I love being in college. And, though my room may not always show it, I also love being organized and productive. One of my most popular posts on this blog is my Ultimate Guide to College Organization, and since it’s been read and shared so many times, I thought I’d make an updated, expanded guide on staying organized in college. Here are my top 45 tips for staying organized in college!
It may seem like a lot, but you definitely don’t need to implement all these tips. Just read them over and see which ones fit you and your lifestyle. Above all, remember that caring for yourself is the most important. Having an organized life on the outside means nothing if you are not happy with yourself and your life.
The Right Attitude for Staying Organized in College
Check Out: The Ultimate Guide to College Motivation to stay motivated
1. Be motivated. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you are motivated to tackle the mess in your life. Otherwise, when the going gets tough, you will get sloppy. My advice is to make a list – yes, with real pen and paper – of why you want a clean, organized, and manageable life. Tack it up somewhere where you will see it when you start to feel unmotivated.
Using Planning to Stay Organized in College
2. Keep a planner, or a planner app. During the school year, I use my planner religiously to track my classes, assignments, and social plans. My favorite planner for college students is the Panda Planner, which is great for boosting both productivity and a positive outlook on life. It helps me stay focused and optimistic! You can check out the planner here.
3. Use only one planner. Just as important as using a planner is only keeping one. If you have both a paper planner and an app, or multiple planners, the odds are that something will eventually slip between the cracks when you forget to write down your plans in both. Also, having more than one will take up a lot of your time.
Check out: The Ultimate Guide to College Organization for how I use my planner
4. Keep it with you. During the school year, I always have my planner on-hand. That way, if I get a new assignment, make plans with friends, or have to schedule a doctor’s appointment, I can write it down immediately before I forget.
5. Stick to your plans. Have a rule: if you write it down, get it done. That way, your planner is more than a helpful reminder of what you could have accomplished today: it’s an actual guide to what you will be doing.
6. Plan at the beginning of every week or month. At the beginning of every new week, sit down and write in your activities, classes, and any reminders (call Mom!) for the coming days. I don’t have the time to do this all at once at the beginning of my semester, so doing it on a weekly basis works for me.
7. Use the days-before-it’s-due system. I learned this trick over at Organize My College Life. In your planner, use red pen to mark the day an assignment is due. Write it out in blue pen in the two days ahead; black for three to five days ahead; and green for six to nine days ahead. That way, you will always see assignments coming up on the horizon, and won’t ever be surprised by an essay that’s due tomorrow.
8. Schedule chores. Doing laundry, taking out the trash, you name it. Planning to do this every Sunday will keep your laundry from piling up on the floor, or your bin from overflowing.
Syllabus Tips for Staying Organized in College
9. Save all your syllabi. This is so important. If your professor gives you a guide to what your entire semester is going to look like, don’t lose it.
10. Annotate your syllabi. Mark your syllabus with everything you need to remember. I have a guide to this in my Ultimate Guide to College Organization, so to learn how, click here!
11. Make an assignment list. When I was taking five classes, keeping an assignment list saved my tail quite a few times. Gather all your syllabi together and make one long sheet of every day that an assignment is due. You can see how I do it here, or learn Organized Charm’s great method over at her blog.
Using Daily Tasks to Stay Organized in College
12. Keep to-do lists. I keep a to do list every day. Do it in your planner, on your phone, or over email – the point is, it will help you stay on-track. The Panda Planner has some great to do list features in its daily view.
13. Wake up at the same time every day. Whether you’re a morning glory or a late riser, pick a time to wake up every day and stick to it. Often I find that when I oversleep, I feel that my morning has been “wasted” and I don’t do much work. Waking up at the same time every day will help you avoid this and get into a set schedule.
14. Make your bed when you get up. Making your bed will keep your room clean, and will keep you from crawling back in if you’re sleepy.
15. Have a consistent schedule. Try to keep a daily or weekly schedule that you’ll stick to. I find that I’m a lot less productive when my schedule is all over the place.
