While college is a time when many young people get to experience their first taste of freedom and adulthood, it’s also a critical period for learning to manage responsibilities on their own.
While school can seem overwhelming with all its deadlines and midterms and exams, academic life can also give you a much-needed sense of structure and purpose, especially if you have the right organizational tools on-hand, like a student planner.
While I wasn’t always the most organized student in college, I did learn some productivity tips along the way that have helped me even in my professional life after college. (Sometimes I wish I could go back to school just so I could use the organization tips I learned over the years -- I’d like to think I would’ve been a much better student!)
Whether you’re a college freshman or a grad student, here are some simple tips to help you stay organized, productive, and ahead of the curve.
1. Get a student planner
If you’ve never used a paper planner before, then getting one for college will be a game changer. Studies have shown that we’re more likely to get things done and achieve our goals when we put things in writing.
With a student planner, you don’t have to rely on your brain alone to remember and file everything -- all your deadlines and tasks can be organized in one place for easy, quick reference.
Here’s what you can put in your student planner:
- Class schedules
- Exam date
- Homework assignment due dates
- Study group dates
- Work schedules
- Theater rehearsals or other school activities
- Scholarship deadlines
- Internship application deadlines
- Writing down your college goals, e.g. getting good grades or scoring an internship at an organization you admire
- To-do lists
If you want a simple, no-frills student planner, you can opt for a blank notebook that you can completely customize. You can use this to write down your assignments, to-do lists, and any other notes. With a simple notebook, you have the flexibility to enter whatever will be most helpful to you. You can even turn it into a bullet journal.
If a structured planner is what you seek, you’ll love the Ink+Volt August 2020-July 2021 Planner, which is specifically designed to follow the academic year. It has all your favorite features of a planner -- yearly, monthly, and weekly layouts -- combined with inspiring and productive goal-setting features. Plus, there’s lots of space for journaling and writing down notes.
2. Do a monthly, weekly, and daily planning session with your student planner
If you want to stay on top of your classes and projects, try to break down your tasks by month, week, and days. This kind of advanced preparation, even though it takes time to do, will save you so much time in the long run. Say goodbye to writing your term paper at the last minute!
Every month: Write a list of things that you need to do that month. Do you have a big paper or exam or rehearsals coming up? Make sure to enter all the deadlines and dates in your student planner. That way, when you get to that page, you get a reminder! Plus, by thinking about it all in advance, you’ll have ample time to prepare for these activities and projects instead of waiting to tackle them at the last minute.
Every week: On Sunday evening or Monday morning, take stock of the week ahead. Make a to-do list of all your homework assignments, errands, and other obligations. Then, enter all your classes and meet-ups in your planner. Do you have swim practice and dinner with friends that week? Put them in your student planner. All of your fixed appointments will serve as anchors in your schedule. Once you know what you have to do that week, you can start scheduling in the other items from your to-do list, like studying for your exam, working on your term paper, and doing laundry.
Every day: Look at your to-do list for that day and try to focus on your top three priorities. Or, you can follow the post-it rule: write down your tasks on a post-it - you’ll be forced to focus just on the tasks that fit on that small square of paper!
3. Break down big projects into small, bite-size chunks
If the thought of tackling a big projects like working on your thesis or finding a summer internship seems paralyzing to you, then remember to break it down into small, actionable chunks.
For example, if a summer internship is what you seek, try breaking down this project into bite-size pieces:
- Visit career office
- Make a list of industries I’d like to work in after college
- Make a list of my dream companies I’d like to intern for
- Make a list of things I’d like to learn on the internship
- Make a list of skills/experiences I have that would make me a good candidate
- Write a resume
- Write a cover letter
- Ask friends and career counselor to review my resume/cover letter
4. Make time for exercise and meditation
While it’s easy to spend your semester fretting about tests and getting the perfect GPA, make sure you dedicate some time in your week for self-care and relaxation. A great way to manage the stress of papers and midterms is to sweat it out at the gym or take a long, leisurely walk, or relax with an adult coloring book.
When you give your mind some time to rest, you allow critical connections to be made between the many things you take in during your busy days. You'll come out of this rest time smarter and more relaxed, which will make it easier to learn even more.
5. Keep notepads nearby
You never know when inspiration will strike or when you’ll need to write something down on your to-do list. Keep a colorful notepad on your desk so you’ll remember to write things down and refer back to your notes later.
6. Make dinner
While making dinner may not seem like a productivity hack, taking the time to feed yourself with real, nutritious food will actually boost your well-being and re-energize you for the tasks ahead.
Try to organize a dinner with friends or make a simple meal with your suite-mates to offset some of the effort. Plus, when you look back on your college days, what you’ll remember most fondly won’t be the grades you received, but the personal experiences you had. So don’t forget to make room in your schedule for some delicious meals.
With these organizational tips and tools, you’ll be ready to crush your next semester.