The question I am asked most frequently – from new students at York, from high school students looking towards post-secondary education, and even from parents – is What is the key to academic success in university? This is a very difficult question to answer, since academic success not only requires good study habits and academic skills, but also a drive to learn.
However, the one thing that has been the key to academic success for myself and many others that I have encountered in academia, is something that is often overlooked and taken for granted. That thing is Organization, and it is one skill that, in my opinion, must be practiced and built upon in order to succeed at school.
Ask yourself for a moment: Am I organized? By organized, I do not mean whether you have your whole life planned out by the minute – I mean, do you know when your assignments are due? Do you know what things you have to get done this week? Have you found some way to make sure you’re not spending too much money, or that you’re not spending too much time partying?
Ask yourself again: Am I organized?
For me, the answer was a definite NO when I entered first year. I was a procrastinator, a forgetful student, and an over-spender…and I may have spent more time socializing than I probably should have. Although I was getting good marks, I loved learning, and I always went to class, school started becoming more challenging than ever before, especially around exam time, and I was worried that if I continued along that path, it would start to have a negative effect on my marks.
After trying a number of different methods – some being more effective than others – I finally found a few practices that helped me to stay organized (or, at least, significantly more organized than I had been before). Making the decision to try to become more organized, both in my schooling and in my personal life, changed my life. Not only did I become a better student (my study habits improved, my marks improved, and I was finding it easier to complete assignments on time), but I also noticed a number of positive changes in my personal life (less stress being the most noticeable of all).
Overall, being organized, I believe, is the key to academic success – and to being successful in all areas of life. And so, without further adieu, here are the things that I did that helped me to practice staying organized.
- Buy a Calendar
This will probably be one of the best investments you can ever make. Having a calendar is a great way to visually see what you have to do that day, that week, or even that month! If you have a smartphone or tablet that has a calendar application, you can use this as well – many applications can sync with your e-mail, to send you alerts of appointments, or with your other devices, so you can stay organized on your computer, your tablet, and your phone. If you are looking for a calendar to purchase, York’s bookstore offers a great dry-erase wall calendar for under $10!
- Use an Agenda
Agendas are a great way to be on the ball – keep it on hand during classes or club meetings, and anytime you are given an assignment or a date to remember, write it down right away! The best part is, you can get agendas for free from your college & from the YFS at the beginning of the year!
- Write it Down
Even if you don’t have an agenda, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. Whenever you’re given an assignment, an appointment, a deadline, or anything important that you need to remember, record it right away – you can write it down, type it in on your computer, tablet or phone, or record a voice memo, but no matter the method, RECORD THE IMPORTANT STUFF.
- Get Some Sleep
This practice may seem a little out of place on this list, but I promise youthat it is not. The times that I felt the most organized and in control were also the times that I had been the most well-rested. Late-night partying or pulling all-nighters – although they may seem necessary, at times – can leave your brain scattered and disheveled, but getting sleep helps your body to recharge and reboot. As well, staying disciplined in your sleeping habits is great practice for staying disciplined in other aspects of your life!
- Pick a ‘Reset’ Day
This, arguably, is the most important practice that I learned, and it has helped me the most in staying organized. Best of all: it’s super easy to do! All it requires is one hour or so of your time for an allotted period of time (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc).
Choose a day at the very beginning of a set time period to ‘reset’ yourself – by this, I mean choose a day that you can sit down for an hour and make a plan for the upcoming time period. For me, I try to sit down at least once every week, and I make a list of everything I have to do for that week. I try to set a plan – this plan usually includes a budget for the week, a list of all my assignments, a mini-calendar for the week that contains all of my meetings and commitments, and a list of personal goals that I have for the week (i.e. drink more water, learn something new, etc). I also reflect upon the previous week, and see whether I stuck to the plan that I created the week before, and got done what I wanted to accomplish for that week.
This usually takes me about an hour, and I cannot even begin to tell you how helpful it is to take the time to reboot and start fresh.
Sometimes, when you are swamped with work or when you have allowed yourself to become disorganized and scatter-brained, it is very easy to get down on yourself and to think that you will never catch up. Picking a ‘reset’ day can give you the opportunity to start fresh, and I have found it to be an incredible stress-relieving technique – not to mention that it will help you avoid those types of situations altogether!
I hope that you find these tips and tricks as helpful as I have found them. Remember – Stay Calm. Stay Organized. And Have Fun!
~ Christopher Ford