16. Figure out your most productive time. Figure out what time of the day you are the most productive. For some people, it’s in the early morning before breakfast; for others, mid-afternoon, or late at night. Find when you get the most work done and try to optimize that time for productivity and work.
17. Stock your backpack. I have a friend who spends 15 minutes a day filling their backpack with what they need to work that day. I find that a great time-saver is to have my backpack always stocked with pens, my planner, and a water bottle. In the mornings, you can slip in your laptop and a notebook and you’re ready to go!
18. Plan your outfit ahead of time. I used to spend forever in the mornings picking my outfit. Now I go to bed with a vague idea of what I’ll wear the next day. It helps me save time in the mornings to know what I want.
19. Clean-desk policy. I admit that I consistently fail at this, but I know that my boyfriend finds it very useful. At the end of every night, try to have a clear desk, with just your computer, lamp, or books on it, and no clutter. It will keep your room tidy and make it easier to find what you need in the morning.
Check out: My College Room Tour to see how I organize my desk
20. Clean-floor policy. Ditto with the floor. Again, this is a weak spot for me, but I try not to have any clutter on my floor during the week so that it is easier to get and find what I need.
21. Spend 5 minutes a day cleaning. Seriously, you will be amazed at what you can do in five minutes a day. When I’m having a hard time staying motivated to keep organized, these few minutes at a time save me from total chaos.
Work Tips for Staying Organized in College
22. Have a system for taking notes. It doesn’t matter what kind you use – Cornell notes, color-coded scribbles, or Word Notebook – just make sure that you have a system and stick to it. It will make it easier to review notes later on.
23. Don’t question and don’t stop yourself while writing. This is how I get my essays done so quickly – don’t worry too much about the quality of your writing while you’re at work. I find that I can hold myself back endlessly by worrying about a single word or sentence. Instead, let go of your inhibitions and don’t be afraid to write a terrible first draft. You can always edit later.
24. Use a timer. Work in bursts of time. Some people swear by 25 minutes; I prefer to work for an hour at a time, and then take a longer break. Either way, using a timer will keep you accountable and prevent you from wandering over to Facebook or Pinterest while you should be working.
25. Work and play in different areas. I heard the following from a nurse: bed should be for the three S’s: sleep, sickness, and sex – not work. Work at a desk or in a library, and reserve your room or bed for hanging out and sleep.
26. Use the 8/8/8 method for balancing your life. I heard this tip from the same nurse. It’s a way to divide your time to be responsible and still relax. Try to sleep for eight hours a day, spend eight working, and eight hours for the rest of your life – time with friends, eating, etc.
27. Set your own deadlines. This has saved me countless times when it comes to writing essays. If you have two essays due on the same day, vow to finish one of them on a different date; for example, a week or three days before it’s due. This will mean that you have to get started earlier, but it also means you will not have to scramble to finish all your work at the same time when your actual due dates come around.
Digital Organization for Staying Organized in College
28. Make yourself a schedule. Making yourself a schedule, even by using Google Calendar and screenshotting it, can be really useful. You get to have a copy of your permanent schedule on hand.
29. Set up email filters. I use Gmail, and I find email filters and tags a great way to organize my emails so that they stay organized without too much work. I use one tab for personal and one for academic, with different tags for different activities and classes. It helps make my inbox feel more manageable.
30. Use SelfControl, or actual self-control, to limit time spent on websites. This app keeps you from accessing websites like Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter when you should be working. It is free and highly customizable – you can block any website you like.
31. Back up your computer using a hard drive. That way, if it crashes, you won’t lose all your hard work.
32. Disconnect from the internet for a few hours a day. Unplugging is a healthy way to curb stress and keep yourself from wasting too much time on the internet.
Supplies for Staying Organized in College
Check out: The Ultimate Guide to College Organization
33. Give each class a color. Each of my classes gets a distinct and separate color like blue, red, or green. I then match all my binders and notebooks for that class to that color, so that they are easier to find and grab when I am on the go.
