17 Ways to Stay Organized in University
If you’re a college or university student, like myself, you don’t need me to tell you that things can get messy quick if you don’t stay organized. Managing a full course load, working part time, and trying to fit in social activities or extra-curriculars is tough.
However, adopting some of the organizational strategies that I’m about to tell you about can decrease the stress you’re feeling and increase the amount of time you’re able to spend doing the things that you enjoy. Let’s get to it!
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17 Ways to Stay Organized in University
Prep for Course Registration
Know which classes you need to take each semester as per your degree requirements and have an idea of which elective courses you are interested in before course registration opens.
If you know that a class is offered by multiple professors (like majority of first and second year courses), do your due diligence on rate my prof in order to choose a professor with a promising track-record (and to avoid spending a semester with someone who reads directly off the Powerpoint and doesn’t match the exam material to what was actually covered in class).
Being prepared this way means that you know exactly what you’re getting into and can hopefully make the most of your course selection.
Organize Your Computer/Laptop
At the beginning of the semester make a folder for each course that you are taking and save documents in their designated folders as the semester progresses. This way you’ll be able find anything you may be looking for quickly!
Create a Master Syllabus
Compile your syllabuses (syllabi?) from each course into one document that lists your coursework, assignments, and exams in chronological order. This does take some time, but you’ll only need to do it once after your first week of courses and I swear it is worth it!
The benefits of creating one master syllabus…
1. You only need to consult one document for all of your course work, assignments, and exams (time-saving!).
2. Minimize the risk of forgetting to complete assigned work
3. Easily check what you need to complete for an entire week and plan your time accordingly
4. Colour-code the document to your liking so that the important things stand out (I personally change the font colour to red for any work that I am graded on).
5. Cross-off/highlight items once you complete them (this is super rewarding and boosts motivation if you’re like me and get-off on feeling productive).
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Use A Calendar
Whether it’s a large desk calendar or something similar to the one I printed in the photo above, this visual will definitely help you stay on track and give you a better idea of how much time/how many days you really have to complete your assignments/tasks.
There is a huge difference between reading a due date and thinking “I still have a few days to complete this assignment”, and being able to visually count out the days on a calendar and determine “I have four days until this assignment is due”.
I’ve created the perfect one week AND two week planner to help me stay organized and I want to share it with you! Scroll up to subscribe and you’ll receive access to the template (and the master syllabus template) for free. Check it out…
Keep it Digital (If You Prefer)
There are a ton of calendar/day-planning apps that you can download which will send you notifications and allow you to easily edit your schedule on the go.
Personally, I prefer to keep my planners old-school pen and paper style but if you’re someone who would rather keep things digital then take advantage of the free apps available.
Structure Your Day
Make something about your daily routine predictable. This may be hard if you have classes at different times throughout the day and week, but at least try to go to bed or wake up at the same time each day (easier said than done, I know).
Having this stability allows you to plan other things accordingly and creates a constant to build upon.
This was the hardest thing for me to tackle during my undergrad—I would sleep in as late as possible on the days that I didn’t have classes until the afternoon but then would find it impossible to wake up for my early classes! The struggle is real.
Schedule Your Unscheduled Time
If you want to “waste” time browsing through social media for an hour every morning, then by all means, do so. Schedule that time into your day so you know that you aren’t procrastinating in other areas or forgetting to work on something that needs your attention.
Because I follow the strategies in this post, I’m able to take the first two hours of my morning to do whatever I want and then get down to business afterwards without feeling stressed or unproductive.
Set Your Own Due Dates
Have two assignments and a midterm exam scheduled on the same day? Once you’ve created your master syllabus at the beginning of the semester you’ll be able to see if any issues like this may arise.
Simply edit the due dates in your calendar so you’re completing some of the things before they’re due. Doing this will save you from extra stress that nobody needs.
Not a Morning Person? Prep the Night Before
If you have an early morning class, prep your bag the night before with your books, laptop, snacks, etc. Make sure any assignments that need to be submitted are 100% triple-checked in your bag.
Take a minute to check the weather to get an idea of what you can wear the next day (I won’t go as far to say you should plan your entire outfit the night before, but it wouldn’t hurt). These seem like such small tasks but anything that can save you time in the AM is totally worth it.
Make Sundays Your Day
Sunday marks the start of a new week so it’s fitting to use this as a prep day. Look at your schedule, master syllabus, and/or calendar to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be tackling in the coming week. This is a proactive way of dealing with anxiety when you have a lot on your plate.
Use your prep time on Sundays to set weekly goals, not only in academics, but in your personal life, and write these goals down (motivation rises when you put pen to paper AND you’ll be able to cross these off at the end of the week).
Keep Track of Research
The jump from high school to college or university typically means a lot more research and referencing for students which can be a daunting task in itself.
Something that cost me a lot of time is that I would conduct a bunch of research for a paper and begin writing but then realize that I forgot to write down all of the annotation information for my sources! I would have to go back to the databases and search relevant terms that may have brought me to the source in the first place and it was a waste of time that could have easily been avoided.
Don’t make my same mistake—write the annotation for the source before you begin taking information from it (but after reading the abstract or description so you know it is a relevant source). This way there isn’t a chance that you’ll leave the book or online article without being able to trace back to where you got the information from.
Colour-Code Your Courses
At the beginning of each semester choose a specific colour of binder for each of your classes (ie. blue for 16th century lit, or whatnot). This makes your binders easier to find when you’re in a hurry (like when you wake up for an 8am lecture at 8am).
Study in Advance
Nobody (nobody!) enjoys pulling an all-nighter or cramming for an exam the day before writing it and there’s research to suggest that this “study method” isn’t optimal for most people.
Start studying for exams 1.5-2 weeks in advance for a small amount of time each day. Write these study blocks into your calendar in advance: If you plan the time to study in advance then you’re much more likely to do it when prompted by your calendar/planner.
Organize Your Financial Life
Trying to study when you’re focused on whether or not you’ll be able to pay rent next week definitely isn’t ideal.
I use the app Mint to organize my finances. It connects right to your bank account, you’re able to create budgets, and you can track your spending throughout the month. Mint also sends weekly emails that summarize your spending so there are no surprises at the end of the month.
Keep Your Workspace Clean
Try to keep your desk looking organized and inviting… if it’s a mess you’re going to be less likely to complete your work. Try to remove any extra clutter that will distract you as you’re trying to work or take your things to the library to avoid any distractions that might be available while at home… like napping.
Designate a specific area of your apartment or room to school work and be sure to only use that space for work!
Buy a Hole Punch
This may seem like such a silly thing, but if you’re sticking with pen and paper notes or are in a class in which the prof gives a lot of handouts, make sure you have a hole punch. There is nothing worse than not being able to find an important document or assignment outline because it fell out of your binder and is missing indefinitely.
Check Your Email
Now that most things are digital, your profs will likely post online or will email the class in the event that they are running late, there has been a room change, or class is cancelled. So check your email!
There was a few times that I got out of bed an trekked my way to campus only to find that something had come up and my prof had to cancel class. If I had checked my email before leaving I would have been able to jump back into bed for another hour (I can’t be the only uni student who never truly feels rested?).
You’ve got the info, now its time to act. Employ at least one new organizational strategy today and see the difference it can make to your grades and to your general wellness (making organization a priority can reduce stress and anxiety… two things that post-secondary students know all too well).
Interested in reading more about how to reap the benefits of organization? In 7 Ways to Declutter Your Life and Start Fresh I discuss 7 strategies for starting a new semester, or a new year, off on the right foot.