I don’t want to freak you out, but midterms are closer than you think. It may only be September, but in a few weeks, you’ll find yourself with three exams to study for, two papers due, four reading assignments, a presentation, and an overwhelming sense of stomach-churning panic.
That’s why now is the time to get your life as organized as possible. Setting up planning and organizing systems before you need them is key. It will pay huge dividends once the craziness of midterms (and later, finals) hits.
To help you kill it once midterms arrive, I’ve compiled three ways to step up your planning and organizing game. Read on to check them out.
1. Get Yourself an Awesome Planner
If you don’t have a good planner yet, you need to get on that immediately. A daily planner will save you time and again, especially as the semester gets crazy.
Be sure to see our guide to cute planners for 2021 for a full list of our favorites. Here are some more of my favorite planners right now:
Erin Condren Lifeplanner
Full disclosure: Erin Condren sent me one of these planners a few years ago. That said, I receive a LOT of samples, and this is one of the few that I actually ended up using – and loving. I’ve repurchased it with my own money every single year since.
No joke: It’s become a can’t-live-without-it item for me.
I’m not the only one who loves this agenda. Erin Condren’s planners have a cult-like following, with whole Pinterest boards dedicated to the ways people decorate and use them. It is seriously impressive! So far my planner looks sadly basic compared to those Pinterest examples (seriously, look at what people do with these planners), but I have big plans to make my weeks prettier someday. #agendagoals
All cuteness aside, what I love most about this planner is its layout – it has space for weekly to-dos and notes, and it allows you to divide your day however you want. The planner comes in two layouts (above), horizontal and vertical. I use the vertical layout and I love how I can see my whole week at a glance and block off my time each day. You can also designate the daily sections for different classes, school/social/work, or however you choose. It’s so versatile!
Lilly Pulitzer Agenda
This planner is crazy popular with every college gal I know, and for good reason: It’s ultra cute, relatively affordable, and comes in a few different designs to fit your personality. The Lilly planner even includes a travel diary, perfect for you Spring Break jetsetters. If you have a girly, feminine sense of style or just love the Lilly brand, this is the planner for you.
The Lilly planner rivals the Erin planner for its cult following, and there are tons of rave reviews about it online. Former CF writer Shelby wrote an entire post on how she organizes her Lilly agenda, and it’s required reading if you go the Lilly route.
Moleskine Daily Diary/Planner
For minimalists or those who cringe at the thought of using a “cute” planner, the Moleskine daily diary is the perfect grown-up planner. It looks like one of Moleskine’s legendary notebooks, has pages that fold completely flat, and comes in many styles to work with the way you plan (and your bag size).
A few years back, I was ultra-devoted to my Moleskine planner, so I can attest to its awesomeness. Although I like the flexibility and fun my Erin planner now gives me, Moleskine will forever have a place in my heart. It’s just a good, solid time management tool with a classic sense of style.
2. Put Your Tech to Work
While I love my paper planner, I also think there is tremendous value in using technology to stay organized. My phone and laptop are practically appendages these days, so I might as well use them to improve my life instead of just reading The Daily Mail. (Yes, I know how awful it is.)
I combine my paper planner with a digital calendar and to-do list app to stay on top of everything. Below are some of my favorite digital organization methods:
On Your Computer
If you’re reading this on your computer now, good news: You have no excuse not to implement some of these tips!
Digitize and Sync Your Schedule
These days, tools like iCal and Google Calendar can help you sync your schedule across your devices. This makes it so easy to keep track of everything you’re doing. At the dentist and they ask you to make an appointment for six months from now? Whip out your phone and add it in right away. Your friend wants to know if you’re free at noon on Wednesday? If you have your phone, you know the answer.
Even if you keep a paper planner, I recommend being redundant and having your schedule on iCal or Google Calendar, too. We can’t carry our planners around 24/7 but we do have access to a computer or phone almost anywhere we go.
For more details on this process, we’ve written an entire post on how to digitize your schedule, down to your class list and homework assignments. Check it out for a full how-to.
Get Your Class Notes Organized
Does anyone carry paper notebooks any more? If you use your laptop to take notes, it’s important to have a system in place for organizing said class notes.
There are many apps designed for this purpose. A few good ones to try:
- Evernote. Great for note-taking, extremely flexible. If you scan or photograph your notes, it can even search the text in a scan! I wrote a whole post on how I use it for just about everything.
- Microsoft OneNote. Windows’ original note-taking app is still fantastic, including features like cloud sync across your devices and collaboration with friends. The best part? It’s 100% free.
- Google Docs. Everyone has probably used Google Docs at some point, but it’s particularly fantastic for note-taking. Don’t have your laptop on you but want to review? Just log in to your Google account from any computer or phone and your notes are right there.
For the Super Geeky: Use Omnifocus (Mac/iPhone/iPad)
I hesitated on whether to include this because it’s definitely not for everyone and does cost money. That said, if you’re really into organizing, it’s too good a tool not to share. Omnifocus is THE secret weapon for any hardcore organizing/productivity geek. It’s a big, complicated, feature-rich to-do app that takes a while to learn. Once you do, though, it’s INCREDIBLE.
