How to Stay Organized When Going Back to College as an Adult

How to Stay Organized When Going Back to College as an Adult

For many students, particularly nontraditional students, college coursework is only one important aspect of their lives. Even as academic intensity increases, work, family, and other obligations continue apace. However, attending an online college has many tangible and intangible benefits that make juggling school and home life more manageable. Flexible schedules, state-of-the-art technology, and individualized instruction are just some of the many things that make pursuing a degree as an adult possible. 

Despite these perks, however, it still takes well-honed organizational skills to keep up. But it can be done, if it’s done intentionally.  

Several influencers and social movements can help you to catch your breath and simplify your life. Minimalism. Mindfulness. The KonMari method popularized by author and Netflix sensation Marie Kondo. These philosophies all offer ideas for how you can clean your home, improve your organizational skills, and take a more realistic, deliberate, and determined approach to tackling your busy schedule.

If you're returning to school and you want to make sure you get the most from this opportunity you’ve created for yourself, take full stock of your habits, your mindset, and the way you organize your life. Keep what works, refine what can be improved, and discard anything that has outlived its usefulness. Here are some tips to help you weave the spirit of spring cleaning into your lifestyle.

Plan Ahead: How to Effectively Use Your Student Planner for Organization

As the first step in your personal spring cleaning, you will need to become familiar with the art and science of time management.

If you struggle with your schedule at first, don't fret. You may just need a little help. Even the most celebrated and successful among us put systems in place to help them keep track of running the world.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, has shared that he schedules his days down to the minute. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, also takes pride in his rigorously structured schedule. If these titans of technology use day planners, they can probably help you, too.

Here are some tips on how to use a day planner:

  1. Pick the day planner that best suits your needs. They come in different formats. Choose the one that best fits your lifestyle, schedule, and taste.
  2. Set aside time at least once a week to plan out homework, study time, etc., in the broader context of work and life obligations
  3. Schedule new assignments daily, as they come in, so you always know what to expect.
  4. Plan for small breaks and downtime to help you maintain and refresh your mental focus. (The investor Warren Buffet calls this “thinking time” and considers this time to be his most productive.)
  5. Set weekly goals. Track and quantify your progress according to your own key performance indicators.
  6. Keep track of all upcoming big events: not just exams, projects, and papers, but also birthdays, vacations, and family obligations.
how to use a day planner for school and life

How to Manage Your Time Wisely to Stay Organized

Improving your time management is one of the most important skills you can develop, in work and in life. There are numerous systems, techniques, and schools of thought that can be applied to managing time, including Getting Things Done: A five-step process created by business guru David Allen, and Kanban, a visual, card-based system used by Toyota

It's important that time management itself serve as a tool, not an obsession, and certainly not a time-suck in its own right.

how to manage your time for school and life

Here are some of the larger core principles most of these systems have in common:

  • Be realistic about how you spend your time
  • Dedicate blocks of time to certain tasks and eliminate distractions
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” or take a break when you need it

The effects of managing your time poorly are painful and limiting. Some of the many results include increased stress, missed deadlines, and poor work quality. However, by planning your weeks around important dates, defining your academic and personal objectives, remaining consistent and proactive with your approach, and getting the right amount of rest and sleep, you can take charge of your life, and you’ll be up to the challenge of earning your degree. 

The purpose of a spring cleaning is to clear the decks and establish new, better habits. As Bill Gates says, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” 

The greater purpose of spring cleaning is to develop new long-term habits. If you stay focused and realistic, you can accomplish tremendous things over the long haul.

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By Ashford University staff

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