Note: I’ve received comments and messages telling me that the word “organised” in the title should be spelled as “organized”. But I write in British English, where the word really is spelled as “organised”. 🙂
Life as a student is busy.
If you’re not organised and you feel like you’re not on top of things, you’ll be stressed.
You might end up working late and sleeping less, but this isn’t a good idea.
Getting organised for school is all about developing good study habits and systems.
Through my experiences, I’ve come up with these 30 simple tips that will help students to become organised, productive, and effective.
1. Develop a routine
Consistency is the key to student success. So write down your general weekly schedule and create a routine.
Include things like when you’ll do your homework, when you’ll review the things you’ve learned, when you’ll exercise, and so on.
It’s not possible to stick to a routine 100% of the time, but at least set up the framework to keep you focused and on track.
2. Set rules for yourself
Set some very specific rules for yourself. These could be things like “complete all projects and assignments at least two days before they are due” or “start studying for tests at least one week in advance”.
Review your rules once a month and adjust them if necessary.
3. Write everything down
No one has a perfect memory, and trying to remember everything is stressful. So make a habit of writing down all your events, meetings, ideas, and things you need to do.
When you write everything down, you’ll be less anxious because you won’t be relying on your brain as a storage device.
4. Create your own deadline that is before the actual deadline
Create your own deadlines and put them in your planner or calendar. Having your own deadline reduces stress for you as a student. You’ll also be more likely to submit your best work.
Don’t treat the actual deadline as the deadline. Set your own deadline one or two days before, and plan accordingly.
This will help you because you probably already experience enough stress related to taking tests and exams!
5. Work on one task at a time; don’t multitask
Multitasking seems like a good idea because you can pretend that you’re working twice as hard. We all get bored of the tasks we’re working on, so jumping about seems more fun.
The problem is that it doesn’t result in the best outcomes.
Here’s what I recommend: Take a scrap piece of paper and write down the task you’re working on right now, e.g. Math assignment, questions 1 to 5.
Put that scrap piece of paper on your study table, to serve as a reminder for you to stay focused on the task at hand.
6. Use the following websites and apps . . .
Test out the following websites and apps to make studying fun, keep you organised, and remove distractions.
Habitica is an app that turns your goals into a fun game. It makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your goals and enjoy the process too.
This app replaces a planner and helps you organise your schedule, tasks and exam preparation. It also sends you reminders of upcoming events.
KeepMeOut is an online tool that prevents you from visiting distracting websites too often. It will help you concentrate while you’re working.
7. Use a planner
I recommend that you put the planner on your desk once you get to class and leave it there throughout the school day. This makes it more likely that you’ll use it because it’s right in front of you.
If you leave your planner in your backpack, you may feel like it’s too troublesome to take it out to use.
Put everything in your planner: homework, test and exam dates, family events, social events, etc. This way, you’ll be far more organised.
If you’re allowed to use your phone or computer in class, then you can use Google Calendar, Google Keep, or MyStudyLife instead of a hard copy planner.
8. Declutter once a week
At the end of each week, look through all the papers, notes, brochures, and other things you’ve accumulated. Recycle or throw away all the things you don’t need.
Clutter attracts clutter. So if you declutter once a week, you’ll be more likely to stay organised in general. You’ll also find it easier to stay focused.
9. Put sticky notes on the front door to help you remember things
You can use this tip for things you don’t want to forget, such as bringing an extra T-shirt to school or asking your parents to sign a consent form.
Put a sticky note on the front door. The note can have just the key word written on it, like “T-shirt” or “Form”. This will make it almost guaranteed that you’ll remember.
10. Keep one notebook and one binder for each subject
Take all your notes for one subject in one notebook. When you run out of space, start a new notebook. Label each notebook clearly, e.g. History Notebook 1, History Notebook 2. This will make it easy for you to find the information you need in the future.
Doing this will help you to be organised.
I discourage you from taking notes on loose sheets of paper. I also discourage you from using only one notebook, in which you take notes across all your different subjects.
Make a habit of keeping one binder for each subject and filing your assignments and printed notes according to type. File all your assignments together in sequential order, followed by your printed notes, which should also be filed together in sequential order.
11. Bring an accordion folder to school every day
This accordion folder is for your daily use.
Create one section of the accordion folder for each subject, and label each section clearly.
I recommend reserving the front section for incomplete homework, so the homework will be easy to find.
12. Do filing once a week
At the end of each week, transfer all the printed notes, assignments, etc. from the accordion folder to the respective subject’s binder.
Doing this weekly is a good practice, to ensure that your accordion folder doesn’t get too full or messy.
13. Do five minutes of daily planning each day
Before you start doing your homework or studying for a test, look at your planner first. Take note of all upcoming deadlines, and think about your schedule for the rest of the day.
Then you can decide what specific tasks to work on for the day. Doing daily planning will ensure that you’re always working on the most important tasks, and that you don’t leave anything out.
14. Learn to say no
If you want to be an organised, effective student, you can’t say yes to everything – there will always be trade-offs you’ll need to make.
So decide on the boundaries you want to set for yourself. Decide how many times you’ll go out with your friends each week, how many days each week you’ll devote to extracurricular activities, and what your priorities are.
Then practise saying no to protect these boundaries. And don’t feel guilty when you say no! Remember, it’s not about being a busy student; it’s about being an effective student.
15. Block out time in your schedule for the things that matter most
Blocking out time in your schedule is a critical time management strategy for students.
If you don’t do this, other things which are less important will fill your schedule.
