Your biology assignment is MIA, there are granola crumbs in your English book, and you 100 percent forgot to study for your math test—but that’s only the tip of the disorganization iceberg. Ready to clean up your act? Read on.
You’ve already spent 15 minutes looking for the worksheet that’s due tomorrow, yet it’s nowhere to be found. You start concocting excuses: Your sister spilled milk on it, a friend stole it as a prank, the dog ate it… but let’s get real. The only one responsible for the lost assignment is you.
We get it—when your schedule is hectic, like it is at the start of the school year, it's difficult to stay on top of your responsibilities. Homework goes missing, or you forget to do it altogether. Before you know it, you’re dealing with grumpy teachers, grumpier parents, and a mess the size of Texas. Of course you want to get organized, but how?
Thankfully, this is not mission impossible. Experts say organization is a learned skill, not a talent. Read on for easy organizational fixes that will help you getthrough your messiest moments.
You’re ready to rock your geometry test—but your calculator is MIA
Give all your gear a home
If you need to find the milk, you look in the fridge. And when you’re done pouring a glass, you put the carton back in the refrigerator, not the pantry—right? To keep track of school supplies, treat them like the milk and give everything one—and only one—home. Your calculator, for example, can live in the pencil case that stays inside your math binder. This means that when you’re done using it, you return the calculator to the case, not to the desk drawer, bedroom floor, or dark depths of your backpack. Before you wrap up your homework for the evening, take a minute to make sure all your supplies have returned “home.”
An A+ Study Space
We found your homework—and cleaned up the rest of the mess. Here’s how we did it.
1. Store worksheets and other homework assignments in one folder so that they never go missing again.
2. Corral gear that travels between school and home in a DIY pencil case. (See how-to instructions on p. 11.)
3. Turn your phone off (or switch it to airplane mode) to prevent text messages and notifications from interrupting your work.
4. Stash pencils, highlighters, and other supplies in containers to keep your workspace mess-free. Less clutter = fewer distractions.
5. Track assignments and appointments in a planner so that you don’t have to rely on easy-to-lose sticky notes.
6. Use a plate! Yes, we sound like your parents—but c’mon. Crumbs on your English paper won’t score you any bonus points.
You get to band class and realize that you totally forgot to practice your new part
Follow the write-and-review routine
Jotting down homework on a scrap piece of paper or, even worse, relying on your memory to remember to get the work done won’t cut it. You need a planner or notebook—let’s call it Homework Central—that you use for all your assignments. Keep it on your desk (or music stand) during class. The moment you hear your teacher assign homework, mention an upcoming test you need to study for, or remind the class that permission slips are due tomorrow, jot it down. Peek at Homework Central after the final bell rings to make sure you’re bringing home everything you need for that night's work. Then pull it out again as soon as you get home. Obsessive? Nope. This helps keep your to-dos top of mind and easy to check, so that you don’t blank on anything that you have to get done.
Craft a Stay-Tidy Case
WHAT YOU NEED
A 1-gallon plastic bag with slide closure
HOW TO MAKE IT
1. Cut off the bottom 3 inches of the bag, using the ruler and marker to measure evenly.
2. Cut nine 10½-inch strips of tape. Starting below the slide closure, stick four strips on the bag lengthwise, overlapping ½ inch on each piece.
3. Add a fifth piece, folding around to the other side to close the bottom of the bag.
4. Repeat step 2 on the reverse side.
5. Reinforce the sides with two 7½-inch pieces of tape.
6. Measuring against your binder, mark where the holes should go and use the hole punch to pop them out.
It’s 10 p.m. and you haven’t started studying
Blast past procrastination
Humans procrastinate because the brain prefers immediate rewards (scrolling through Instagram) over long-term satisfaction (getting your studying done early so you can relax). But the reality is that you’ll regret your choice. The next time you’re tempted to delay an assignment, picture post-procrastination you (Frazzled! Exhausted!). Not the look you’re going for. Then take a deep breath and begin with the smallest, easiest first step, such as writing a single word and definition on a flash card. Starting is often the most difficult part of a task. Once you get over that hump, you’ll likely find you have the discipline to keep going.
You have so much work that you don’t know where to start
Be a work-style sleuth
Most people fall into one of two categories. Those on Team Easy First (EF) work best when they start with the simplest assignment. For them, crossing it off the list provides a sense of relief and momentum to move to the next task. People on Team Easy Last (EL) prefer starting with the most difficult task. That’s because the brain is like a muscle: You’re stronger on the first bicep curl than the last, and your brain is typically fresher at the start of the night than at the end. To figure out if you’re Team EF or Team EL, try each method on a different night and see which works best.
Your mom booked your haircut for the same time as your soccer tryouts
Adopt the block-it-out method
First things first, go to tryouts. The haircut can wait. But to prevent being double-booked in the future, use a planner, either a paper one or an electronic version such as Google Calendar. Block out all your obligations in a bright color: school, soccer, your coffee shop job, get-togethers with friends—everything. The remaining white spaces represent your free hours. Before you talk with your mom about scheduling a haircut appointment or buy tickets to a concert, check your calendar to see if you’re already busy during those hours. Yes? Reschedule. No? Great—just remember to add the new event to the calendar. (FYI, this planner is also a great place to keep track of project due dates.)
The Multitasking Myth
Think you can study while snapchatting? Nope. Both tasks fight to use the same area of the brain, causing your concentration to flutter back and forth. In fact, it takes your brain four times as long to process something when jumping between tasks, meaning that 20 minutes’ worth of homework can turn into 80 minutes. No thanks! Here, a two-part plan for quitting the habit.
Chances are that your phone is your biggest time suck. Prevent apps, games, and texts from sidetracking you by letting friends on Snapchat know you’ll be off-line for the next two hours, putting the phone in airplane mode, or sticking it in another room—whatever it takes. This way, you’re left with nothing but the homework in front of you.
Do you miss the downtime moments you had when you multitasked? If so, work in 25-minute chunks and set a timer for a five-minute break between each one. Get up and move around during those pauses, even if it’s just pacing your bedroom while you check your phone. Research says the activity helps boost creativity.