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Back to school organizing

It’s almost time to head back to school and a new semester means a fresh start. This new year, start off on the right foot by taking concrete steps toward two of your resolutions – getting organized and achieving more academically. Rather than wait until half the semester has passed you by, use this first week of school to get yourself prepared for the semester ahead. Here’s a list to help you get started.

The basics:

  • Put away last semester’s material. There’s no impediment to a fresh start like tripping over last term’s books and notes every time you move toward your desk. Organize your old notes, assignments and handouts and store them in binders. This way, they’re out of your way but available for future reference. Move the books for last semester’s courses to the bottom of your bookshelf so you can devote the prime shelving space to those you need for this term.
  • Clean your bedroom/dorm room. Once you have last term’s materials off the floor, get the rest of the place in order. A clean and organized environment will allow you to spend your time getting your assignments done, not searching for lost items.
  • Set up your workspace. Now that the desk is clean, make sure it’s prepared. Take inventory of your school supplies and purchase whatever needs replacing. Check your course list and purchase any special tools you may need. (such as a calculator or sketchpad).
  • Set up a reference point for your materials. If your class notes pile up in your book bag or on the floor, you’re not going to be reviewing them after classes or referring to them for your papers. Set up a system now and resolve to stick with it. I use magazine files and binders that have dividers labeled with the theme of each class. I prepare these binders as soon as I receive the class syllabus and store them on my bookshelf. On my desk, for easy reference, I have one magazine file for each class. (I use these from Ikea.) In each, I keep the notebook I use for that class, a folder with handouts and that week’s reading materials. At the end of each week, I move that week’s readings to the binder (those that are in paper copy) and print out the new ones. This way, I am never searching for my notebook five minutes before class starts.
  • Print out a copy of your schedule for your bulletin board and planner.
  • Buy the course books as well as any reference books you may need. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this, especially if you plan on buying them online because the delivery time may be lengthy.
  • Set your goals for the semester. Don’t just drift aimlessly along. Set realistic goals now, and list concrete steps toward achieving those goals. Print out your goal sheet and hang it on your bulletin board or somewhere you will see it often. Plan rewards for achieving each step.

The extra mile:


  • Get all of your reading assignments printed or photocopied and organized in your binder as soon as you get the syllabus. Getting it all done in one shot is a major time saver although it can rack up a lengthy photocopying bill. If you have the time and the money, however, it’s nice not to have to worry about the logistical side of keeping up with your classes. Glancing through the assignments will also give you a sense of where the course is moving and the types of things you will be expected to know.
  • Do the first reading assignment for each class. Getting a head start will leave you a little wiggle room when the additional assignments start piling in, but for it to work, you need to keep it up.
  • Plan your routine. Most people have more than just school in their lives. Planning a routine can help ensure that you allot sufficient time for your schoolwork but it also has the positive effect of leaving you time for other important activities, such as socializing. Also, making a habit of studying at the same time each day will enhance your productivity.
  • Bookmark helpful websites in a separate folder for each class. There is an abundance of reference materials out there that can help with your classes: tutorials, exercises, research guides etc. Look for these things, as well as blogs by professors doing work in your field, current events on the topic, and anything else that you can find that you think might be useful to track or will help with the assignments throughout the semester.

Happy organizing!

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2 Responses to “Back to school organizing”

  1. lei says:

    I agree with you. Students should get his things prepared and organize. One should also have a good planning schedule to have a balance life.

  2. Love your tips about printing out all the readings printed up front & using magazine files as a class inbox. The latter feels very GTD.

    I’d add 2 tips to your great advice, above:
    1. Burn a CD of last semester’s papers, work, and computer files. Then, trash the version on your hard drive. Store the CD with your binder from last semester.

    2. On your computer, create a folder for each class. Download any online materials you can.

    And I’d modify one tip:
    “Bookmark helpful websites”
    I do this on and use a tag to identify the class to you. This way, you can get at your bookmarks whether on your computer or a lab machine.

    Thanks for the great post! I am a high school teacher & just started on a Masters degree, so I’m now reading Gearfire from both sides of the fence.

  3. [...] Back to school organizing | GearFire – Tips for Students (tags: emily) [...]

  4. [...] Back to school organizing (GearFire – Tips for Students) Here are some good tips for getting organized for this semester, I don’t follow all of them personally, but I think that this is good food for thought. [...]