A teen looks at her desk, which is covered in notebooks, a computer, etc.

9 Tips for Getting Organized in the New Year

A new year, a new start, and midterms right around the corner — it’s the perfect time to look back on the school-year so far and reflect on what went right or wrong. Maybe you found that you weren’t quite as organized as you could be: you spent a lot of time looking for papers, lost track of assignments, found yourself cramming for tests or scrambling to finish essays, or just generally felt stressed by the chaos of a busy life. In any case, here are some tried and true tips for giving your organizational system a New Year tune-up!

1. Develop a routine.

You want a system you don’t have to think about. The more you have to think about your organizational system, the more headspace it takes up, and your headspace is precious — so figure out times, places, and resources that work for you, and then let those become set parts of your day, like brushing your teeth or eating lunch. As a special bonus, neuroscience suggests that having daily rituals can make you more grounded and less stressed in general, allowing you to better focus on the tasks in front of you.

2. Use a planner (that works for you).

The fewer decisions you have to make and the fewer resources you have to keep track of, the better. For this reason, choose one spot to record all of your assignments and time commitments (practices, rehearsals, work schedule, family and social events, etc). This could be an electronic resource like Google Calendar or iCal, but don’t discount the paper planner: there’s something particularly effective about having all your dates and to-dos and associated items in one big panorama. If you do go for a paper planner, make sure you choose something durable with plenty of room for notes! Check out these options or this specialized planner for students with organizational difficulties.

3. Create a task list & prioritize it.

Write everything down either using an old-fashioned paper checklist, a to-do list phone app, or a project management software like Trello. Once everything that needs to be done is laid out in front of you, it will be easier to prioritize the tasks. To prioritize, try sorting the items in an Eisenhower Matrix, or plan to do first the one thing you’re most likely to procrastinate (we call that eating the frog).

4. Work on one task at a time.

You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: multitasking leads to decreased productivity. Furthermore, if you’re shuffling tasks around, it becomes easier to bury the less pleasant but more important tasks under tasks that are perhaps less dreadful but not as valuable.

5. Break big projects into smaller tasks, or big tasks into steps.

If one of your tasks is to “write a paper on Mark Twain,” don’t just plop that onto your Tuesday list between “chem homework” and “return library books,” unless the requirements for the paper are very low or you are a leading expert on Mark Twain. Sometimes the biggest block to starting something is feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of it, so focusing on smaller pieces can make you less likely to procrastinate.

Not sure how to break down a task into smaller parts? Firstly, don’t get obsessive: break a task down until the individual piece can be done in one sitting and you have a sense of what that one sitting will look like (e.g., rather than “go to the library, go upstairs, find the book” etc, try “check out book from the library”). Secondly, ask yourself:

  • Do I know what I want the end product to look like? (If not, that’s a good place to start.)
  • What are the resources I’m likely to need? Will I need anything from anyone else?
  • Are there parts of the project that can only be done before / after other parts?

6. Designate a study space.

People are diverse, so there’s not one perfect kind of study space, but there are some constants: scientific studies suggest that visual clutter impairs your ability to focus and process information, and background noise can distract you and even increase your levels of stress hormone, making it hard for you to work efficiently. So, to make the best use of your time, find a quiet and uncluttered spot where you can do your work each night. Other pro tips for optimal studying:

  • Make sure you have all the necessary materials nearby.
  • For the time that you plan to be working, silence your phone and shut down social media (the Internet is definitely a cluttered space).
  • Avoid studying on your bed! It’s bad sleep hygiene, and you might end up sleeping when you’re supposed to be reading Lord of the Flies.

7. Check in with yourself at the end of the day.

Take 5-10 minutes before you go to bed to take a look at your to-do list for the day. Is there anything on your list that you weren’t able to get to? If so, do you need to move it later in the week (like tomorrow) or should you scrap it? Did any deadlines or events come up today that you need to add to your calendar?

Lastly, go ahead and make sure you have everything you need for the following day (printed-out copy of that Mark Twain paper, your gym clothes, money to get a snack with your friends after school, etc). If you’re not a morning person, having everything ready to grab as you head out the door will make life much easier!

8. Declutter and regroup once a week.

Life is messy, and as the week goes by, those messes pile up. That doesn’t mean you’re disorganized; it just means you need to set up a dedicated time every week (weekends are good for this) to tidy both your physical space and your headspace. During this time, you want to:

  • Take a few minutes to go through the piles at your homework station and get rid of what you no longer need. Put away things you may need to reference later. Identify items that need your attention.
  • Take a look at the week ahead. Note any big projects or tests that are coming due. Identify activities outside of school (sports, family commitments, social events) which could impact your ability to get your work done.
  • Schedule time for your school work. Make a plan for how you are going to complete the big project and/or study for the test.