34. Keep binders, folders, and/or notebooks for each of your classes. Everyone is different, but I find binders the easiest for most of my classes. Find out which one(s) work best for you and then do your best to keep them organized.
35. Have system for organizing your binders. I love this one by the Holladay Life.
Tips for Keeping Your Room and Desk Organized in College
36. “If you take it out, put it back” rule. This is the easiest way to keep a desk clear.
37. Toss duplicates. You don’t need two staplers, or three rolls of tape. Give one away put it in storage for when your first one breaks or runs out.
38. Keep any “might needs” in your desk drawer, rather than on your desktop. Keep staplers, hole-punchers, etc., in your drawers rather than on the top of your desk. This will help keep your desk neat and organized.
39. Label loose cords. Use masking tape to label your cords with words like “camera,” “iPhone,” etc. This will help you identify them after you forget what they’re for.
40. Label your chargers ends with the same washi tape. I saw this tip on Pinterest and loved it. Using the same washi tape on your cord ends will help you know what to unplug when you’re in a rush. Bonus: it helps when untangling, too!
41.Use a binder clip at the edge of your desk to store your charger ends. I learned this trick over at Instructables and I’ve found it really helpful for not losing my cord ends.
42. Keep a white board with reminders to yourself. I love using my whiteboard as a place for reminders and notes to myself. You can find them pretty inexpensively at your local supply store, or even CVS.
Self-Care Tips for Staying Organized in College
43. Sleep enough. I can’t emphasize this enough. Sleep is so important! Try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a day, depending on your age and preferences, which will help you stay alert and happy during the day.
44. Meditation/yoga/mindfulness/prayer. Find something that makes you feel connected to yourself or your spirituality. Mental health is so incredibly important, not just for being organized, but for being a balanced and happy person. Take care of yourself!
45. Go easy on yourself. No one is perfect, and it can be incredibly difficult to stay on top of everything in your life. Do your best, but remember if you mess up that it is okay to make mistakes. All that matters is that you are trying.
Loved this post! There was some really good advice. I’m terribly messy so I loved the “take five minutes a day” tip for cleaning. (:
Thanks so much, Nicole!
These are great tips! I’m in college too, and having an up to date planner and referring to my syllabus is absolutely critical!
Thanks Rebecca! I know, some people think it’s over-the-top, but I find it so useful!
Oh, YAY! This is so fantastic, Sara! Thank you for including Organized Charm! I am still really, really working on streamlining my life down to one (or at least two) planners! The obsessive-ness is just too powerful! Haha.
Thank *you*, Kristen, for sharing your great organizational methods online!
Fantastic list! I must say, several of them will work even for me – who is gratefully out of college! This might be odd though, I miss not needing a planner, loved that thing!
Thank you! I am sure I’ll find an excuse to keep a planner even after I’m out of school, haha!
This is great! I will be sure to share with any readers or friends of mine who are starting college this year! Great read!
Thanks so much, Kristen!
This is a great post. I just graduated college, but so many of these things apply in just plain life too! thanks for sharing! stopping by from the Peony Project, by the way 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad you found them helpful!
Oh my goodness! I absolutely LOVE this post! Everything you said is spot on! Setting up email filters in Gmail is so helpful. Pinning this to my college board! Found you via the Peony Project 🙂
Oh yay! Thank you so much, Brittany! And yes, Gmail filters can be a life-saver!
Loving tip #7, I never heard of it before! I’ll definitely be trying that out. #23 is the most difficult for me, but I’ll give that a shot too 🙂 Thanks for these tips! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s
I love the 8/8/8 rule. I’ve never herd of it but I will use it, it makes me feel like I have more time and I still get 8 hours sleep.
http://www.collegeruled.com is no longer a valid website — as amazing as it was.
Thanks for letting me know! I will update the post.
