We've all felt that sense of dread as though our life is falling apart, the terrifying epiphany that we have forgotten to submit an assignment on time or even failed to remember that we had to pick something up from the store. Staying organised is probably one of the most important factors to succeeding academically, but also in the real world!
However, as students, many of us are unsure of how exactly we can go about managing our time, coordinating our to-do list and prioritising the tasks that need to get done in an efficient and effective manner.
As such, I have created a list of 5 quick and simple tips, easily implementable into anyone’s school, work or life routine which can drastically help in minimising the number of stressful nights you have where you are scrambling to finish an assignment or cram for an exam.
I have separated these 5 tips into 3 general categories, including: time, people and self, as I believe that effective organisation is fundamentally hinged on these three broad areas of one’s life.
Therefore, by having a good hold of our time, relationships and ourselves, we should be on track to being organised and on top of all of the tasks that are expected of us.
1. Do not overestimate your time: The first tip is to never overestimate how much time you have to complete something. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I had overestimated just how much time I had to prepare for an exam, complete an assignment, get something done, this always leads to last minute cramming. This is a cognitive mistake that I am still trying to fix, but being aware of out distorted perception of time along with our deceiving optimism about our own level of productivity, is the first step to addressing disorganisation.
The allure of time is undeniable, and as humans we are very hopeful that we will spend our time wisely and manage ourselves in an efficient and productive fashion. We assume that when we have a task due, we will invest our time in an economical and pragmatic style, as if nothing will distract us, and no issues will arise along the way. But this failure to plan for contingencies is unrealistic! Despite this optimism, it is usually the case that we don’t actually use our time the way that we initially hope or intend, which means that we need to plan in light of the reality that we probably don't have as much time as we think.
Considering this, my first tip is an interesting one: always underestimate just how much time you have so you trick yourself into starting earlier, make yourself quicker and finish with ample time left!
Whenever you find yourself thinking: ‘Oh, I have so much time to complete this - I don’t have to worry about it until later!’, stop yourself and consciously re-route your thoughts. You should always ask yourself whether or not it is sensible to put the task off.
2. Plan out your time in a stepwise manner - It is often the case that when we first receive notification of an upcoming exam or task, we are reluctant to begin our preparation solely because of the fact that it just feels so daunting. Whilst the assessment might intimidate us at first, breaking what we need to do into bite size pieces can help our approach to the task, making it less foreboding. For example, we might have an English exam where we need to write a 1200 word essay to an unseen question.
On the face of it, it is understandable if we feel lost. How do we start? But if we were to decompose this task into a series of steps, proceduralising what we have to do, the task is not all that terrible. As we see below, the task as a whole might feel daunting, but the individual steps are very do-able, some requiring not even that much work at all!:
Write introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion
Draft and edit essay
Send essay to teacher for critique
Send essay to tutor for critique
Send essay to friends and peers for feedback
Practice adapting and manipulating essay to different questions
Continue drafting essay to perfect it!
3. Be in the loop by asking questions to friends and teachers - It is important to understand that at school (and work), we are not alone - we are part of a team! Everyone is, for the most part, on the same boat, juggling their own responsibilities and deadlines whilst trying to stay afloat. The good thing about school is that most students have the same assessments, meaning that staying in the loop with friends and colleagues is super important especially if you have accidentally forgotten about something or missed a day or two of school!
Our friends form part of a valuable support network. Personally when I was at school, my friends were the biggest source of support backing me up! Even having an active group chat where you remind each other of what’s going on can be of great aid.
4. Find strategies that suit you (e.g., digital versus physical diary, post-it notes, sticking assessment notifications on your wall, writing down little reminders on your hand etc.) - there are a hundred and one ways to remind ourselves of the different tasks that are needed to be carried out, and depending on what our preferences are, these strategies might work differently for different people. Nonetheless, our memory and ability to keep mental tabs on just all the work we need to get done, is not foolproof, meaning we require some form of external reminders to keep us organised and on track. For some, platforms like Notion help digitally organise the different tasks needed to be completed in one’s day, whereas others enjoy the traditional diary where they can write down anything that needs to be done as soon as it pops up. Irrespective of which strategy you like, it is important that you have your own strategy and do not rely on just a mental diary!
Soon enough your mental hard drive will reach its maximum capacity and you’ll begin to experience leakage, missing certain things here and there which eventually leads to disorganisation.
5. Practice self-discipline - Yes, sleepless nights and stressful study cramming is a byproduct of disorganisation - but disorganisation is not an isolated issue. The mismanagement of our time, priorities and activities typically comes from a more general propensity to have fun, go out with friends, spend hours on our phone etc. which then accumulates into a bigger problem of avoiding what it is we actually need to do. As such, I would encourage that we practice self-discpline through rewarding ourselves with these fun activities only after we have completed a more pressing task (e.g., finishing the first section of an assignment, or editing the introduction of our essay).
In this way, we can reward ourselves with things we like once we have done something productive, thus incentivising us to continue being productive in the future. Although retraining ourselves to be disciplined requires resilience, it is extremely worth it once we have all our assignments completed well before the deadline!