Keeping it Together: How to Stay Organized in College


Life as a college student consists of managing a lot of moving parts. When you know how to stay organized in college, you can naturally reduce stress levels and make going back to school feel like a breeze.


The importance of organization not only reduces stress levels, but it also helps you save time, achieve success, and enjoy a clutter-free zone both within your physical environment and your mind.


There are a variety of ways to stay organized as a student, and different tips will work for different people. As the saying goes, “There’s different strokes for different folks.”



Organized workspace with minimal clutter

Photo by Pinho . on Unsplash



Why You Must Stay Organized in College

Staying organized will help you better manage your time. Rather than spending countless minutes trying to find notes for class or taking the time to clean a huge mess before sitting to study, you will be able to maximize the time you spend getting things done when you are organized.


However, more importantly, being organized will aid to reduce stress levels. As a student, you will already have a lot to balance, from school to work and everything in between, so having the simple things sorted out leaves one less worry on your plate.



Organization Tools and Tips

Wondering what you can do today to make life easier for yourself? Let’s jump right into some of the best methods and tools to stay on top of everything.


1. Calendar and Time Management


Scheduling your time will replace the need to remember everything you have to do in your head. Not only will your time be most efficiently spent, but you can also schedule reminders so that you never miss an appointment, test, class, social event, etc.



2. Buy a Planner – Log Your Semester


Options for a calendar include a physical planner (taking it back to the good ol’ days), or a digital version like Google Calendar or iCal. You can even create your own schedule by using a spreadsheet tool to organize your time, whether it be Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or a related tool.



3. Create a Semester Spreadsheet


Using Google Sheets, Excel, or an online application, you can create a semester spreadsheet that outlines your classes. In fact, your school may already provide this to you online. By being able to visualize when you have class, you can then schedule your work and social time around those hours easily.



4. Notes and Color Coding


Note-taking doesn’t end with writing things down. That’s just the beginning. Firstly, you can color code your notes and set up a consistent key for how you choose your code. Red can be for due dates, blue can be for questions, orange can be for facts and figures, for example.


Furthermore, after you’ve taken your notes, you’ll want to remain organized in how you store them. If they are handwritten, it helps to have a different notebook for each subject/course. If you take notes on a computer, you’ll want to organize your digital folders in a simple way to be able to easily locate your notes.


A good way to do so is to set up a main folder for each semester or quarter, then inside of that, you can create a folder for each class. Inside each class’ folder, you can have a folder for notes, homework, presentations/files from the professor, etc.


Another good idea is to store everything on Google Drive so it’s in the cloud and accessible from anywhere and automatically backed up.



5. Use Your Phone


Some people prefer to take notes digitally, or even on their phone (or tablet). In this case, be sure to have everything synced to your computer or backed up. When you take notes on your phone, consider a useful application like EverNote, which will help to keep everything organized.



6. Class Colors


Another useful way to organize your materials for each class is to take color coding to the next level. You can give each subject its own color, so for example, your Economics notebook, binder, folders, and even digital folder can be in the color green. That way, when you are looking for materials for a certain course, it’s easy to spot.



7. Your Workspace


Having an organized and clutter-free workspace makes it easier to stay focused on the task at hand. You can use an empty jar for pens and highlighters, set up a desk lamp for adequate lighting and keep whatever supplies you need in a drawer or neatly laid out on your desk. You should try to limit the items on your desk to just those that you need for studying or completing assignments.



8. Get A Whiteboard


Another useful way to have everything organized in your workspace is to get a whiteboard. Having a whiteboard allows you to make many uses out of one simple tool. You can write down your to-do lists, deadlines, things you need to buy, reminders, and more.



9. Storage


When you’re in college, you’re likely taking multiple classes during the same time frame. As such, it’s important to keep your papers and documents organized for easy reference. You should invest in shelves or a bookshelf for your textbooks and notebooks.



