How Elite Students Get Organized

As appeared in Private Prep.

Picking and sticking with an organizational plan that will revolutionize your academic life

Tired of misplacing your notes? Getting blocked on social media by your friends because you’re constantly dm’ing them about what exactly it was your teacher assigned? Want to get organized but you just. Don’t. Know. How?

You need a system. A unified approach that will help you roll into the school year ready for whatever your teachers throw at you. Here are some concrete steps to help you develop an organizational system that works for you.

Step 1: Pick a General Approach

  • Are you the sort of student that likes to have everything in one place? If so, go with one large binder with color-coded dividers for each class. Just make sure you either carry a hole-puncher OR create a “to be filed” folder for when teachers hand you something on your way out of class or give you materials that aren’t punched. Whatever you do, don’t just jam all your papers willy-nilly into the pocket at the back of your binder. Not a good look.
  • Does one large binder sound a little too daunting? Totally fine. How about one small binder for each class? Make it easy on yourself and pick a different colored binder for each subject. That way, you don’t grab the wrong one in a rush.
  • Not a binder sort of person? Cool, cool, totally, me neither. Individual folders for each class and one notebook with dividers can work just as well. As with the binders, make sure to get a variety of colors, and consider putting colored tabs on the dividers in the notebook so it’s easy to find your place for each class.
  • Want to have entirely separate materials for each class? Go for it! A notebook and a folder for each individual class can keep you super organized. To go the extra mile, make sure your notebooks and folders match in color for each subject.
  • If you’re a real out-of-the-box thinker, you can get notebooks and folders that serve different purposes. Possible purposes include nightly homework, long-term projects, study materials, work to turn in, and “hold on to this for finals”. You can also create any of these folders in conjunction with one of the above systems.

Step 2: Make a Plan to Maintain Your System

  • Are there any extra supplies you should stock up on? (Hint: Reinforced loose-leaf paper does wonders for making any of the binder systems successful!)
  • How often and when will you clean out your “to be filed” folder if you’ve got one? “Whenever I feel like it,” is not a great answer here. Try every Monday.
  • When will you remove papers that are no longer necessary for you to keep?
  • Ideally, schedule the above into your week and/or set timers on your phone to help hold yourself accountable.

Step 3: Assess the System and Adjust

  • Check in at the end of your first week of school (or your first week using this system). Does this system work for you? Did you stick to your times for sorting your loose papers? What adjustments do you need to make?
  • Check in at the end of your first month. Have you settled into a rhythm? Does this system feel sustainable in the long run?

Additional Best Practices

  • Create a spot on your desk or workspace at home where parents or housekeepers know to put any loose work they find around the house. Clean this up once a week.
  • Identify a consistent place for your bookbag and other school supplies to live.
  • If your teachers have a particular way that they ask you to organize yourself for their class, consider asking them if they can give you leeway to use a different system that you think will work better for you. A parent or teacher can help you craft an email or think through this conversation.

There are plenty more specifics that we could (and will) dive into, but you’d be amazed how many of the small things work out on their own once you’ve got a unified system. Don’t slouch into the school year unprepared. Get organized!

And if you find that despite your best efforts your study skills are still suffering, don’t hesitate to contact us for support. Our Executive Functioning Coaches are masters at assessing organizational issues and helping you get back and stay on track.


By : Jenna Prada M.Ed. of Private Prep