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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Organization for the Disorganized

Throughout my life, I have faced a battle. The odds were against me and at times I stumbled, but in the end, I prevailed. What was this valiant quest, you ask? It was--I pause, for dramatic effect-- my journey from becoming hopelessly disorganized to becoming only slightly-disastrously disorganized

Jokes aside, I have always been really disorganized. Like, lose-my-jacket-every-day disorganized. And now, a mere two months before my eighteenth birthday, I'd say I'm only lose-my-jacket-every-week disorganized. Progress. Along the way, I've learned what practices work best for me when it comes to keeping myself functioning in school, life and otherwise. My hope is that some of these techniques will work for you, too. 

Time Management 
One word: planner. At some point in my sophomore year, it dawned on me that attempting to remember all my assignments by way of the 'mental note' wasn't really cutting it. As time passed and my responsibilities also increased, it became necessary to establish (and actually maintain) a better system for planning my time. For me, the thing that did the trick was using a half-hourly planner, which I've blogged about before. For you, it may be iCal, Google Calander, a fancy productivity app, or just a small notepad. It will help bring you peace of mind and a sense of control over your own life.

For an analysis of good calendar apps available on the App Store, check out this article.

If you prefer, there are several homework-centered apps available for smart Phones that can be used as a high-tech alternative to an agenda planner. I've personally tried out myHomework, which I enjoyed for its pleasing user interface and features that my traditional planner doesn't have (obviously). In the end, however, I found that it is easier for me to remember to use my good old notebook planner.

If you, like me, choose to use a notebook planner, consider selecting one that you enjoy writing in. Mine is colorfully striped--unlike the drab ones that schools often issue students--and makes me happy when I use it. Note: for those of us who are prone to losing things, a bright planner is easier to keep track of!

Perhaps the most valuable part of using a planner is the opportunity to have a visual representation of your time. I write in all my commitments--including school, work, volunteering, and more. Then, I write down my all of my homework in a continuous list for the whole week. Each day, I look at each task on my homework list and estimate the amount of time it will take. Then I find a time, either that day or the next, where that task fits into my schedule. I pencil it in, blocking off the amount of time I previously estimated. By the end of the day, I have a pretty definitive idea of what my afternoon will look like. Funnily enough, this method of planning has caused me to "race" my estimates, which helps me to get my homework done faster.

Papers and Schoolwork 
This is where my struggle really comes into play: the mountains of papers that accompanied my first three years of high school--and my alarmingly tendency to lose those papers. In my senior year, schoolwork has shifted to be primarily on the computer, which has been a blessing as far as organization goes. Which, as it happens, is the basis of my first piece of advice:

1. Use technology as much as possible. If you conduct your schoolwork on the computer, your assignments will never be farther away than a simple keyword search. Even if your teacher doesn't utilize technology much, you can usually choose to do the majority of your assignments (both in and out of class) on your computer. Extra points if you create color coded folders for different classes.

2. Google Docs: Never lose your work. Losing an assignment due to a failure to hit "Save" is a disaster that has likely affected most of us. If you use GoogleDocs (and Google Slides, Google Sheets, and more!), you need not fear. Your work is instantaneously saved to the cloud. Not to mention the fact that your documents are accessible from anywhere! It's a godsend for the forgetful!

3. For all those darn papers: Oh, paper organization. The money I have spent in vain on ultimately useless organizational systems. What system finally did the trick, you ask? Well, "did the trick" is a bit of an overestimated, considering that even this year I've had a couple frantic searches for different pieces of paper. But, it's all about baby steps so here is the most successful method I've tried:

My paper organization consists of two parts: a desktop file tray and a larger filing cabinet in my desk drawer. I try to keep the filing cabinet my primary source of organization. In the cabinet, I have labeled files for each category--which include all my previous and current classes, extracurriculars, and more--which I sort my papers into about once a month. During the in-between time, I use the desktop file tray as a catch-all. When I'm short on time, I can easily slip a paper into the tray so that it is out of sight, but still safe.

4. College search papers: During the college application season, I found it immensely helpful to have a separate, portable organization system for the many papers related to this process. While a file box like this would work well, I think an accordion file folder is ideal because it is small enough to pack if you choose to go on college visits. It's a great place to collect all the pamphlets handed out at information sessions.
I separated mine into the following categories:

  • Testing: for all AP/SAT/ACT score sheets and admission tickets.
  • Research: for various drafts of my college list.
  • Writing: for hard copies of my various application essays and supplements.
  • Passwords: I made myself a spreadsheet for all my various usernames and passwords. Between the College Board, and all your individual portals, your bound to have too many to remember in your head. Getting locked out of the College Board site is a major pain, by the way. 
  • References: for all teacher reference materials
  • Brochures: for all reading materials given out at college visits or sent in the mail. 
  • Miscellaneous: for all the other random stuff.
And that's it! Pretty easy, right? If you have any life-saving organization tips, share them below. I'd love to hear!

Post by Allie C., Homework Assistant 

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