Habits of Highly Successful Freshmen: Organization

Jumping into college is like jumping out of an airplane. Feeling alive and fearing for your life, all at the mercy of a free fall, you may feel capable of anything and bound by nothing. But, a few minutes into skydiving, and a few weeks into college, you must make an important choice: continue to speed aimlessly for a fatal crash, or pull the ripcord and let your parachute carry you safely back to Earth.

In college, that parachute is organization, and the time to pull that ripcord is rapidly approaching. Adding a sense of peace and control to your life is the only thing that can save you from a crash. First exams, papers and projects have reared their ugly heads, and they're only warm-ups for midterms and finals close behind. If you aren't prepared for them, they'll enter into your life like a virus into a computer, silently waiting for the right moment to tear you down in an instant. If you are prepared, you reduce them to notes on a to-do list and strip them of their power to run your life.

The first step to an organized life is an awareness of your immediate, near and distant future. In the context of academics, you should know precisely what your homework is for tomorrow, generally what your next quiz will be about, and roughly when you should start studying for your midterm. Syllabi make for a good starting point. Everything you'll need to do to achieve a 4.0 GPA is on the handful of sheets you received in the first week. Checking your syllabus for each class each day isn't practical, nor is it necessary. Instead, get an agenda or a small notepad and write everything you need to accomplish for the week, as well as the dates for bigger exams, papers and projects throughout the semester.

Writing out lists is one of the most practical and efficient methods for organization there is, and it should be applied liberally in all areas of your life. As the saying goes, "By failing to plan, you're planning to fail." If you truly feel that your life is out of order, commit five minutes each morning to writing a list of everything you need and want to do for that day. Then proceed to do everything that's on the list and nothing else. If there's something you need to do that's not on the list, write it down before you do it. Each time you accomplish a task, be it as small as eating lunch or as grand as finishing a project, scratch it off and move on to the next one. The next morning, create a new list, moving everything you didn't accomplish the previous day to the top.

It's also important to establish priorities. If we can't distinguish the significant from the trivial, we run the risk of spinning our wheels on lesser aims rather than moving on to things of greater consequence. Everything in your life has a priority from moment to moment. At this moment, for whatever reason, your priority is reading this article. What will your next priority be? Look at the list of things you need to do. One of them will be more important than the others. Just an awareness of this priority will improve the efficiency with which you work.

These processes of list-making and priority-setting may seem tedious, chaining you to your schedule and filling your life with labor. In reality, organization liberates you to accomplish far more than you currently are. It orders things manageably, so you can accomplish them efficiently and ultimately have room on your plate for more spontaneous and creative endeavors. The initial chore of organization is like a game of 52-pick-up, getting all of your cards in order so you have a deck to play with.

It is most key that you make organization a long-term habit, rather than a one-time experiment. It will be tedious and time consuming to the degree that you've disorganized your life so far. And it will take commitment to sustain the habit of organization before it becomes second nature. Just bear in mind that the entire process goes toward more freedom to make the most of your college experience.