How to Stay Organized in College

Female College Student Checking Bulletin Board
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You might have had grand plans about getting organized in college. And yet, despite your best intentions, your plans for organization seemed to slip through your fingers. So how can you stay organized for the long road ahead?

Fortunately, although there are a zillion things to manage between your first day of classes and your last, staying organized in college is a lot easier than you might think. With a little advanced planning and the right skill set, staying organized can become more of your routine instead of just your ideal.

Try Various Time Management Systems

If you were wholly dedicated to making some fancy schmancy new calendaring app work for you this semester, but it ended up not working at all, don't be too hard on yourself. That means a particular system didn't work for you, not that you're bad at time management. Keep trying (and trying and trying) new time management systems until you find one that clicks. And if that means using a good, old-fashioned paper calendaring system, so be it. Having some calendar is the most important part of staying organized through the chaos that is college.

Keep Your Dorm Room Clean

When you lived at home, you had to keep your room relatively clean. But now that you're in college, you can keep your dorm room as messy as you want, right? Wrong! As silly as it sounds, a messy dorm room can represent a messy college life. Keeping your living space clean can help with everything from preventing you from losing your keys (again) to being able to mentally focus when you need to since you won't be visually distracted by all the junk on your desk.

Additionally, keeping your space clean doesn't have to take a lot of time and will lead to all those little things that make you feel like you're in control of your own life: having clean clothes to choose from in the morning, knowing where that FAFSA form went, always having your cell phone charged. If keeping your dorm room clean seems like a waste of time, spend one-week tracking how much time you spend maintaining it clean and another week tracking how much time you spend looking for stuff or trying to recover from things you've lost (like that FAFSA form). You might surprise yourself.

Stay on Top of Your Responsibilities

When you are faced with anything that connects with your college life responsibilities — from a cell phone bill to an email from your mom about when you're coming home for Thanksgiving — make yourself do one of four things:

  1. Do it
  2. Schedule it
  3. Toss it
  4. File it

As an example, spending the next month arguing with your mom over when you'll fly home will take ten times as much time as it will for you to just give her some dates when she brings it up. And if you aren't sure yet, figure out a day by which you will be sure — and then put it into your calendaring system. Your mom will leave you alone, you'll knock something off your to-do list, and you won't have to spend time telling yourself "Oh shoot, I need to figure out Thanksgiving" a million times a day between now and then.

Spend Time Each Week Reorganizing

You're in college because you've got a great brain. So put it to use on all you have to do outside of the classroom! Just like a finely tuned athlete, your mind is learning, expanding, and strengthening each week; you're in school. Consequently, what organizing systems worked for you a month or two ago might not work any longer. Spend a few moments looking at what you got done, what you're doing, and what you'll need to do over the next few weeks. While it may seem like a waste of time, those precious minutes can save you a lot of lost time — and a lot of disorganization — in the future.

Plan Ahead to Stay Ahead

Everyone knows that student who always says, "Oh, I can't do something then, I'll be up all night cramming for my midterm." Really? Because that is just planning to be disorganized! Plan for everything you have to do. If you have a significant event you're planning, make sure your homework is done ahead of time so you can focus on your event when the time comes. If you know you have a major paper due, plan to work on it — and finish it — a few days in advance. Since it's on your calendar and in your master plan, you'll stay organized and on top of your tasks without even having to think about it.

Take Care of Your Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health

Being in college is hard — and not just academically. If you're not eating healthy, getting enough sleep, finding time to exercise, and overall treating yourself kindly, it will catch up with you sooner or later. And it's impossible to get and stay organized if you don't have the physical, emotional, and mental energy to function. So give yourself a little TLC and remember that taking care of your health is an integral part of reaching your college goals.