How to Get Organized as a Student + Full Behind-The-Scenes Look at My Organizational System for School

Keeping organized throughout the school year is one heck of a job. Sure, it's easy to start out the year with color-coded folders, a neatly labeled binder for each subject, and a filing system at home for past papers, but within a couple of months (or even weeks), that system quickly fizzles out, replaced by utter chaos.

Papers everywhere, frantically searching for misplaced handouts, overdue assignments... the battlefield of school organization.

As an innately lazy person, it's always been pretty difficult for me to keep organized, so when I found a system that actually worked, I was a) mind blown and b) eager to share it with anyone else who might be struggling to keep organized.

An organizational system, in my eyes, is a method of organization that includes the following:

  1. A reliable way of keeping track of and planning for assignments.
  2. An easy way to find and quickly locate current papers or recent handouts.
  3. An efficient method of dealing with old papers and materials from past units.

Those 3 components are what I'll be walking you through today! I'll also be giving you the handy link to download a set of monthly calendar printables!

Learn how to become a more organized student! apps, systems and methods for organization as a student. >> thedancingpanda.com

I'll categorize the various elements of my organizational system into different headings, with different methods/tips/apps listed for each one. I'll also list some additional resources and tools at the end of each category as well.

KEEPING TRACK OF assignment due dates

Handing in assignments on time is essential to succeeding in school. For many teachers, handing in assignments even a day or two late can result in half or no credit. This is why it is important to have a reliable system in place to keep track of your assignment due dates so that it'll be impossible for you to be penalized for handing things in late.

I personally have used several different methods to plan out my assignments, my favorite being Asana. Although Asana is technically meant for a purpose quite different from helping students keep track of their due dates, I find that it works perfectly for that very task. 

With Asana, you can easily view your upcoming tasks and assignments is various views. I personally like the monthly calendar view:

As well as the regular task list, sorted by due date:

Some other pretty cool features about Asana:

  • Projects for each subject: You can create different "projects," or labels/tags for each of your subjects, which then makes it easier to keep track of which assignments are for which subjects.
  • Color-coding: Those projects can also be color-coded! I like to color-code my projects the same way I color-code my binders and school supplies for each subject, as I am already used to associating certain colors with certain subjects. For example, my math binder and notebook are blue, so my Asana project for math is color-coded blue.
  • You can invite other people to view your tasks: If you're doing a big group project, you can also use Asana to manage your group's tasks, as well as individual group members' tasks. This can be extremely useful, as you can also set deadlines, create sub-tasks within larger tasks, and prioritize different tasks.
  • Prioritize tasks: We were just talking about this one! You can prioritize your tasks as: TodayUpcoming or Later. If you have a busy week, these prioritizations can help you decide which tasks to do first, and which ones can be put off for a little while.
  • Attach files, images and links to tasks: This can also come in handy when working on an essay, group projects, or a more visual project (like an assignment for a design class, for example). It's easy to attach images and files (PDF's, Google Drive documents, etc.) to your tasks with Asana.

I have also used apps such as Todoist, TickTick, MyHomework and Google Calendar to plan out my assignments, but have found that Asana works best for me. However, those other options are amazing as well, and I know that many of my studyblr friends use them religiously. You can also use a monthly calendar or planner (purchased from a store or printed for free online) to plan out your days, weeks and months if you prefer a more physical, real paper planner over digitally entering your assignments and obligations into an app. For a handy free printable monthly calendar, click the image below to download!

organizing current papers

I find that papers are some of the hardest things to organize and keep track of as a student, and although my system isn't foolproof, I've found that it has definitely worked pretty well for me. I keep all of my "current papers" (recent/relevant handouts, recently completed assignments, incomplete homework etc.) in an expanding accordion folder. 

I've used binders in the past, but that never seemed to work for me. My teachers didn't always hole-punch my handouts, and I would usually just lazily slide them into my binder without putting them through the rings, causing them to oftentimes fall out or get crumpled in my backpack. I know that some of my friends use one large binder for all of their subjects, but that never worked for me either, as the binder usually got too big and heavy, making it a workout to lug around school every day.

The accordion folder system seems to work well for me, although I do tend to have to clean it out about once a week when it gets too full. Of course, if you're a bit more organized and a bit less lazy than I am, you'll probably be more on top of your incoming papers and won't have to do that. 😉

I've labeled the various pockets in my folder with my different subjects, as well as a few extra labels for misc. things like spare looseleaf paper or random papers that don't fit into a specific category.

