Let’s Get Organized!

Author: Katya Santucci

This blog has been reviewed by Elijah Nimjean and Claire Gaudreau, edited by Rémi Thériault.

Photo credit: Olya Kobruseva

Ready to tackle this semester? If you are looking for a ~sign~ to amp up your organizational skills, or just need that extra push… Here it is!

Staying organized is one of the many ways you can thrive as a student. Setting yourself up for success is key — you can think of organization as the crucial “behind the scenes” work. In this blog, I will be sharing four simple organization strategies that I use and provide you with detailed insight on how you can do the same.

Strategy 1: Keeping an agenda.

I really think that agendas are underrated. I can confidently say that my agenda has been my best friend throughout my academic journey. Writing things down in a designated place is the best way of keeping track of due dates and of the tasks you need to tackle. However, just having one lying around is not enough… you need to use it! Personally, once I started using my agenda religiously, my productivity soared! When choosing your agenda, make sure to get one that includes a monthly calendar and that has enough space to write daily notes. If a physical agenda is not practical for you, that’s totally fine and there are many ways around this. For example, there are many electronic calendars available that are very handy (e.g., Google Calendar: calendar.google.com). You might also benefit from adding it to your bookmarks so that your calendar is easily accessible at all times.

Once you have the agenda that works for you, be sure to add:

Exams and due dates. Writing down your exam dates will allow you to visually see when your next test is coming up, and whether you have other examinations right around the corner. You might even have a few tests on the same day, in which this strategy becomes crucial to planning appropriately! In other words, taking the time to write down your exam dates ahead of time will help you visualize what’s ahead and plan your studying accordingly. Don’t forget to also write down the due dates for assignments and projects. Having everything organized in one place will definitely help you stay on top of things. Pro tip: use colour-codes for your entries. For example, having a designated colour for writing assignment dates, test dates and other entries can be helpful. You can also colour-code by course!

Meetings and other obligations. Forgetting to attend a meeting, or not giving yourself enough time to prepare for one, can be avoided. In addition to updating exam dates and assignment due dates in your agenda, marking down meetings or your other commitments can be helpful, especially when they are not occurring on a regular basis. You’ll probably have more luck remembering that you have a team meeting every Tuesday morning than remembering the appointment you made with an academic advisor two weeks from now.

It’s important to make checking your agenda a part of your routine. It’s one thing to get it all set up at the start of the semester, but making sure to check it regularly is crucial. Most importantly, as soon as something comes up or something changes (e.g., an exam is postponed, an extra-credit assignment is offered), ADD IT IMMEDIATELY! The sooner you put it in there, the faster you can forget about it and rely on the fact that you frequently check your agenda. This needs to become habitual, and it will save you tremendous time and headaches when it does… and hey, your agenda might even become your best friend too! ☺

Strategy 2: Making a weekly plan.

In addition to updating your agenda with due dates and exam dates at the start of your semester, making weekly to-do lists is a must!

Here’s how I do it: every Sunday night, I take ten minutes to look through my agenda and see what I have scheduled for that week. I also glance over what’s in store for the upcoming weeks so that I can organize my study time efficiently. For example, if a test is approaching, I will start allocating time to study ahead of time. After I get a sense of what’s to come, I jot down what I aim to do each day of the week and when (i.e., morning, afternoon, evening). I make sure to take advantage of any breaks I have between classes so that not all homework and studying need to be crammed into weeknights (remember that it is just as important to give yourself a break so that you can unwind). Note: when you are making your weekly to-do lists, be sure to leave time to complete homework that has yet to be assigned.

Using this strategy can really help you tackle the week effectively (and could also make Mondays that much better). I know that for myself, waking up each day knowing what needs to get done makes me feel productive and motivated to continue hustling. OH(!) and also… be sure to cross out what you accomplished at the end of the day. This really is the best part! I find it to be extremely satisfying and rewarding!!

Photo credit: Vlada Karpovich

Strategy 3: Free-writing.

Another piece of advice is to jot down what comes to mind throughout your day. Whether it is an idea for one of your assignments, or a reminder for something you need to do; getting accustomed to writing it out can really be beneficial in the long run. Sometimes, we can get lost in our train of thought, especially when it feels like a lot is going on or when you have too much on your plate. Writing down what’s on my mind has really helped me gather my thoughts and realize what I need to focus on. I often get these thoughts at the most random times, or when I do not have my agenda around. In this case, I take out my phone and use the notes app to write out my thoughts. At times where I feel particularly overwhelmed, I take a few minutes and write down whatever is overwhelming me in that moment. After spilling your thoughts onto a page, you can determine what you need to prioritize. After doing this, make sure to update your agenda with any changes you need to make, or add new entries. It really is important to have a designated place that you always refer to once you get your ideas and thoughts sorted out!

Strategy 4: Organizing by course.

Whether you are taking 2 or 5+ classes, organizing course content is key. If you have a personal laptop or computer, create folders for each of the courses you are taking that semester and save them in an accessible place, like your desktop. In each folder, make subfolders to organize your documents for that class. For example, I keep separate folders for (1) course slides or notes provided by the professor, (2) my own lecture notes, and (3) assignments and other homework. I also make sure to save the course outline as a PDF file in each of the course folders. Doing this saves you the hassle of trying to find course outlines at a later point in the semester — and referring back to them is always a good idea. For those of you without a computer, or for anyone who prefers to organize tangibly: you can organize your course materials in separate binders and use dividers to create the subsections.

Main take-away

I often get asked how I’m able to keep up with student life–my response always circles back to organization. I firmly believe that using these four simple strategies can help you plan ahead, meet deadlines, create constructive study habits and most importantly increase your productivity. I hope this blog post has inspired you to get crackin’ or has given you that extra push you needed. If you’re not sure where to start… go get that agenda!

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Happy to have you here!

If you have other tips and tricks that have personally helped you stay organized and would like to share, feel free to comment below or to reach out. I am also always happy to receive inquiries! katya.santucci@mail.mcgill.ca. If you liked this blog or if it has helped you in any way, please take a moment to like and share!

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