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staying organised at university

Organisation means less stress and more success

The bad news is that many people are naturally disorganised. The good news is that you can take some easy steps to fix this and take control of the chaos!

Have a look through these five tips for getting organised - and staying that way.

1. Hi-fi or low-fi, diaries are a must

The most important tool of an organised person is a planning system. A good planning system allows you to remember all of your responsibilities, be in the right place at the right time, and avoid the nasty surprise of an assessment you downright forgot.

The specific nature of your diary is up to you and your preferences. You might like to buy a nice-quality paper diary that feels luxurious and inviting. Maybe you're a bit more high-tech and love the idea of a digital calendar that synchronises across your devices. Let your own needs and preferences guide that choice.

Here's how to fill out your diary in an organised way:

  • Read your syllabus/unit outline then:

    • write down the due date for all your assessments

    • mark out the exam season and note the specific date of your exams as soon as they're booked in

    • note any field trips, excursions, or special labs that might require travel/extra planning

  • Think about how much work, and therefore time, is associated with each task:

    • How much research is needed?

    • How much writing time?

    • Do you need to make or memorise study notes?

  • Consider your weekly responsibilities:

    • Note when your classes are held and where you will need to be to attend them

    • Write down your weekly readings, weekly quizzes you need to study for, or online tasks for flipped learning

    • Pay careful attention to the time of week each piece of work is due and prioritise accordingly

It might take a little while to learn exactly how much time is needed for various tasks, but you will get more confident with this the more you practice.

2. Learn to be tidy

A cluttered workspace leads to a disorganised life. You might be surprised by how much better and more productive you will feel with a clean and orderly environment. The best place to get started is with your desk. You need to make sure that any notes, books, or other files are kept tidy and stored using a logical system. It is always a real shame to spend valuable time searching for a single piece of paper that's lost in a big pile of mess. Simple filing systems like folders and labelled boxes are a real asset.

Similar rules apply to your digital workspaces. Make sure your files are well-organised, named clearly, and available on any device you might require them on. Ensure that you update any cloud spaces that you might rely on so your notes typed in a lecture can appear on your desktop computer.

Once you have cleaned up your workspaces and made them tidy, you should commit to keeping them this way. Build tidiness into your weekly schedule. Make time to clean out your bag and place any documents where they belong. Recycle any paper that you no longer need, or find a permanent home for anything you want to keep. Centre the tools you need for comfortably working on your current tasks such as library books, relevant notes, or specialist tools like calculators, pencils, etc. When you are done, swap these out for the tools required to focus on the next task.


3. Learn to take good-quality notes

Organised people don't just scribble down random ideas during class for the sake of putting pen to paper. They don't tell themselves they'll 'just remember' the content of a lecture or write up their lab notes at some unspecified future date. Let's be honest: that future date never comes!

That being said, good note-taking is an acquired skill that you may need to invest some time in. You will need to overcome procrastination and get in the habit of taking notes while the ideas are fresh in your head. That's why most students like to get started during class by writing down core ideas, names, dates, or arguments that your lecturer mentions. You can always refine and revise these basic notes after class. You will find that the more you write down as your lecturer speaks, the more ease you will have in understanding and remembering key ideas. This will also help you to ask for clarification if any points raised don't make sense to you.

Your notes also need to be organised. The most basic way of doing this is having a different notebook for each class, or typing into one document per subject. This means you will always know where to find your notes when it comes to writing an essay or studying for an exam. This will save a great deal of time and energy, which can then be invested in the assessment instead.

4. Organise your health

Don't let stress derail you. An organised life is one that has balance and leaves room for health, wellbeing, and recreation. Make sure you are also organised with your self-care, as this will have many benefits for your academic productivity and enthusiasm.

Remember your diary? It's also a tool for managing health, hobbies, and fun time. You can plot out the times when gym classes or group sports run. You can also make space for self-directed health activities like meditation, walks, or cooking a healthy meal from scratch. It's important to give yourself time for friends and boosting relationships with classmates. They can give you valuable emotional support and empathy. This is also a great way to feel more cared for and connected if you've left home for the first time or moved to a new city. Meaningful time away from your studies can actually make you a stronger student as it can give you renewed focus and enthusiasm for your academic choices.

You might need to have a job in order to afford the high cost of living in the city where you study, or to allow you to afford the learning tools you need. This is completely understandable, but make sure it doesn't take too much away from your study or health time. You should write down your shifts in your diary and make sure you don't take on any that conflict with important dates. Be careful with taking on too many hours, as the extra money may not be worth the extra stress.

5. Don't get too distracted by your social life

Your social life at uni can certainly be a valuable part of the experience and is a great opportunity for meaningful recreation. That being said, some people get derailed from study by spending too much time on parties, alcohol, and events.

A great way of balancing the wellbeing benefits of friendship with the demands of your study is to gravitate towards people and activities that support your academic goals. See if you can find friends who share interests relating to your degree or scholarly passions. You will find that there are plenty of people who would like to see an art exhibition with you, visit an historical site, practice language conversation skills, or whatever it is that might fit in with your studies. Extracurricular clubs are great fun, and you should be able to find some for students with specific degrees, majors, or areas of academic interest.

Study groups are also a great way of staying organised and balanced. Invite people from your classes to visit the library with you or discuss ideas you're learning over a cup of coffee. During exam time, you will easily find people who would like to revise with you in order to keep up motivation.

Don't be afraid of organisation, even if you're a naturally chaotic person or a procrastinator. The benefits are huge, and there are so many small steps you can take in order to improve and make your life easier in the long run. Just give it a try.

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