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The Best Organizational Hacks For A Successful Semester

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UWindsor chapter.

What did I do wrong? you wonder, as you stare at the conglomeration of deadlines and assignments that all seem to fall on the same week. The most twisted part about this is that you thought you planned it all out — you had the pretty agenda, the whiteboard, even the colour-coded highlighters. I know this feeling well. Organization is easy during the first few weeks of school, but everything becomes more scattered as life gets busier. Organization is most helpful in the middle of the semester when you’re drowning in assignments because it helps you save time, assuage your stress, and feel accomplished. Here are 10 tips for lasting yet easy ways to get organized and stay that way.

1. Get a pocket-sized agenda and write everything in it. 

The most effective method to stay organized with agendas is to buy an agenda that is easy to keep with you, that way you can always refer to it. The second step of this involves collecting all your syllabi and writing your deadlines in your agenda. While this may take an hour, it’s worthwhile and pays off because rather than constantly updating your agenda, you can just write all the dates down first and see how your months and weeks look. This gives you a better idea of the “crunch” weeks and less-busy weeks, allowing you to plan around those accordingly.

2. Find a fast, effective way of note-taking, and stay firm with this system.

The second tip I wish I’d heard before I entered university is finding a note-taking system that is neither too time consuming (we all know people who spend hours decorating their notes but suffer academically) nor too chaotic. Personally, I prefer to take all my notes in a standard bullet-point format with subheadings of the most important topics. Then, I go through those notes and highlight the parts I struggle to remember. Find what works best for you and stick to it.

3. Keep to-do lists, but realize they may change throughout the day. 

As a type-A person, I love to-do lists. They help me feel accomplished, track my progress, and help me stay motivated. Despite their efficiency, to-do lists can become inhibitive if you use them too strictly. For example, when I didn’t finish my to-do lists, I would become less energetic and unmotivated. This is why to-do lists are helpful, but only if you accept that things may change. They aren’t static lists.

4. Plan a cleaning day for each week and routinely use that time to clean.

Unfortunately, cleaning is a part of everyday life and is necessary to maintain a sense of control over your workspace. I find it very difficult to stay on track with my cleaning if I leave it up to the whims of the week, since often I find something that’s more important and leave cleaning for later (which means never). However, if you select a day of cleaning each week, that makes it harder to push it aside and helps you schedule other important things around your cleaning. 

5. Start planning out your assignments a few weeks in advance.

This is definitely the tip I struggle with most. Even though your professors will give you a “final” deadline, I find it extremely helpful to break my assignments down into components, allowing myself five days to a week to complete each part. Obviously, it depends on how much an assignment is worth and how much time is required to complete it, but generally I start my big assignments three to four weeks in advance and smaller ones one to two weeks in advance. This gives me time to schedule my own deadlines, like “first paragraph due” and “works cited due.” This tactic not only keeps you on track, but it also helps you feel accomplished and motivated when you complete each segment of your project. Plus, it gives you plenty of time to ask questions and double-check your work while avoiding spending eight hours on it during one day.

6. Keep up on readings by selecting a time when you’ll do your ‘reading’ that day.

As an English major, I do a lot of reading — I’m talking two or three novels due in a week. In order to manage heavy reading (or homework) schedules, it’s necessary to make time for them even if you have other assignments due. I find it most helpful to select a time of day to read (for me, that’s around 8-11 a.m.) and stick to that schedule. This helps you stay committed to readings because falling behind will hurt you more in the end. 

7. Don’t push your first drafts of projects to the next day, and don’t worry about how good they are.

This goes along with tip No. 5. When you set your own deadline to complete a first draft of a project, don’t spend hours trying to make it perfect. This was a hard skill for me to learn because I’m a perfectionist, but it’s much more efficient to write a first draft (however flawed) and then revise, revise, and revise! This allows you to release all those amazing ideas you have, since you’re not worrying about the grammar, citations, or other aspects. It also helps you pump out assignments faster because as anyone who writes will tell you, you can spend hours and hours thinking about writing but not actually doing any. In the end, a flawed draft is better than no draft. 

8. Delete/limit social media during your school time. 

I found that I was spending a lot of time on social media during the school year, which sucked up time but also didn’t make me feel great about myself. The great thing about social media is that you control how often you use those apps. Most (if not all) iPhones allow you to set time limits on apps, and there are even apps that will remind you when you need to get off of them. Or, if you’d like to take more extreme measures, delete those apps from your phone! You’ll still have your accounts, but you’ll be able to spend your breaks doing more fulfilling activities.

9. Take breaks when you need them and plan your week around them rather than avoiding them.

This is likely the most important tip. Staying organized means staying calm and avoiding those late-night freak-outs, so it’s important to schedule your breaks. I used to think breaks were just a waste of time, but later I found that when I scheduled my breaks, I often completed things faster and more effectively because I knew that I had to go out with my friends or watch a movie with my family. These are not only more efficient, but they help you feel better and restore your mind so you can avoid burnout. 

10. Schedule A calming night routine that makes you feel good. 

My favourite time of the day is at night. I get to change into cozy pajamas, do a face mask, and go to bed. I find that most university students (me included) have issues scheduling long breaks into their day, but nighttime routines are easy and calming, and often take no more than 15 minutes. It’s also a great way to tell your body you’re going to sleep and wind down from a hectic day. I recommend trying out herbal teas, clay masks, or meditation. 

University is always going to be hectic and unpredictable, but you can control some aspects of it. Being a good student is based more on organization and study habits than innate intelligence (which, I would argue, is a subjective and an incredibly flawed social ideal). The most important thing to take out of this list is that the small things you do affect your entire life and can make you feel better. Doing well in university is not only about doing well academically, but cultivating a comforting and organized lifestyle that makes you feel proud of your accomplishments and motivated to learn.

I'm an English major at University of Windsor. I enjoy reading, writing and painting. I'm very interested in social justice issues, like climate change, women's rights and sexuality/gender studies.