, your calendar is for keeping track of events, and your to-do list is for keeping track of tasks. Events include things like classes and meetings with a professor. Tasks, on the other hand, include completing a problem set and creating a rough draft of a paper. If you want to go digital, I recommend Things 3. If you want to keep it to pen and paper, use the bullet journal system such as the Strikethrough method. Lastly, put all your tasks in a to-do list system and start knocking tasks out.
  3. Store your class materials. You will likely need to keep track of a syllabus, handouts, assignments, and presentations for each class. Keep all of these materials organized in either a physical three-ring binder or some type of digital system. Most universities are affiliated with Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive, so use those to your advantage!
  4. Pack your backpack the night before. EVERY college student has a backpack, whether they are carrying textbooks or digital devices. The key to organizing your backpack is to fill it with items you need for the day, so pack your bag the night before. If you have trouble remembering to do this, add it as a task to your to-do list with all of the items you need to bring.

How to STAY Organized

Now, the challenge is to keep things organized. There are two crucial habits that will help you maintain your organizational system: weekly planning and weekly review. These two habits take a maximum of 30 minutes per week.

Weekly Review

  1. Compare what you planned to accomplish with what you actually accomplished. We always start the week with the best intentions, but sometimes life gets in the way. For example, you signed up for a spin class on Wednesday, but then you had too much homework to do. Look at the gap between what you planned and what actually happened.
  2. Use this information to make changes to your system. After recognizing this gap, ask yourself why you did not accomplish what you intended to do. What prevented you? For example, I figured out that I could not study in certain places around campus because I kept getting distracted by friends passing by. So, I changed my study location to a place with no distractions. If you make this process a habit, you will get better at planning realistic goals.

Weekly Planning

  1. Clean up your calendar and to-do system. Find realistic due dates for tasks you did not get to the week before and make note of any events that were rescheduled.
  2. Plan for the upcoming week. First, make a list of all the upcoming tasks, in which the syllabus is a great place to start; then, transfer those tasks into your to-do list system. Next, look at your calendar and make sure it is accurate for the week. Lastly, organize and pack your backpack for the next day.

Although this may sound time consuming, it should not take more than 30 minutes. Once you get in the habit of doing this every week, it will take you less time as you become more organized.

Summary

To summarize, here are some main ideas for quick and easy reference.

  • Use Google Calendar (or another app) to keep your events organized
  • Use a to-do list system to organize tasks
  • Use a cloud-based storage system to keep all your class materials in one place
  • Pack your backpack the night before
  • Take 30 minutes each week to review the previous week and plan for the upcoming week.

At the end of the day, the purpose of an organizational system is to help you accomplish all the things you want to do. The right system will help you do this without getting too stressed, but you still have to put in that initial work.

Which tip was your favorite? Let me know in the comments down below!