Back to School Tip From an Online Tutor: How to Start and Stay Organized

The new school year tends to come with new school year resolutions that students hope to stick to for the year.  One common improvement that students try to make involves the organization (or lack thereof) of their school materials and notes.  Back-to-school shopping helps promote this behavior as students purchase new binders, organizers, agendas, folders, and more to begin the year - sign up for back-to-school online tutoring today.

Now, this self-improvement is not a bad thing, nor should it be avoided.  If you had to suffer the consequences of your poor organization last year, then it makes sense that you would try to fix that this year.

The problem is not the new attempts at organization – instead, the problem is the drastic amount of change that students attempt to make.  You are unlikely to go from taking sporadic notes in your single notebook to having a color-coded, meticulous copy of every lecture in separate binders.  That beautiful study plan and homework schedule that you prepared in your agenda in the first week of school is unlikely to continue if you weren’t an aid scheduler before.

If you are doing too much, you will only set yourself up for failure, which will demoralize you and cause you to give up on your organization altogether.  It happens to students every year, and it’s often the ones who are saying, “this is the year I stay organized.”

Instead, start smaller. If you only used one folder last year, or only get a new folder when the old one is full or tearing, then try multiple folders this year.  Make them all be different colors and label them.  By far, the most common way to label folders is to make one for each class.  However, I’ve found a more useful method is to label them something like: “homework,” “keep/important,” “classwork/notes,” and “miscellaneous.”  This, or something similar, will keep your important documents and homework where you need them.  It also prevents the frequent occurrence of having one class (that has its folder) giving you next to nothing to put in a folder, while another class quickly fills up its folder.  Think about what option appeals to you and stick with it.  Having organized tabs and hole-punching papers may keep your documents more organized, but simply putting papers in the correct folders is simpler and easy to stick to.

If you want to color-code your notes, and haven’t done so before, then I do NOT recommend getting several highlighters, gel pens, and colored pencils.  Instead, get yourself several pens that have three or more different colors in one (i.e., you can switch the pen from black to red to blue to green – all in the same pen).  It will be cheaper than buying a set of multiple colors, you won’t have to carry too many things with you, and you won’t have to worry about losing a particular color.  Most importantly, you also won’t have to be switching from pen to pen or pulling out highlighters while you’re taking notes. If you have to flick a switch to change the color, and if all of your pens can change colors, then you are more likely to stick with your color-coding plan.

If you want to start using an agenda, but you always stopped using it in previous years, then don’t write too much in it this year.  Write short, brief bullet points of your homework and your responsibilities.  Make it easy for yourself to continue.  My advice also is to write something every day and keep track of how many days in a row you have done so.  Many times, you will have a day or two where you don’t have anything you need to write, or it’s something minor, so you elect just to remember it.  This starts the pattern of no longer using your agenda book.  But, if you keep track and make a streak of using the book for fifty days in a row, then you will make yourself write at least something to continue your streak.  This way, you’ll continue using it for the whole year and build positive habits.

These are just some examples of ways to create, positive, and productive new organizational habits.  The best plan isn’t always the plan that would theoretically give the best results – the best plan is the plan that you will stick with for the whole year.  None of your fancy notes and optimistic binder labeling will matter if you give up before winter break.  Consider the examples here and set yourself realistic goals.

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Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.