1. Mark your CalendarTake advantage of your class syllabi. A course syllabus will often include a detailed list of the entire semester’s assignments and projects. This is the perfect time to purchase a calendar (personally, I rely on both a massive wall calendar and a pocket-sized planner). First, mark all academic calendar events, such as exam dates. Next, record personal events like your sibling’s birthday or your family reunion during Thanksgiving. Then, gather your syllabi. Mark large projects first, followed by medium-sized ones. Typically, daily or weekly assignments are more fluid. Consider recording them more frequently to retain their details in your mind. Finally, take a moment to search for patterns or clusters of work. Certain weeks may be littered with deadlines, while others seem quiet. Try to avoid scheduling commitments during busy periods, and start projects early if you have more than one due in the same week. Understanding the flow of the semester is usually a short (under one hour) process that can have a major impact on your semester.
2. Put Everything in its Specific PlaceThat place is likely not in your backpack. Identifying a home location for objects and establishing a travel folder can help you reduce the weight on your shoulders—literally! Keep all of those papers you need or want to bring home (or wish to use again as resources) in a folder in a space that you pass each day, whether that is a locker or your kitchen counter. You can also utilize a travel folder for the important documents that you must have for the next round of classes or activities. If you do not have back-to-back courses, you can space out your folders and materials to avoid carrying too much in your backpack.
3. Periodically Filter Through your MaterialsOne of the greatest challenges of school-specific organization is how quickly papers pile up, whether in a backpack or a folder or your favorite location to store documents. Schedule a cleaning for 20 minutes once a month to go through folders, lockers, backpacks, or wherever else papers tend to accumulate. It is an easy way to ensure you check for that lost assignment you meant to turn in, and it can lighten your load. Working toward an organized semester is a significant undertaking, whether this is the first semester of freshman year or your senior year. Understanding how you work best and making sure that you can find important papers will make your semester easier by eliminating the stress of missing an assignment or failing to find an important resource later on. Remember, however—an organized semester is about completing numerous small tasks throughout the term, as much as it is about acing those large projects and tests.
Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.