By Telijah Patterson
In any given week a college student might need to take a test, submit a research paper, give an oral presentation, read five or more chapters, renew their financial aid, work a double shift, babysit, get their car fixed and the list goes on and on. For community college and non-traditional students who often lack familial support, the list is likely far more extensive. It seems nearly impossible to balance all of these competing responsibilities while also excelling at school. Under all of this pressure, it is not unusual for a student to procrastinate or simply implode, leaving these tasks incomplete.
However, one key element is essential in managing multiple responsibilities without all the unnecessary stress. That element is good organization.
A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Psychology Education found that undergraduate students who received time management training, which involved skills in organizing, experienced a decrease in stress and felt more in control of their time after completing the training although demands on their time had not changed. Another study published in the academic journal Education for Information that analyzed the task completion of undergraduate students found that time management and lack of organization are the major factors for uncompleted or non-started tasks.
Most college students probably don’t need studies or statistics to understand the drawbacks from disorganization and the benefits of being organized such as peace of mind, lower stress levels, greater time management, and increased confidence! But it is one thing to understand the implications of a particular behavior and another to apply them in one’s life. The following tips are not an exhaustive list of ways to get organized, but are an excellent starting point. There are so many different ways to keep yourself organized, so do some research after reading this article and find what works for you!
Use your cell phone. That’s right, your cell phone is more than a gateway to social media. You have probably already discovered that most smartphones come equipped with a calendar. Input your class times and also block off time in your calendar exclusively for study. Remember to account for transportation time; it is always best to give yourself buffer time. One trick is to input appointments into your calendar 15 minutes before or so before their actual start time. Color code by each class and event type (work, meetings, social, etc.) you have on your calendar to help keep everything straight. Lastly, connect your calendar to your email account so that in the unfortunate case that you lose your phone you can easily retrieve your appointments online and have them available on different devices.
Use your course syllabi. Look at the schedules from all your syllabi and mark assignment due dates and testing dates on your calendar. With these important dates on your calendar you can easily identify your busy weeks and if you have extra time, get ahead of coursework.
Review your calendar for the upcoming week ahead of time so that you can make adjustments if there are any conflicting appointments. This is best to do on the same day each week. Many people choose to do this on Sunday. It is also helpful to review your schedule briefly when you start your day. Create a daily to-do list and check off tasks as you go along. Google Sheets has an excellent to-do list tracker template. You can even download the Google Sheets app to use on various devices.
Have an agenda. If tech isn’t your thing, this might be. You can do this in conjunction with a cell phone calendar or in place of it. Most schools provide agendas, but don’t worry if your school doesn’t; you can easily find them and they’re very affordable. After each class, write down each homework assignment and due date. At the end of the day, you should have all of your homework written down in the agenda.
Time yourself. It can be easy to get lost in an assignment especially if you are determined to make a good grade or you are passionate about the subject. To circumvent this give yourself a reasonable time frame to complete it. Set an alarm clock or timer to alert you once the allotted time is up. While you’re at it, if possible turn your cell phone to airplane mode to minimize distractions from text messages or push-notifications.
Don’t waste time. Start projects as soon as you get the assignment even if that means starting a word document with the assignment title and an introductory paragraph. Or if it’s a science or math course, solve that first problem immediately after class is over. Rather than procrastinating until the night before an assignment is due, begin working on homework and other projects as soon as you know what the assignment will be. Knowing that you have already started will motivate you to complete it!
Use folders. Color coded folders will do wonders to help you keep paperwork from each class organized. In one pocket place all of your upcoming assignments and in the other place class handouts and relevant materials.
With the Spring semester riding at our heels, now is a good time to prepare for the inevitable, a new semester with new challenges. It may seem overwhelming to try all of these tips at once, so perhaps focus on one of the tips or one particular area of organization a week or whatever time frame works best for you! By then, you should be in the swing of things and you can focus on improving in other areas. Do more than get yourself organized – find someone to hold you accountable. You can do that by letting those who care about you, like your college advisor, your parents, or your friends, know what your goal is and setting up dates to check-in with them about what they think of your progress.
If you want to take it a step further, why not help a friend to get organized or once you feel comfortable in your master level organizing skills, coordinate a workshop at your campus giving tips to students about how to stay organized; the campus life office is a great place to get advice on how to facilitate such a workshop. You’ll expand your network and experience a sense of pride. Not only will having a goal to work towards guide and focus you, but it will also help you to become more self-aware and reflective, which is great experience for you to draw on in a college admissions or job interview to the common question “Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge.”
Always have a deadline for yourself. It has often been said that a goal without a deadline is just a dream and while college students have dreams of living a better life, we want that dream to come to fruition, so quantifying your goals will help you to do just that!
Getting yourself organized will not happen overnight. For many of us it takes a few years to master the skill, which makes sense as to why it is highly sought out by employers. The results of being more productive, more efficient, and an increased ability to meet deadlines is totally worth the effort!
Telijah Patterson is a full-time student at LaGuardia Community College majoring in International Studies.