It’s hard to overstate the benefits of organization; it can make large tasks manageable, reduce stress, and free the mind up for more creative thinking. The trouble is that it can be difficult to stay organized, especially as a young student starting a new school year. Waiting a couple weeks or months into the school year before thinking about your child’s organization lets homework, activities, chores, and anxieties pile up and overwhelm. But if you can help your child begin the school year organized, and reinforce the habit week by week, it can do wonders for their attitude and performance.
Former and current Eye Level Student Ambassadors have some insightful tips from their personal experience that can help your child’s organization.
Let’s get started!
Use a Planner or Agenda Book
One thing that nearly all our ambassadors have in common is the use of a planner or agenda to schedule their daily and weekly tasks. Of all the tips here, this might be the most critical and yet the most overlooked by students. It can seem unnecessary and tedious to write down a to-do list or weekly plan, but it’s been demonstrated to increase productivity and memory!
There are many options, both paper and digital, and selecting the right one for you is all down to preference. Like most habits, what matters most is to select something with which you can be consistent. A digital tool may be fun and flashy, but if you don’t keep up with it, it’s worthless. Likewise, a paper planner may be simpler, but if you tend to misplace it or don’t have it with you when needed, it won’t serve its purpose.
Some easy-to-use digital organizational tools would be Trello and Google Calendar.
Paper options include yearly agenda books, sticky notes, or calendars.
Here’s how our ambassadors are using theirs:
“My personal favorite is to use my agenda book. I used it this past year in college, and it’s really been helpful. What I would do is list out whatever I wanted to get done that day, and when I finished, I would scribble it out. And this was a very satisfying thing for me…it was like a little celebration on its own.”
— Ambassador Aastha | Neurobiology & Physiology at University of Connecticut
“On a day-to-day basis, I like to use my school planner. I can write down all of my homework and activities.”
— Ambassador Sofia | Eye Level of Anaheim Hills student
“Always be sure to make a plan of what you want to study on what day.”
— Ambassador Parth | Physics at UCLA
“I actually have two calendars. I have a general monthly one, and then I have one that I made for my APs…I colored coded everything and all the AP tests. And then I made a schedule on when I’m going to study for each test and when I need to be prepared by.”
— Ambassador Jeenah | High School Senior
Focus on One Thing at a Time
Once you have your planner of choice updated, it’s time to start crossing tasks off. To keep from getting overwhelmed by the number of tasks on the list, you should help your child understand prioritization and task management.
You can color code with highlighters or use a numbering system to determine which tasks have a higher priority. Consider deadlines as well as the size of the work. Don’t let your child do all the easy tasks first, while letting the time-consuming ones back up. On the other hand, don’t do all the lengthy or difficult tasks first, causing your child to feel stressed and overworked.
Find a healthy balance by alternating between smaller tasks that can be crossed off more quickly, and bigger tasks that might be spread over the course of a few days. Remember: the feeling of crossing off tasks is “a little celebration” and will increase your child’s motivation. So, focus on getting one thing done, experiencing that moment of success, and then move on to the next.
As our Ambassador Sofia has said, “doing your tasks one at a time produces quality work.”
And former Ambassador Surya detailed for us one way he breaks down his work, allowing him to focus on smaller “chunks” one at a time:
“One way that you can effectively study is through ‘chunking up’ the curriculum. This means that you study the first half tonight of Unit 1 tonight, the next half tomorrow, and the first half of Unit 2 the day after. This allows you to not feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the curriculum.”
Use Folders & Dividers
Now that you have organized a work schedule, it’s time to organize the materials themselves. Binders, folders, and dividers are essential. Folders and dividers will help you separate work between different subjects and different topics. Consider using different colors so that you can quickly locate documents.
You may have a binder or folder for each subject, and then could have a red divider for work that needs to be done, green folder for completed work that can be used for review, and yellow for handouts or notes. When it comes time to review old homework or quizzes that your child struggled with, you’ll know just where to look. Notes won’t get mixed up or lost because they will have their own place.
Ambassador Surya uses dividers for all his class handouts and assignments:
“Some of the sections where I use dividers include class work, homework, test review sheets, and actual tests and quizzes. This helps me stay organized with all my classes and to find documents quickly.”
Ambassador Jeenah organizes her folders by class period and subject type:
“I used to have a folder for every one of my classes. But I found that unnecessary. So what I chose this year is to have 3 folders for my 6 classes. So I put two of my classes into each folder. I try to group these by which period I have them […] and also kind of by category—like bio and anatomy, they’re both science subjects, so I have one folder for them.”
Organization is not a skill that can be developed overnight; however, with the right approach, and support from you, your child can be well on the way to a more structured, productive, and positive school year.
For more on this topic, check out our article on Planning & Organization.