Being organised is about managing your time and workload in an efficient, systematic way. This is especially important if you are away from home for the first time. If you can find systems which work for you, you will be more productive and less stressed. You’ll also have more time to do the things you enjoy. 6 Habits of Highly Organized People (video) has useful pointers including keeping your systems simple, developing routines, keeping to-do lists, having a place for everything, regularly decluttering and not being a perfectionist.
Set up your workspace to minimise distractions and have basic equipment to hand, e.g. highlighters, Post-It notes, files, staplers, plastic pockets, index cards etc. If your mobile is likely to distract you, put it on silent on the other side of the room. You might want a termly planner or whiteboard over your desk to remind you of tasks and deadlines. Or you might prefer a diary, notebook, list or stack of Post-It notes.
It's important to have a logical system for storing your notes. If you take notes on pieces of paper, give them a date and title, then transfer them to a folder at the end of the day or week. See How I organise my binder for one student's efficient system. If your notes are electronic, set up a system of folders and sub-folders which makes sense to you. Some students use OneNote (free for users of Office 365), Notion or Evernote (free for the basic version) to take notes and organise them into notebooks. If you install the Notion web clipper or Evernote Chrome extension, you can save bookmarks and screenshots directly to your notebooks. Another useful tool for saving bookmarks is the open-source reference management software Zotero, or MyBib, which can both help keep your research sources organised and create a list of references.
Email and communication
It is easy to get swamped by email and and miss important messages. Here are some tips for staying on top of things. While it's important to keep in touch and connected, also think about social media use and how you deal with notifications.
Analyse your time
In order to manage your time, it helps to know how you spend it. You could try time-tracking apps for this, such as aTimeLogger or Toggl. Once you know how many study hours you have available in a week, you can schedule that time. Buy or print off a wall planner and write in your deadlines. You can then work backwards from these to add mini-deadlines which will keep you on track. Try using the ASK Assignment Calculator for this or the free Pacemaker tool.
Planners for printing
Here are some planners you can use, modify and print:
How The Most Successful People Manage Their Time explains how to do a time log and plan your week. How To Be Efficient gives advice on controlling distractions and being productive. Consider having a regular 'date with my diary' to think strategically about the week or day ahead.
Procrastination means putting off a task until the last minute, when panic strikes. Watch Tim Urban's TED talk on procrastination. Often it results in stress and getting a poorer mark than you are capable of. You might procrastinate because:
- you don't know how or where to begin
- you feel overwhelmed by the time and effort needed
- you are worried you won't do it well enough
- you don't have the necessary skills or information.
But, if you can beat procrastination, you'll be less stressed, more confident, get better marks and be better able to enjoy your free time. Some practical steps you can take include:
- breaking the task down into manageable chunks
- setting deadlines and mini-deadlines
- setting yourself little rewards
- working with a study buddy or group
- working in short bursts with little breaks to maximise concentration.
The Pomodoro method involves setting yourself a goal and then working in two-hour blocks of time divided into short sprints (typically 25 minutes) then having a five-minute break. If you can estimate how long a task will take, you can divide it into these half-hour pomodoros. After two hours, you take a longer break. There are many Pomodoro apps to help keep you on track.
It can also help to create a Priority Matrix to organise tasks by importance and urgency.
To-do lists, reminders and alarms
Again, everyone is different. You might prefer to carry around something physical like a diary, notebook or Post-It Notes stuck on your desk. Or, you might use the calendar, alarms, reminders and notes on your phone or tablet. Any.do is a simple to-do list with reminders which works across a wide range of devices. Trello helps you manage your projects into boards, with the ability to add checklists, files, links, reminder dates and more. Or you might try a simple Kanban board to visualize your workflow:
Finally, a word about routines. Relying on willpower to make you do tasks you'd rather avoid is not very effective. But if you can create positive routines or habits around study, you'll do them on autopilot. See Charles Duhigg's TED talk on The Power of Habit. Apps such as Habit Bull can help you set, track and develop desirable routines.