I am a multi-planner user. I saw what you were saying happening and so I reduced them. My question is, what would you say about having two different planners for two different purposes? I have a paper planner that I use for school (assignments, tests, class schedules, etc.) and I use Google Calendar for mostly personal reminders (like a meeting I want to got to, appointments, yoga, etc.). Do you think I should try to get rid of one or do you think this is manageable? And what if I have an Assignment List, too? I’m a freshman, so I’m still trying to get into the routine of college. Thoughts? Thank you! Also, I think CollegeRuled is for sale, so the link didn’t work.
I think using multiple planners is fine if they have different purposes! Updates and notifications for things can be really helpful. I think having an assignment list in addition is fine – I use both a planner and a list! Good luck with getting organized!
Hey, LavenderElephantGirl. I just wanted to say that I do the exact same thing as you (paper planner for school, Google Calendar for appointments), and I find it extremely manageable. It’s easier to edit the Google Calendar since appointments and meetings change so much from week to week. I’m a college Junior, and I’ve found it very helpful 🙂 Good luck!
I could currently cannot use the 8/8/8 method, sadly. 7 hours of school everyday, and about five hours of homework afterwards…
Amber, I’ve been there. My high school was like that. You will get through and be stronger for it!
TY to much for this Good guide … I use every step of this guide .. from a C student to A student … this guide will not take any effect only if u want to …. 🙂
Loved this post! So helpful & motivational!
These tips helped me out more than I thought. I only have one more year and I’m done! The only thing I wish I knew was how to organize my things. I found some pretty useful videos that will help me at least in my last year.
This is an AWESOME resource, Sara! Thank you so much for posting it (and including Organized Charm)! 🙂
Thank you Sara, I’m concern with my two boys going off to college and I’m trying to find a way to keep them organize. They play sports and I know it can be challenging to juggle, class work, sports, & daily living. I’ll use your tips to help them as much as I can. Thanks again.
Hey Wally! Time management can certainly be tough. I hope you’ll find the resources on my site helpful, and you’re also more than welcome to check out my college resource site, College Compass, which has a lot of posts that may help you under the “college help” section. http://collegecompass.co/
much love from me to this blog post! helped me a lot! xx
It’s wonderful to hear that it helped you, Ashley!
wow this really help me with my paper sara thx a lot
I love this site. I have 2 planners and a bullet journal.
Planner #1 is all family appointments, birthdays, social obligations and so forth! (Only school things that go in there are big projects, quizzes, exams, and finals)
Planner #2 is all school purposes. The month at a glance is all exams, finals, big projects and quizzes. The weekly goes more into detail.
Planner #3 is my fault bullet journal. I use this one the most. I plan out my day from wake up to bed. 30 minutes before bed I plan my next day!
These are great tips, Sara! I LOVE the clean floor policy! I’ve never heard of that before, but it seems super useful! I also love the 8/8/8 rule… that’s a great reminder for those of us who tend to struggle with work/life balance 🙂
Thank you for this . My daughter struggled this past year (first year of college) due to her ADHD and Executive Dysfunction. She was dismissed from her college but is intent on getting her grades up at Community College so that she can re-apply soon. I have tried to help her to organize herself but the motivation has not always been there on top of the above. I think the motivation is there now and your website will be easier than me just giving her ideas! I’ll let you know how it goes later this year!
I cannot express how many tips and tricks I got through this– even when I was only into the first few. The 8-8-8 rule is something I’m going to keep posted in my dorm room for now. It can be extremely difficult to keep track of the “t word” (time) in college and it is so easy to get overwhelmed, very quickly. I have a running list of the organizational tips you listed especially. I appreciate you ending the article with #45 “go easy on yourself”, especially when it comes to being somewhat perfectionist like myself. Getting better at a routine is my main goal for this semester now. Such a helpful post!
Notice that the 8/8/8 rule includes 8 hours of actual work…that doesn’t count time between classes unless you are working on class…also doesn’t count lunch or other breaks.
While in college it might be better to have a 8/10/6 rule 8 hours of sleep, 10 hours of class/ studying, and 6 hours for everything else. It will better prepare you for real life if you plan to have both a high-intensity job and also care for a home and family!
