Organisation is Key

Written by Laetitia Chaumeron

The year isn’t even over and I’m already going to talk about your exam period. I’m sure you’re dying to know why I need to be such a downer, since, if you’re anything like me, you’re already stressed about handing in your assignments on time and balancing your personal and university life as well as you can. Let me tell you that this is for you, and only for you that I’m doing this my friend. Getting organised and planning stuff out isn’t always easy, but when done in time, it makes things much less stressful in the long-run. Isn’t this what we ultimately want? I can hear you say “YES” so let’s get started on the reasons why getting organised is important and the strategies you can implement to do so!

1.      Why do I need to get organised?

One of the many definitions of organisation is following: “The act of being systematic and efficient”. In this spirit, organising is about developing structures, patterns, habits and systems to allow oneself to keep everything one might need in order, whilst not having to worry about the fickle details of said structures. Systemization plays a huge part in the process of getting organised and is extremely relevant to a student’s success. For instance, take a student who is bright but doesn’t know how to study best and take another student with less academic knowledge but a great study system in place. The student who will have more success academically speaking will be the one with the organisational skills, because he has figured out his ways of thinking, processing and assimilating information, which will help him apply knowledge in a more structured way. The other student will (with a high probability) not be as successful as he/she can be, because he/she will not have recognized his patterns and will have to try much harder to apply the knowledge he/she won’t have assimilated in the most efficient way. In order to do your best, organising yourself and your environment is therefore extremely relevant! But how can you do that? Here is some advice on the ways you can become a better organiser and master your studies brilliantly!

2.      How do I get organised?

2.1. Organise your space

Many people underestimate the importance of having an organised space in order to be productive. For starters, it seems logical to have an organised desk whilst studying. The only problem is that we students often tend to have hundreds of notes lying around on our desks, as well as empty coffee mugs piling up and other random objects that we used to distract ourselves with, whilst procrastinating our work. I am no exception to that, especially since coffee is life. BUT I also find that having a clean and organised desk helps me being more creative and productive, because I know where to find everything I need in a heartbeat and don’t spend my precious time finding one particular piece of paper in the piles laying around. Moreover, I make sure that my room and flat are as clean as can be during my study periods: my bed is made, my floor is vacuumed and there are no clothes sitting on my desk chair, waiting to be washed. This allows me to focus my attention on my studies and my mind to not go to that “procrastinating through cleaning the whole entire apartment” place.

2.2. Organise your mind

“Organising my mind… What is this weirdo talking about?” Well, my fellow student, I am talking about one of the most important skills you need to master if you really want to succeed in life and in your studies. Your mind is obviously your biggest asset when it comes to studying, and it must be taken care of as much, or even more, than your body. To nurture your mind, it is of capital importance for you to get enough sleep and stay hydrated. Without that, you’ll feel more inclined to nap, procrastinate and focus on a million things at the same time. The next important piece of advice I can give you to organise your mind is to make some space in your brain. You must know that little voice which, as soon as you sit down to study, starts talking about how you needed to go buy soap or how you had to make an appointment with a certain doctor. All of those are valid thoughts, but they have no place in your study plan. Therefore, the easiest way to get rid of it, is to write those thoughts down on a piece of paper to get them out of your brain. It is like eliminating clutter in your wardrobe: you love all your clothes, but some just aren’t right for the season. Another great way to reduce the effect of this annoying little voice is to work out every day, since it is well-known for making people happy and building the self-control that is needed in tedious study times.

Along those lines, you can also make peaceful studying happen through the avoidance of drama and energy-reducing situations. What I mean by this is that, in my experience, every time in the past where I happened to have important exams, my partner and I started to argue, or suddenly a friend had a drama queen alert, or I’d put myself up to so many projects at the same time that I ended up not having any energy left for studying. You, as a student who wants to successfully master your studies, need to remind yourself that these are times where you are emotionally vulnerable and need a great support system which will allow you to not be more stressed than you already are.  Ain’t nobody got time for drama baby!

Finally, you need to figure out which kind of learner you are and use this to your advantage. Only once you know what way of learning and studying works best for your brain, you’ll be able to be systematic, efficient and productive. I feel like there are four main types of learners: writers, readers, listeners and explainers… And then there are combination-learners.