9. Don’t give up.

Organization (planning, sorting, compartmentalizing, etc) comes easier to some people than to others, just like artistic talent and athletic prowess are stronger in some people than in others. Furthermore, even very organized people order themselves in different ways: not everybody color-codes, not everybody feel comfortable working in front of a clock.

The most important part of becoming more organized is experimenting to find out what’s going to actually work with your specific set of strengths and circumstances. If you expect something to work and it doesn’t, don’t just throw in towel. In a completely non-judgmental way, try to figure out why it didn’t work and how you could adjust or what you could try instead. Maybe the optimal system for you has never been captured and put down into one single blog post, but it’s somewhere out there, waiting for you to find it.


Girl relaxes during her senior slump

Avoiding the Senior Slump

College acceptances are beginning to arrive, which can bring great joy, and then… senior slump.

 

Every year, teachers complain that seniors are getting a little “too relaxed.” While seniors deserve to enjoy their last semester, it’s how relaxed they sometimes become that can be a problem! Most college acceptances are contingent upon grades staying respectable through to the bitter end of high school. And students have a lot of other responsibilities to think about as well.

 

So, what should seniors be thinking about in their last semester of high school?

 

  1. Staying focused on school work–it’s about learning and preparing for college, not just keeping grades up! (Parents: if grades are falling dangerously low, or your student is procrastinating on major projects, intervene.)
  2. Completing any leftover college application requirements: send first semester transcripts to colleges still considering applications.
  3. Applying for scholarships and submitting financial aid forms, as well as reviewing financial aid rewards. Students should notify the financial aid office at their colleges regarding outside grants or scholarships.
  4. Planning for a summer job or internship–never hurts to have some money saved for sundries freshman year.
  5. Enjoying the last semester of high school and living at home. (Parents–make the most of it. That bedroom will be all too tidy and all too quiet all too soon.)

 

And here is some advice from a recent high school graduate who is now at Tufts University: “Getting in is not the end; it’s the beginning.”

 

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Students study for midterms in Acton and Concord Massachusetts with the help of Open Door Education

10 Tips For Midterm Exams

Midterms are right around the corner. Although most students consider them a tough hurdle, they are also an opportunity. A strong score on a midterm can improve a semester grade. The best way to approach them is to have a plan—and some help.

 

Open Door tutors, all experts in various subjects, are available to help create study plans, organize and review materials, and fill in gaps. Students can also take independent steps, and here are 10.

 

Start early

Review notes, tests, and quizzes, and adapt your study guide, or create one if the teacher hasn’t provided one.  

 

Create a schedule

Split classes and material into manageable chunks on a calendar. Block out reasonable amounts of time for each subject until the tests. Usually, 90 minutes is a good limit for a study session on one subject.

 

Eliminate distractions

Find a quiet spot and put your phone out of sight. Limiting the distractions will help you make the best of the time you spend studying, by allowing you to give 100% of your attention to the subject at hand.

 

Join or put together a study group

Work with classmates who are equally motivated to fill in gaps and quiz one another. Sharing and comparing notes and insights is an effective way to review the material.

 

Take study breaks

Healthy eating, exercise, and plenty of sleep are all important. Self care and balance keep the brain working well.

 

Seek help

Early on, talk to teachers about the more difficult topics; the in-class review will be enriched. Need additional support? Contact Open Door. Getting a fresh perspective or an alternative explanation from someone other than your teacher may help difficult concepts click.

 

Use multiple senses

Transfer condensed outlines to 5×7 flashcards; rewriting materials and details helps to create additional mental synapses. Create mnemonic devices and speak them out loud. Close your eyes and visualize outlines, formulas, or facts.

 

Teach the material to others

Nothing solidifies knowledge better than having to explain it to someone else. Teach your parents. They are always asking for more details about what is going on at school, aren’t they?

 

Practice problems

Take the time to outline the answers to questions on the teacher’s study guide.

 

Get plenty of rest the night before

A good night’s sleep the night before the test will do wonders for your mental state and physical well-being.

 

Finally, plan a small reward after each midterm, like one of your guilty pleasures like a Netflix show—not a binge—or a yummy coffee concoction. Having one of your favorite things to look forward to each day makes the week of tests seem less dreadful!

 

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