Based on the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (also known as GTD), the app lets you sort your to-dos by project and context. You can also create recurring to-dos on a schedule, sort them based on any criteria, tag, add notes, and so much more. It syncs with your phone as well.
On Your Phone
It took me a while to come around on using my phone for organizing. Once I did, though, the results were life-changing. Here are some of my fave tips and apps:
Utilize Your Notes App
That note-taking app on your phone is a godsend. Set it up to sync with your computer (Macs do this automatically through iCloud) and you’ll never have to send yourself an email again.
I use the notes app on my phone for everything: From blog post ideas to shopping lists – you name it, I probably have a note for it. It’s the best for jotting down ideas on the go.
If you aren’t using your notes app, start immediately and you’ll reap the benefits.
Try a To-Do List or Time Tracking App
There are too many to-do list apps to count. The good news? It doesn’t really matter which one you choose so long as you stick with it. I use my paper planner for to-dos while I’m at my desk, but when I’m out and about, I put my to-do items into Omnifocus and transfer them to my paper planner the next day.
If you just want a straightforward to-do list app, here are a few good ones:
- Wunderlist (iOS and Android) – This has to be the prettiest to-do app ever. I used it for a while before I switched to Omnifocus and I loved it! It offers lots of features for organizing your to-do items into categories, scheduling to-dos, collaborating with others, and much more.
- ATracker (iOS) – An alternative to a to-do list, ATracker tracks your TIME spent on different activities so you can control how many hours you spend on school, work, fitness, homework, and other activities.
- Priorities (iOS) – This app is great because it lets you sort your tasks not only by topic and due date, but by importance. This ensures that the crucial items on your list get done first.
- Finish (iOS) – This is the ultimate app for procrastinators. It’s based on due dates and has a “bother me” function that will send you alerts when a deadline is approaching. Genius!
- Google Keep (Android) – I have not tried this app but my Android-loving friends swear by it! Keep allows you to create notes with voice commands, syncs to your Google account, and even sends you due date alerts inside the Chrome browser. Very cool.
Organize Other Aspects of Your Life
There are tons more great organizing apps out there to help you track and manage just about everything in your world. Here are some popular ones I’ve tried:
- GoodReads (iOS and Android) – Great for keeping track of what you’re currently reading and which books you want to read next.
- Gratitude365 (iOS) – One of my 2015 goals was to keep a gratitude journal, so I use this app. It tracks the good things in your life and even lets you include photos for visual reminders.
- Slice (iOS and Android) – An app for tracking packages. Slice searches your email for package tracking notifications and alerts you when they’ve been delivered. Great if you do a lot of online shopping!
- MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal (iOS and Android) – Great for tracking exercise and nutrition. If you’re a runner, MapMyRun tracks your favorite routes, best times, and even the elevation of your runs. MyFitnessPal is great if you’re trying to eat healthier.
- Plant Nanny (iOS and Android) – A water tracking app that gives you a virtual plant to babysit. Every time you drink a glass of water, you track it on the app and your plant grows. Silly but surprisingly effective.
For even more app suggestions, see our post on the top 10 apps to help you organize your life.
3. Get Your Room or Apartment in Shape
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think straight if my space is a mess. If you’re a visual person, clutter can distract you from the task at hand. And if you’re a procrastinator? That messy room makes an excellent excuse to put off writing your sociology paper.
Avoid this by putting some systems in place for your room or apartment. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Make a Cleaning Schedule
This was a game-changer for me. As someone who loves a clean space but also loves to procrastinate, I was always the girl wasting hours every Saturday cleaning her whole place from top to bottom.
Those days, thankfully, are gone. Now I have a cleaning schedule and I do one or two chores every day. My place stays relatively clean at all times and my Saturdays are reserved for farmers markets, brunch, and Netflix. As they should be.
Here is the sample cleaning schedule that I used to develop my own. I tailored this to what my apartment needed and swapped chores around based on which days I had the most time to clean. Obviously, if you live in a dorm, your chore list is going to be shorter. The key is to create a schedule that works for you and your space. Bonus points if you make a schedule with your roommates and designate different days for different chores!
Designate a Place for Everything
This is obvious advice, but it’s funny how few people follow it. Designate a place for everything you own, from your pencils and pens to your papers from each class to your keys. If you know where everything goes and you spend a few minutes each night putting things back, you’re never scrambling to find something at the last minute. Easy enough, right?
Create a Workspace That Makes You Happy
Let’s be real: Studying is a lot more enjoyable when your desk looks good. Some may think it’s frivolous, but I believe it’s worth investing in stylish desk supplies to create a space where you’d WANT to sit for hours.
We have written zillions of blog posts on organizing and decorating your room and workspace. Here are our most popular articles on the subject to get you started:
- How to Get Organized for the New Semester
- How to Organize Your Dorm Room Study Space
- A Beginner’s Guide to Feng Shui
- Dorm 101: Must-Haves for Dorm Organization
- 3 Tech Accessories to Upgrade Your Desk Space
- How to Organize a Small Space
- Dormspiration: Celebrity Workspace Edition
What do you think?
How do you stay organized in college? What systems have you set up since school began? Anything you’re working on improving before midterm season arrives? Anything you’re having trouble organizing in your life? Let me know by leaving a comment!