  • Writers: Writers are people who take notes and learn best by writing down all the information they want to learn. The gesture of writing makes it easier for their brain to retain the plethora of information they have to assimilate.
  • Readers: This type of learner either has a photographic memory or is able to recall information that he/she read in books or online quite easily.
  • Listeners: These learners remember what they learn best by hearing someone explain the topics to them or by listening to texts being read to them.
  • Explainers: A more rare kind of learner, but still relevant. The explainer is a learner who will not be able to fully assimilate the content to learn, unless he/she is able to explain the concepts, theories and other learning points to someone else.

Personally, I am a writer-reader, which means that I will write down everything that I can, to remember it, but at the same time I will remember the content by visualizing where I saw the information. This is why for my own studies, I create questionnaires with color-coding and mind maps, which allows me to both answer written questions in advance and see in my brain, where the information was located when I learned it. Find out what kind of learner you are, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, I can promise you that!

2.3. Organise your day

By organising your day, you are setting yourself up for success. I find it easiest to plan my day in the morning, whilst drinking my coffee, but I know that many people need to plan everything out the previous evening. It is up to you to decide when you want to create your routine.

Creating a routine is one of the most efficient ways to get through the stressful times of the pre-exam weeks. It allows you to structure your day, not waste your time and ultimately to get things done quicker and better. It is important for you to include breaks in your day, where you get to see your friends/family, have a decent meal, work out and have a little “you-time”. I will quickly walk you through some of my habits when it comes to establishing my routine.

Number 1: Wake up at the same time every day. Go to bed in the same timeframe every day.

Sleep is so important for a stressed student. It can sometimes feel like sleep-deprivation is the only alternative because of the amount of material you still have to go through and the limited time you have but ignoring your body’s need for sleep is a big mistake. Waking up early (between 6-8 a.m.) every day and going to sleep early too (between 10-12 p.m.) will leave you enough time to seize the day and be extremely productive, whilst conserving your energy level. I usually wake up at 6.30 a.m. and start studying around 8.30-9.00 a.m., which leaves me enough time to have a wonderful morning, where I can meditate, have a great breakfast and stay stress-free.

Number 2: Set your goals for the day every morning.

Setting realistic goals for the day is crucial when you’re trying to keep your revision time as organised as possible. Personally, I like to do a “brief” and “de-brief” every morning and evening, where I look at how much I wanted to achieve, how much I have achieved and how much I still need to go through. It helps me keep track of my progress and stay motivated and focused for this particular period in time. You can also decide whether you’d like to get the “easier tasks” done before the “harder tasks”, or vice-versa. Generally speaking, it is a better strategy to alternate both kinds of tasks, since the “harder tasks” usually take up a lot more energy and creativity, but it is up to you to design your own system. Find out what works for you and follow through my friend!

Number 3: Use the Pomodoro system to keep your productivity up

For those of my readers who don’t know the Pomodoro concept yet, it is probably one of the greatest tools for productivity I’ve come across in my short life. It goes like this: You set yourself a goal, put on a timer for 25 minutes, work on the goal for that time, then have a 5-minute break plus de-brief and you start over. The aim of this studying/working technique is to keep a person’s focus, creativity and productivity high, whilst allowing the brain to rest enough to be able to do so. Personally, I prefer doing 45-minute sessions with 15-minute breaks, and after 4 sessions, take a 1-hour break for food, because I find that my brain works best this way. Here too, it is up to you to decide what works best for you! Please just make sure that you take enough breaks in order to not overwork your brain! There are also a lot of great productivity apps out there, which I will talk about in a next article, so stay tuned for that!

Finally, I just wanted to conclude by hoping I convinced you that by making sure that you stay self-disciplined and organise yourself, your life, your environment or even just your notes over the trimester, you’ll be better off than so many students who leave everything to the last minute and then need to come up with quick-fix solutions just before their exams or deadlines. This attitude (which I’m still working on erasing in my own behavior) doesn’t make you feel great and increases your stress levels more than necessary. Therefore, I strongly suggest that you get yourself prepared and organised from now on, because organisation is key! We can do this!