Clear Space, Clear Mind: How To Become And Stay Organized
We all know how it goes: At the beginning of a semester, we swear to be more productive and organized than last semester. However, just after the first week, we feel overwhelmed by the massive amounts of homework, presentations, exams, tests, sports, and (also necessary) social activities. We begin to run behind schedule. Why is it so hard to stay on track? Eventually, everything boils down to the small things in life. You will be surprised how much positive change will happen to your productivity when you begin to incorporate the following habits to become and stay organized.
Before the semester
Buy. An. Organizer. This is probably the most obvious, but also the most important recommendation. A paper-based organizer will help physically manifest your cleaned-up, productive life. Keep it in a present place on your desk so that you can directly note down any to dos, appointments, or deadlines.
Second most important recommendation: Clean. Your. Desk. And I don’t mean to just pile up any random stuff in one corner and call it “cleaned”. No. Put away all (!) items on the desk space and empty all drawers. Afterwards, have a look at every item and ask yourself whether you need it on a daily basis (then put it on your desk) or less (then put it into a drawer) or not at all (then throw it away). Having a clear-desk policy (i.e., cleaning up your desk every evening) will force you to sort away any study material or just random stuff that may occupy your thoughts and actions and keep you away from the really necessary to dos you noted down in your organizer.
Thirdly, before starting with a clear desk and clear mind into the semester, read through all course descriptions before classes actually start. This will avoid that you miss any prerequisites or assignments. Plus, you can ask questions about the course content, deadlines, or the grading already in the first class – which makes a good impression and avoids any misunderstandings during the semester.
After your first class
After you have read the syllabus, asked any questions, and got a first impression of the course content, it is time to note down every (!) test, quiz, or presentation in your organizer. Use colors to clearly distinguish graded (e.g., in red color) and non-graded assignments (e.g., in orange color). These visual cues will make it easier to assign priorities and keep track of all the different items noted in your agenda. You can even further elaborate on this color scheme, for instance, by noting down leisure activities in a different color than academic issues.
During the first two weeks of the semester
Even though the workload might seem easily manageable, check in with your organizer every morning (or evening or even *gasp* BOTH). Write down every to do, even when they concern leisure activities or running errands. This will help you to assess the actual time frame you have for academic to dos. Moreover, when you start daily scheduling from the beginning on, it will create a habit that will benefit you during more stressful times later in the semester.
Secondly, sort in every kind of study material or notes in a binder, which will make it easier for you to stick to the clean-desk policy. The next morning, you can directly start begin to work productively instead of wasting time searching through stuff on your desk.
During the semester
This is the time when homework, tests, and presentations accumulate (you’re probably in this stage right now). Additionally, larger projects might have to be started and internships need to be planned. Again, the best strategy to encounter this challenging time is to break down the workload in smaller pieces and check-in at least once a day with your organizer. Having manageable items on your to do list will make you feel more confident and productive, which is the best prerequisite to actually be more confident and productive. You can start this practice at any time during the year, even if you get off track in the beginning of the semester you CAN (and should) start now.
Shortly before an exam, test, or presentation
Go through the course descriptions again and shortly review all documents collected during the semester: Do you understand the material? Are your notes complete? What will be the focus of the exams? Write down any questions that might pop up during this review session and ask your professor or teaching assistant about it – they are there to help you.
Afterwards, write down all to dos for preparing for the test and sort them into your organizer: but remember to not overload yourself! The brain needs time to process information. Enough sleep and a healthy diet further help to stay on track. And: Stick to that clean-desk policy! It helps to clear your mind after a long day of studying and will benefit you immensely the next day.
After the semester
Yeah, you finally made it! Now, it’s time to sort all remaining documents into binders (you might need them for other classes) and, most importantly, relax and celebrate. You gave your best efforts and are ready for some well-deserved time off!