As president of the League of the Chronically Disorganized (LCD), I have spent most of my life reading every book and article ever written on organization, which takes up most of the time I should spend getting organized. After wasting at least five years of my life looking for items I use on a daily basis, I have come to the realization that the key to organization is to have systems that work for you.
In grad school I found a way to stay organized because disorganization was not an option. I did not have time to spend a half hour looking for an assignment. What worked for me was putting all my papers in a binder. To do this I had to spend a few minutes a day with a three-hole punch and put everything in the correct sections of the binder. Although this doesn’t sound like a big deal, getting my scatterbrained self to do this regularly was a huge accomplishment.
After years of working with organization challenged students, I have found some common pitfalls to organization:
- Too much stuff — Big padded binders and binders that zip up don’t help, they just make for a heavier backpack. Extra paper, giant calculators, pencil sharpeners, staplers, etc. … too much! Keep it simple.
- Complicated systems — Students always have some sort of organization system but many times it doesn’t work because there are too many steps so they can’t sustain it. Again, simplicity is best.
- A place for everything — Many students lose assignments because they don’t have a place to put them that is easily accessible. If they have to take out a binder, unzip it, open to the correct folder, put it in, zip it up and put it back in the backpack, they will, for sure, smoosh it in their backpack where it will become torn, crumpled and lost.
Wouldn’t life be easy if the same systems worked for everyone all the time? Ahh, life would be so much less stressful. I could just give everyone the same packaged system and send them on their way. Since nothing is ever that easy, you may have to try a few different systems before finding the right one for you. Here are a few options that have proved to be successful:
- I like a binder for each subject because everything is separate. If you have a geometry binder, when you go to class you only take out that binder so it would be unlikely for Spanish handouts to end up in there. Keep the syllabus before the first divider and then have separate tabs for notes, handouts, homework, and tests & quizzes. The size of the binder should be appropriate for the amount of anticipated work and be sure to get reinforced binder paper.
- Since it may be difficult to carry a binder for each individual class, it’s okay to put electives and classes with little handouts and notes in one binder. But core classes need individual binders.
- Some students prefer spiral notebooks and folders. If you go this route, make sure you color code, blue spiral and folder for algebra, and label. The folders should be plastic so they don’t fall apart like the card stock ones, and labeled, one side for assignments, other side for handouts.
- Each and every student … MUST. USE. A. PLANNER! Did I make myself clear on that? The planner should live in the backpack and only come out during class to write down an assignment and while doing homework, and then right back in the backpack.
- Set aside a time every or every other week to clean out the backpack and binders/folders. Your child will most likely resist doing this. Ask him or her to pick a time over the weekend to do this so they feel some control over the situation. Since it still won’t go over well, it’s necessary to use whatever leverage you have. For example, “I would be happy to drive you to the mall, right after we go through your backpack.” (Side note — this works for getting homework done as well).
Remember, the unorganized student usually starts out the school year with great intentions. But after the first three weeks, everything is back to being a mess. You will most likely have to do some hand holding to get over this hump. Repeating this mantra helps me, “Bad habits are hard to break.” Eating Moose Tracks ice cream, doing Zumba and shoe shopping also help, but not necessarily in that order.
About this column: Susan Schaefer, director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher.
We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1