Organizational Hacks for Busy College Students

The life of a college student is never dull! If you’re like most college students, you’re spending around 15 hours a week in class and 30 hours a week studying. And once you throw in a part-time job or an internship, try to have a social life, and find time to sleep, your schedule gets very full.

Trying to find the time to get good grades, get enough sleep, earn money, and spend adequate time with your friends and family can be challenging. Before you resort to a life of sleeping three hours a night and eating ramen, take a look at your organizational practices.

Chances are, there are a few new techniques you can put into practice. While not every technique works for everyone, sometimes switching things up and trying something new can free up some space in your busy schedule.

College Education More Fun

Start using a planner

If you’re not already using a physical or electronic planner, get one and put your entire calendar in it. Make sure to put your class schedule in it, work schedule, upcoming due dates, and personal obligations such as doctor appointments.

When it comes to planning, many college students rely only on their syllabi. The problem with this is what it doesn’t give you an overarching picture of all of your assignments—you could end up having two major assignments due on the same day and not realize it until the night before.

A planner, however, lets you see your entire week or month at a glance. This can help you plan for those large assignments without double-booking yourself.

Some people prefer physical planners that they can carry around, while others prefer electronic planners that sync between their devices. There are pros and cons to both types and it is really a matter of personal preference. For example, if you always forget to grab notebooks but always remember your phone, an electronic planner would work best.

Declutter your desk

A cluttered desk makes it hard to study and complete your schoolwork. If you need to clear a spot for your laptop every time you sit down, can’t lay your textbooks flat, or have no clue where your scissors are, your desk is too cluttered.

A cluttered desk makes it hard to find needed items and it can also be distracting. The tiny knick-knacks that cover your desk are probably much more interesting than your Chemistry textbook.

The first step to declutter your desk is getting rid of any similar objects. You don’t need multiple pairs of staples or dozens of pens. Keep only what you need and donate the rest. You’ll also want to get rid of any distracting items—a few decorative items are fine, but make sure they’re not taking away from study space.

Then, find a way to organize your remaining items. If you have a desk drawer, buy a few organizational dividers to store your items. If you don’t have a drawer, invest in a small organizational system that sits on your desk.

Tuck your cell phone away

Eliminating distractions and stopping procrastination help you stay more focused and organized.

Many students keep their cell phone right beside them while they’re studying or while they’re in class. This can negatively impact your studies⁠—you see a text flash across the screen and you check it, and then you’re on YouTube watching videos of cats, and then class is over and you’ve missed information about an important assignment.

Put your cell phone in a place where you can’t see it, such as in your bookbag or in your desk drawer. If you’d still like to remain connected in the event of emergencies, invest in a smartwatch. Smartwatches can sync to your phone and email. A quick glance at your wrist will allow you to see if you’re receiving an important call, but you won’t have all the distractions that come with your smartphone.

Also, keep in mind that it isn’t just your cell phone that can distract you. If you’re in the habit of browsing the internet or social media on your computer while studying, you can quickly start procrastinating on important projects.

Get smart with your notebooks

Some college students take notes on their laptops, while others take notes with pen and paper. If you prefer pen and paper, you’ve got to find a way to organize your notebooks for each class.

A simple hack is to use a different color single-subject notebook for each class. Another simple hack is to invest in a five-subject notebook and use notebook dividers to distinguish between each class.

If you’re getting tired of carrying multiple notebooks, consider investing in a reusable notebook. Reusable notebooks allow you to digitally scan your notes after each class, erase the page, and then reuse the notebook for another class. This eliminates the need to have multiple notebooks.

Keeping your notebooks organized allows you to have better access to the notes from each class. If you’re trying to study for your math exam, the last thing you want to do is sort through a mess of notes to figure out what notes are from your math class and what notes are from your Chemistry class.

Break large tasks down

Breaking down large assignments into manageable chunks can help keep you from getting overwhelmed. Waiting to start an assignment the day before it is due often results in you rushing through the assignment and not doing as well as you could.

Whenever you get your syllabus at the beginning of the system, break any large assignments down into smaller chunks. For example, if you have to write an essay, plan out a timeline that allows you to research, complete an outline, write a rough draft, and proofread your rough draft. Then, the night before it is due, all you should need to do is make any final tweaks.

Breaking an assignment into chunks allows you to give the assignment that attention it deserves. It can also help prevent you from having to tackle two large assignments on the same night.