10. Keep Track of Your Syllabi


Additionally, you can have a box or storage cabinet with manila folders to store syllabi and course material. Syllabi often list assignment due dates, exam structures and test dates, the grading criteria, holidays, etc. Therefore, you will likely find yourself referring back to it throughout the course of the class.


If space is limited, another option would be to have small binders for each class or an expandable accordion folder.



11. Routines


To organize your time, it’s a best practice to get into a routine. When you’re attending a traditional campus, your school schedule is generally dictated for you. However, if you attend an online college, you have more freedom and flexibility to choose when you study, when you have fun, when you work, etc.


It’s especially important in this instance to set up a routine where you can set aside study time, time to work out, time for your social life, time for hobbies, etc. Routines can begin with what you do when waking up in the morning to settling down for bed at night.


Some ideas include: wake up, meditate, journal for 10 minutes, have breakfast and start studying. Or, you can study later in the day, wind down for bed by turning off electronic distractions, go for a walk, take a warm shower, and then get into bed.



12. Task Manager and To-Do Lists


For optimal performance, you can even organize your to-do list, as you should for ultimate productivity!



13. How to Set Up a To-Do List


This includes writing tasks in order of priority based on deadlines and due dates. You can work backwards from deadlines to decide what you must get done today to meet or exceed them. Rather than procrastinating, you can break down big tasks into smaller achievable pieces so you stay motivated and ahead of schedule.



14. Keep Your Room Tidy


If nothing else, start by making your bed! This will set you in a mindset of accomplishment as you start your day and it is a small task that makes your room look and feel a lot more clean. Additionally, it will help you stay out of bed and get your day going.


Then, take it to the next level. Keeping your entire room organized is more conducive for studying. Less clutter helps keep your mind clear. It could even be a good idea to schedule time to clean into your planner each week. By cleaning a little bit each week, you won’t ever allow your room to become a disaster zone!



15. Keep Your Bag/Backpack Organized


You use your bag/backpack everyday, so it’s easy for it to become cluttered with unnecessary items, and maybe even trash. One simple way to avoid this is to come home from your day and remove anything you don’t need. Then, be sure to put anything you need inside again for the next day the night before so that you don’t forget something important.


You’ll be less hurried in the morning if everything is prepared the night before.


Another tip is to use this same method to choose your outfit the night before.



16. Personalized Productivity


Everyone has their most productive times of the day. For some, they are most alert and focused first thing in the morning and others are night owls. Figure out when you are the most productive and schedule your time based on this fact.



17. Self-Care


Organization also involves how you organize your self-care routines. Make time for socialization and fun as well as time to be alone and recuperate. School can wear you out, so it’s important to balance stress levels by practicing meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or any other hobby or relaxing routine. Mental health is of utmost importance to remain organized in every aspect of your life, so make this a priority!



Organized college student checking her planner

Photo by STIL on Unsplash



Weekly Productivity Planning and Reviews

Now that you have a plan in mind for how to stay organized in college, you can measure it.


1. Review:


Take a look at what you set out to do last week. Calculate how much you got done and if there is room for improvement. If you notice that you keep missing the mark, maybe you need to set more realistic goals.



2. Plan Your Upcoming Week:


After analyzing the previous work, get ready to outline the upcoming week. Use insights from last week to create your schedule.


Figure out your most productive times: Based on your schedule, leverage your most productive times to get work done. If you’re a morning person, set time to study in the morning rather than the night, for example.



3. Organization Breeds Success:


Just like preparation assists with luck, organization helps aid success. When you know where everything is and have set up your schedule to maximize your time, things will fall into place. You’ll be able to see your efforts come to fruition with your successes.



4. Don’t Give Up:


No matter how stressful things may get, remember why you are on this path! Stay motivated and remember to take breaks.



The Bottom Line

There are seemingly endless organization tips for college students, so after reviewing these, start by implementing a few at a time and making them habitual. You can always add more in at your discretion.


Remaining organized will help you manage stress levels, optimize productivity, and help you perform better in school.




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