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4 Tips For How To Get Organized and Stay Organized

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Most students start the year with the best intentions. They promise themselves (and their parents) that—AT LAST—they’ll really, truly get organized. They solemnly vow to finish their assignments ahead of time, keep their complicated extracurriculars straight, get more sleep and take up an interesting hobby to pad their résumé (tuvan throat singing, perhaps?). But when you add to that the time it takes to study for the SAT and work on college applications, most high school students start to feel the strain. With so many pressing responsibilities, it’s almost impossible to get it all done while maintaining a healthy balance in life. When push comes to shove, some students give up on getting that A in Physics, some decide to not audition for the school musical, some skip basketball practice and get booted off the team, and some stop sleeping, eating and seeing the sun. Yeah, some students are chronically overbooked, but the more common problem is a lack of good organizational skills.

Here are four ways to get organized so you don’t become a giant mess by midterms:

1) Use a Calendar. For Reals This Time.

Seriously. Use a calendar. While I won’t INSIST that you set aside your phone and use a paper calendar, I will SUGGEST it. Scientists have demonstrated that we retain hand-written information far better than information typed into a computer or smart phone. If you stubbornly refuse to use paper and pencil—for the love of your GPA—please please PLEASE use the calendar on your phone. As, soon as you start school, look through your course requirements, and write down all the big project due dates, crucial exams, important extracurricular events, and major sports tournaments. If you have a 20-page term paper, the national finals for Debate Club and Habitat for Humanity all in the same week, it might be a good idea to…

2) Make a Study Plan (Instead of Running Screaming from Crisis to Crisis)

I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes people start and finish projects before the absolute last possible minute. It’s a radical idea, but it works. When major events overlap, figure out what you can do ahead of time. If you really tried, could you get that big history project out of the way early in the semester? Yes? Well, what’s stopping you? As you review your class syllabi, write down in your calendar (SEE ABOVE) a concrete schedule outlining how you’ll get all that work done. This will help you stick to your plan, rather than just abandoning it at soon as they start airing the new episodes of Game of Thrones. Remember, obligations pile up at the end of the semester; complete tasks now so you won’t be totally overwhelmed later. It’s a bummer, but really this is the best way to get everything done without giving yourself sleep apnea, an ulcer, heart palpitations and a vitamin D deficiency. You live in California. You have no right to be vitamin D deficient.

3) Pick a Place and Put Your Things in That Place

Again, another piece of radical advice: to stay organized, try not to lose all the things you’re organizing. Most students are, shall we say… less than diligent about this one. Does your room collect eddies of random papers on all the flat surfaces? Do you colonize the kitchen table only to have your mother sweep your stuff into a messy stack when dinnertime rolls around? There is a REALLY easy solution to this problem: identify ONE place in your home that you can store important papers and USE IT. It can be as simple as a basket on your dresser, or as elaborate as a filing cabinet. Just make sure you can get to it easily, and that you sort through it often.

NOTE: If the system is too complicated, you’ll lose interest, so don’t overthink your organizational scheme. Frequent but imperfect organization is far superior to occasional bouts of OCD. Don’t pull out your 84-pack of exotic highlighters. Just start by being diligent about keeping track of important papers.

4) Actually, Like, Organize Your Stuff, Maybe?

The thing that really sucks about inanimate objects is that they don’t self organize while you’re not looking. This means that someone is going to have to continue organizing your stuff. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. If you have a personal assistant, then you’re set! Congratulations on being a gazillionaire! But for the rest of us mere mortals, this means a little bit of discipline: before you start studying each night, organize and file that day’s materials, and when you’re done studying, pack your bag for the next day. It sounds like a drag because it IS a drag. It’s just a lot less of a drag than the alternative. Practiced over decades, this habit—taking a few minutes to sort through things everyday—will add years to your lifespan by preventing that frantic, heart attack-inducing scramble to find whatever incredibly important thing has gotten misplaced this time.

Whatever Works for You

Look. We all know how to get organized. It’s not that difficult from a logistical standpoint. What IS difficult, however, is finding the motivation to get started. There are always a hundred more important, more interesting things waiting for your attention, so why waste it on boring stuff like organizing your papers?

But here’s the thing… If you get organized, you can do more in less time. So a small investment of energy, every day, will mean that you can get that A in Physics, try out for the school play, keep your spot on the basketball team, learn tuvan throat singing and even see the sun every once in a while. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but the sooner you learn it the better. Just try to figure out what works for you—any system, simple or complex, is good if it helps you keep things sorted.


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