Q: My son is completely disorganized; he can never find his assignments or his class notes and he doesn’t manage his time well. How can I help him organize his classwork so he can focus on studying for his midterms?

Thanks for the question! Organization is one of the biggest keys to academic success, and it definitely doesn’t come naturally to all of us (in high school, I used to keep my notes in messy stacks all over my bedroom; thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then).

We put together some of our favorite tips and tricks to help kick your student’s organization into high gear. Just give your student this short list to help them get started.

1. A place for everything

One of the most important parts of getting yourself organized is making sure you have a place for everything. Go to your desk, your backpack, underneath your bed or any other place you keep items related to school and dump everything on the floor. Look through all of your items, and evaluate what you need to keep and what is garbage. If you have any doubts about whether to throw something away, ask yourself when you last used the item. If it’s been more than 6 months, get rid of it. If it’s something worn out or broken, ask yourself if you can replace it (or if you’re probably going to replace it in the near future). If the answer is yes, toss it!

Now that you’ve thrown out the junk, you can start organizing. When finding places for your belongings, make sure that the things you use all the time are easily accessible (i.e., pens and pencils, stapler, erasers, etc.). Then you can find a designated place for everything else.

Use labels to make sure you know what items are in a given location. For papers, notes, and old exams, get large, envelope-style folders so your papers don’t fall out of the folders when you’re trying to find notes.

2. And everything it’s place

Once you’ve established where things belong, it’s important to actually put things back in the right places. If you start letting papers pile up on your desk, you’ll find yourself right back in the disorganized mess you started with!

If you’re having trouble staying on top of all of it, set a reminder for yourself at a certain time every day (i.e., the time you get home from school) when you can spend five minutes to make sure everything is in its place before you start working. This way, you won’t let the piles pile up again.

3. Make a list (and check it)

Do you have trouble keeping track of all of your work? Before you start working away, write down all of the tasks you need to accomplish and how long you think each task will take. As you complete your work, check off the items you have completed. With each task, your list will get shorter and you’ll also be able to see how much you’ve already accomplished!

Start with the work you’re dreading the most, and then move onto the work that is more enjoyable or easy. You can use the more enjoyable work as a “reward” for getting through a particularly arduous task.

4. Take a break

Although it seems counterintuitive, one of the most important parts about working hard is taking breaks. We like the Pomodoro Technique, which encourages you to work in 25 minute increments with 3-5 minute breaks in between.

Executing the Pomodoro Technique is simple. Choose a task to be completed and set a timer for 25 minutes. Whenever you get distracted — be it by a text, email or snap — immediately write it down and then resume the task at hand. At the end of the first 25 minutes, take a 3-5 minute break and then start another 25 minutes of focus. After four blocks of focus (also called “Pomodoros”), give yourself a 15-30 minute break. Repeat the cycle until the task is completed.

You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique in our blog post here.

So, there you have it! Follow these simple tips and you’ll be organized in no time. And if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, just take a deep breath (or a short break) and come back stronger and more focused than before!

Submit any questions you have to ask@smartalec.com for a chance to get your question answered in next week’s “Ask a Smart Alec” column!

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