Getting Organized

Like a new calendar year, a new school year feels like a fresh start.  Also like a new calendar year, a new school year can be a time for resolutions and promises to ourselves that this will be the year we get and stay organized.  

But once the new becomes routine, are you left with an unidentifiable mess of papers crammed into a backpack?

Taking the time at the beginning of the term to put some organizational systems in place can make all the difference at the end of the term.  Will you be able to successfully prepare for midterms and finals, or will you be struggling to find or recreate lost notes and tests?  

Here are five steps to getting and staying organized for the school year.

1. Label It

Whether it's in a three ring binder or an accordion folder, separate your papers by subject and label each section.  

Sometimes teachers encourage or even require certain organizational practices. Use these!  Your teachers know what kind of material is coming, and they're trying to help you stay organized.

Ignoring your teachers' systems can often result in a chaos of papers, not to mention the possibility of lost credit if the systems are required.

2. Stick to It

We all get lazy.  Sometimes shoving a loose paper indecorously into the pocket of your backpack (or pants) seems like the best bet for making it to your next period on time.  Make an effort to avoid this kind of "I'll put it in the right place later" attitude, and take the 10 extra seconds to put papers where they belong.

If you really just have to high-tail it out of chemistry so you can rush across campus in time to change for gym, make time on your calendar that is designated for organizing.  The end of the week is a prime time to cull through your binder and put any homeless papers in the right sections.  

Make it a ritual on Friday: grab the recycling bin and go through your folders and your backpack for a clean-out and reorganization.  

I'm sure you know this already from other areas of your life: cleaning a little at a time is far less painful than waiting until you have a huge mess on your hands and trying to tackle that.

3. Save It

Not wild about holding onto that quiz from the first week of school?  The one you took while your brain was still on summer vacation?  I  won't ask you to frame it and display it or anything, but you do have to save it.

Think of every quiz, test, homework sheet, class activity, and sheet of notes as clues in the larger mystery of what will be on tests and finals. These pieces of evidence show your teachers' thinking-- what they find want you to focus on and remember.  

Most teachers create their unit tests from information that has already been covered in some form or another--a handout, a lab, a class discussion during which you were encouraged to take notes.  Throwing away class material before taking the midterm or final is like throwing away money you earned!  You already worked hard for it, so keep it!

4. Re-Locate It

All papers in your binder(s) have a shelf life. They shouldn't stay in your binder forever, but that doesn't mean they automatically belong in the recycling bin.

If you are taking an AP class, your binder may fill up with notes, handouts, and practice essays every few weeks.  For your digital photography elective, the fill-up may take an entire semester.  In either case, you need to have a plan in place at home: a repository for papers you need to keep but that you don't need in class every day.  

Invest in a simple portable hanging file system and label it with the names of your classes.  You can even get super fancy and place manila file folders inside these larger ones to separate your notes from your returned tests, etc.

5. Review It

Imagine yourself at the end of the term.    

Your friends are all panicking about finals, but you are relaxed and confident. Why? Because you are spending quality time with that storage folder at home, reviewing your old tests and notes.  

You are using the questions (and answers) from your unit tests to remember material and test your preparedness.  You are reading through project notes and labs to remind yourself of the class discussions on which your teacher spent the most time.  You are filling in the review materials your teacher gave out form your own notes, which are written in terms you understand, rather than trying to tackle tough concepts from the text book itself.

In Summary

Start now and stick to your plan. The longer you wait to start organizing, the more daunting the task will be.  

Make the habit at the beginning of the year to make homes for your materials and regularly maintain your system.  If you make organization a habit, eventually you will be putting papers where you will be able to find them, and you won't even have to think about it.

  • How do you stay organized?
  • What is your biggest challenge when it comes to organization?