In your calendar or planner, block out time for things like family events, religious activities, volunteering, and studying.
Then honour these commitments and stick to your schedule as much as possible.
16. Break down big tasks into smaller tasks
Breaking down big tasks and projects makes them seem less overwhelming and more manageable.
Doing this also makes it clearer what your specific next step is, so you’ll be less likely to procrastinate on your assignments.
Here’s an example. Rather than telling yourself that you need to work on your history essay, break it down into smaller tasks like:
- Read 10 articles on the topic for research
- Write outline
- Write introduction
- Write main point #1
- Write main point #2
- Write main point #3
- Write conclusion
- Proofread the essay
- Adjust the formatting, layout, etc. of the essay
- Submit essay
17. Once a week, review the upcoming events in your planner/calendar
Each week, take a few minutes to see what important events and deadlines are coming up over the next month. This will help to ensure that you don’t overlook any important projects, tests, or assignments.
Reviewing your schedule helps you to stay on top of things. It also keeps you calm and in control, and allows you to adjust your daily and weekly priorities.
18. If a task takes two minutes or less to do, do it immediately
The “two-minute rule” was popularised by productivity expert David Allen. When you follow this rule, small tasks don’t pile up and become overwhelming.
Things like texting a friend, sending your classmate some information via email, or asking your parents to sign a consent form are all quick tasks that take less than two minutes to complete.
When you do these tasks immediately, you’ll feel a sense of achievement too.
19. Clear your desk at the end of each day
This only takes a minute to do and prevents clutter from building up. I recommend doing this when you’re done with your homework or studying for the day.
It will make it easier for you to find what you need when you next sit down to work.
20. Develop a specific plan for every upcoming test and exam
Don’t just tell yourself that you’ll study hard for the test or exam. That’s too vague, and you may feel as if you’re never prepared enough.
Instead, develop a plan. Write down what resources you’re going to use, how many practice questions or exam papers you intend to do, how many times you plan to read the notes, what study tips you’ll put into practice, etc.
Write all the steps down on a sheet of paper and create a rough timeline as well. When you’ve completed everything on your plan, you’ll know that you’re well prepared.
By always having a plan, you’ll learn faster and be more efficient in the way you use your time.
21. Create a conducive environment at home for studying
If you want to be an effective student, you need to have the right environment to work. You need all the necessary materials, stationery, paper and study tools. You also need a suitable table and lamp.
And if you want to be productive, you definitely shouldn’t study on your bed!
22. Before you start work, eliminate all distractions
Take a moment and think about the distractions you typically face when you’re trying to study. Common ones include text messages, notifications on your phone, social media, YouTube, books, and magazines.
Remove these distractions before you get to work. Put your phone in another room, turn off Internet access on your computer, and put the books and magazines at the other end of the room.
23. Use a stopwatch or timer
When you want to be productive, use a timer to help you focus. Using a timer adds a sense of urgency.
Try working in blocks of 30 to 40 minutes, followed by a short break. If you’re up for it, set a timer for your breaks too, so that you don’t take a 45-minute break when you only intended to take a 10-minute break.
24. Double-check that you’ve completed all the homework that’s due the next day
Set a recurring reminder so that you’ll do this every school day in the mid-afternoon.
This will prevent you from scrambling at the last minute or pulling an all-nighter just to get the assignment done.
25. Every day, review all the new information you learned in school earlier that day
A quick review of the key concepts should only take you about 20 minutes.
Doing this helps to ensure understanding, so you stay on top of the material.
If you really can’t do this review on the same day, do it the following day while the information is still fresh in your mind.
26. Keep an ongoing list of the questions you have about the class material
As you read your notes and the textbook, keep a list of the things you don’t understand and the questions you have. As soon as you’re able to, ask your teachers about the items on your list.
If you do this consistently, you won’t need to spend so much time studying for tests and exams, because you already understand the information.
27. Every school night, pack your backpack for the following day
This way, you won’t have to scramble in the morning to pack. Set a reminder on your phone or put a Post-It note on your desk to ensure that you do this every school night.
Create a checklist for the things you need to remember to bring to school, and put the checklist somewhere accessible.
28. Wake up a little bit earlier each morning so you don’t have to rush
For most students, waking up 5 to 10 minutes earlier is enough to avoid the unnecessary stress of rushing in the morning.
When you rush, you often forget things – which means that your day doesn’t start well. So go to bed early, get at least eight hours of sleep every night, and set your alarm so you wake up a bit earlier.
I recommend that you put the alarm clock at the other end of the room, so you won’t be tempted to snooze. I also recommend using the Alarmy app if you use your phone as an alarm clock. It’s the best alarm clock app I’ve ever used!
29. Every school night, pick out the clothes you’re going to wear the following day
If you wear a school uniform to go to school, then this is easy. But it still saves you time.
Take your school uniform or the clothes you’ll wear the following day, and hang them somewhere easily accessible, like on the door knob of your room door.
This only takes you a minute to do, but makes the morning that much less stressful.
30. Make your bed every morning
This is a small victory to start the day.
It sets the tone for the day and will help you to be more productive overall.
Even this US Navy admiral recommends this simple tip as a way of improving your motivation and focus!
This is a long article that might leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially if you’re not already an organised student.
So take one step at a time.
Start by identifying which areas you need to work on, and then prioritise them.
Adopt one new habit in the coming week. Once you’re comfortable with that habit, adopt one more.
Remember that no one is perfect. Your journey as a student – and in life, too – is always about progress, not perfection.
Start making progress toward becoming an organised and focused student today!
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