This list is amazingly useful, thanks for your insight. You also sound like a beautiful person with your head in the right place and I wish you luck in the world! (:
hi there sara ! thank you soo much for youre useful tips.i really enjoyed it and i have found alots of great ideas for my college life.
I’m in 10th grade and still found these tips really helpful … Thanks!!!
Thanks Sarah for your post. I work a full time job, am a mother of 4, and in my second years in a master’s program, all your tips are amazing !!! I will definitely put some of this tips to use ASAP!!
I’m also a full-time working mom along with my college studies. These tips have really heen a life saver for me.
I love how extensive this list is! Thanks so much for writing this. I have a full load plus extracurriculars plus I’m trying to get back into my workout schedule plus I’m trying to transition to veganism or a plant-based diet. My daily life is pretty hectic and I haven’t had much work-life balance. I created a planner because I knew what was coming for me, but I feel like I’m falling behind now. So yea this was great motivation. Thanks!
Love this, thanks so much, I’m starting grad school in this fall. Been out for 6 years this post was just what I need.. excited but anxious
Hey Amber! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I wish you nothing but the best — keep your chin up and work hard, and you will succeed!
I am not in college yet. I am actually a junior in high school. I started searching for help because my entire high school career I have encountered the same issue. Towards the end of every quarter I find I’ve let my assignments pile up and left absolutely no time to complete all of them. I usually manage to maintain A’s and B’s despite this. This year, however, I signed up for a class at the local college to complete an extra credit. The class was a digital media and design course that ended up being very work intensive, more than other college courses I have signed up for, and I fell behind in regular school as well as the class. Now it looks like I will have to withdraw from the class. My parents are very upset as this sort of situation has happened before, and I had acted as if nothing was wrong for a while when I should have been asking for help.
If you have any advice for me to keep on top of my assignments that would be ideal. I use a planner but struggle to stay motivated while working and nothing seems to be working for me anymore. I have gotten in the habit of putting things off for the past few years. I know I can’t go into college with these habits and expect a positive outcome. I am totally lost as to what to do from here.
Really nice. Thanks a lot
These are great tips! I’m in college too, and having an up to date planner and referring to my syllabus is absolutely critical!
Have a great day!
Thank you! I’m 29 and returning to college and taking SIX classes! More than I ever took when I was younger so i’m looking for new ways to stay organized. Lots of good ideas!
Thank you for commenting, Cate! I wish you lots of success in your journey back to school!
Thank you for your great tips. Goodluck for your life 🙂
Hie sara sister,
Am Dorai Raj from India i just got inspired by your tips and would choose the planner tip and the go easy on your self tip to make my self better and also sis please give me some tip to stop addiction from distracting i means i always get distracted from some or the other way while am om some work which i do,
Once again thanks for such a valuable tips.
I love to read your blog,,and i learned a lot from it, thank you for this useful tips,, Godbless😇😇😇
Still helpful in 2019.
IAM amazed I was really looking for these tips
Let me share you my current situation…🙄
Firstly,IAM freaked out that my college is starting up again and IAM freaking out just because I got very less grades in my finals..😣 and Iwas looking for tips for studying and getting organized 😑 but then when I got mail about *BEST TIPS FOR COLLEGE*.and then I saw your blog and went through your tips and I will try to get myself back..😅 and
A BIG THANK YOU TO YOU 🤗🤗😘😘
I WILL GET BACK TO YOU AFTER I TRY THESE TIPS AND IAM SURE THAT MY GRADES AND MY LIVING STYLE WOULD CHANGE A BIT😉
THANKS ONCE AGAIN
I’m gathering tips for my granddaughter. Although she is only going into eighth grade this year I truly believe she will benefit from these tips now. Thank you kindly for all your time and effort!
This has so many useful tips! Thank you!
Good tips. I love it.
A great advice that will surely beneficial for me ….
Tq for these advices…
This was great thank you so much! Looking forward to trying all these helpful tips out.
Thank you! I really enjoyed your tips.
I love your article……thanks soo much. I’ll start working on it ASAP😘😋