You can also break smaller tasks down as well. If you have trouble completing readings in one sitting, start breaking pages down into manageable chunks. Use your syllabus and use your planner to break assignments down in meaningful ways.

Review your schedule often

If you’re taking the time to use a planner to write out your class schedule and break down your assignments, make sure that you’re actually looking at your planner often! If you simply write everything down and then forget to review it, there is no point in having a planner.

Review your planner throughout the day to add tasks or get rid of tasks. Find a system that works for you. Some people prefer to work on tasks out of order and cross tasks off as they go, while others prefer to work in order.

Aother good habit to get into is reviewing your planner every night to see what you have coming up the next day. If there is a task that is no longer relevant (maybe your professor canceled the assignment) or if you have something to add (maybe you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment), make sure to update your plan.

Whenever you review your planner at night, also think about any long-term goals you have and if you’re on track to achieve them.

Utilize the services of your college

Most colleges have services that are specifically designed to help students get organized and improve their academics. For example, they might offer workshops that allow you to learn how to best study for an exam or how to balance work with academics.

If you need help learning how to research an essay, visit your college’s library or writing center. Professional staff will sit down with you learn how to use online databases, research from peer-reviewed sources, organize your notes into an essay, and help you proofread.

If you need help balancing work with academics, see if your college has a career center. Career center staff will often help you find a job or internship that is related to your area of study. They’ll also help you find an experience that doesn’t interfere with your class schedule.

Learn about the different offices of your college and what they can do for you. If you’re having trouble figuring out what office does what, consider sitting down with your academic advisor to learn what resources are available to you.

Minimize your wardrobe

Yes—minimizing your wardrobe can actually make you more organized and productive! Having to go through your clothes each morning to find an outfit takes time. Plus, all those clothes will eventually need to be washed.

Considering putting together a capsule wardrobe that is composed of versatile clothing pieces that you can mix-and-match. For example, a good pair of jeans can go with several tops. The key to creating a capsule wardrobe is finding a color scheme and sticking to it.

Having only essential clothing in your wardrobe can make it easier to get ready in the morning. You can also jazz up your wardrobe by adding a few accessory pieces, such as a fun necklace.

Another good way to minimize your wardrobe is by only keeping seasonal pieces in your dorm. You probably have limited storage in your dresser and closet, so only keeping the seasonal pieces you actually need can help free up space. For example, you probably don’t need your winter coat until December. When you go home for Thanksgiving, take all of your swimsuits home and return with your winter coat.

Practice self-care

Not getting enough sleep or not eating well can cause you to have trouble functioning during the day. Practicing self-care is an important part of maintaining a healthy, organized schedule while you’re in college.

In addition to getting enough sleep and eating healthy food, good self-care includes exercising and practicing good hygiene. It also includes taking care of your mental health. Yoga, meditation, and taking time to unplug are all good ways to take care of your mind.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it is important to visit a counselor or a doctor. Over 80% of college students report feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities. Mental illnesses are very common, but sometimes it can be hard to ask for help. Visiting a counselor or doctor, however, can help you better navigate the challenge of college.

It can be hard to balance self-care with academics. If you’re currently struggling, write reminders to practice self-care in your planner. Seeing a visible reminder that it is time to go to sleep or eat can help keep you on track.

Schedule time for fun

If you only focus on academics and work, you risk the possibility of burning out. Burning out is an awful feeling—you won’t feel motivated to do any work and you’ll become very apathetic towards college.

stylish college friends

The key is finding a good place between school and fun. While classes and studying will still take up a large amount of your time, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few hours each one to do something fun.

Take the time to watch a movie or hang out with a friend. Look at what clubs or organizations are on your campus so you can join a club of people that have the same interests as you.

Sometimes scheduling something fun towards the end of your academic week can help motivate you. Tell yourself you only get to go to that recently released movie if you have finished all your homework and have spent time studying for each class. Rewarding yourself after a busy week of classes helps motivate you to do your work and helps prevent you from burning out.

Wrapping up

Time-management is a hard skill to master, but it is essential if you want to do well in college.

The organizational tips above are a good way to start making your schedule more manageable, but you might also discover other techniques along the way.

The good news is that once you have organizational skills that work for you, you’ll be able to use that same set of skills when you enter a professional working environment.

Charu Verma
Charu decided to unite her Honors Degree in New Media and lifetime of geekiness to pursue a career in tech and gaming journalism. You can usually find her writing about a variety of topics and drooling over new gadgets and games.