The accordion file that I use currently is the pink Poppin one, but I've also used and loved the Five Star expanding folders.

organizing past papers

I also have a system for past papers, which, being my extremely lazy self, is essentially just me shoving all my old stuff into a giant 3-inch binder. Boom, bam, done. #Goals, right? 😉

Of course, to make it a little less ratchet, I also organize the papers inside the binder by unit, with poly dividers separating the papers for different units. Any study guides, study schedules or notes that I made myself also go into the binder, as well as my unit tests, quizzes and any other official graded assignments that I received from the teacher.

If you're a more organized person than I am, and have a higher patience for spending time to thoughtfully sort out your old papers (in which case, bravo to you!), here are some more involved ways of organizing past materials:

  • Use accordion files: Remember those accordion files from earlier? They're making a comeback, my friend! You can use multi-pocket accordion folders to easily store your old papers. Depending on how large your units are, you could either use the pockets inside the folder for different units throughout the year, or an entire accordion folder for larger units, with the pockets dedicated to various subtopics within that unit.
  • Use magazine files: If you have a shelving unit in your office or study space, organizing your past materials into magazine files can also be an easy and efficient way to store your papers. As this can easily get quite messy, I'd suggest buying dividers or sticky tabs to divide up the papers for different units and such.
  • Go digital: This may not be possible in some cases, but if you can, I highly suggest going digital! If most of your class materials are online already, then this will be quite easy--just archive your digitized notes and handouts into folders on Google Drive, Evernote, or your other program of choice. But if you have physical copies of your materials from the unit, then you can easily scan them into digital files using an app like CamScanner (my personal favorite).

general organization rules & tips

Now that we've covered the 3 main parts of my own organizational system, I thought it'd be helpful to share some miscellaneous tips regarding organization that I've picked up along the way:

  • Everyone is different, and when it comes to organization, there is no cookie-cutter perfect method: I had to test out several techniques before I found an organizational method that worked for me. My methods might not work for you, and your methods might not work for me. It's okay to experiment, and it's okay to be a total disheveled mess sometimes. Every student has periods when their papers are scattered all over the floor, they've lost their homework, and they don't know if their next math test is tomorrow or in three weeks. Stress is natural, and disorganization is natural, and it's important to test out various methods of organization before you find one to stick with.
  • Organization varies from subject to subject: Different subjects may require more or less effort when it comes to organization than others. For example, my current English class requires very little organization on my part, and I spend extremely little time sorting through papers. Math, on the other hand, is much more content-heavy, and we get about 4 to 5 new sheets each day. Of course, based on this, I should spend more time organizing for math than for English. You can apply this principle to your own studies as well: subjects that are more content-heavy might require more time spent designing an efficient organizational system than others.
  • Color-coding is either a hit or miss: I personally find that, although I love a nice splash of color as much as the next gal, color-coding never works for me. For some of my friends, however, color-coding is their holy grail, and they wouldn't be able to survive in school without their highlighters and colored labels. Of course, I still find color useful when memorizing information or when taking notes, but when it comes to organization, color-coding folders, binders, labels and whatnot has never worked for me. Definitely try out a color-coding system to see if it works for you, but if it doesn't, don't stress it.
  • When it comes to organization, try to imagine what your laziest self would be okay with doing, and go from there. Often when I go out to design a system for organizing my papers, I come up with an elaborate plan that, for a less lazy person, would be perfectly fine, but for a half-sloth like myself, is a total overstatement of my organizing abilities. Binders just don't work for me, because it's too much work for my lazy self to open the binder, open the rings, slide the paper through the rings, close the rings, and then close and put away the binder. First world problems, am I right? 😉 But as embarrassing and demeaning as it might be to critically analyze your lazy behaviors, it's extremely important to forming an organizational system that works for you. Folders work much better for me, because I can easily slide the papers into the folder without having to do much work. Try to design tasks in your organizational method that require minimal effort on your part, especially so that you'll be more likely to continue using the system in the future.

thank you!

Thank you so much for reading! If you have or question or would just like to chat, make sure to leave a comment down below! I answer all questions!

Also, if you wouldn't mind, I would appreciate it ever so much if you were to share this article on social media! Together we can make a more organized world!

Make sure to check out our free resource library for some more helpful aid in organizing and productively managing your study life!

If you haven't already, be sure to download your free monthly calendar too!

Good luck! Happy studying!


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