“Back-to-school”–this time of year can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying!

Whether you’re a new student, a seasoned senior, or a professor, this time of year holds the promise of a fresh start and new opportunities, like diving into a new subject and forming new relationships.

But it also means some uncertainties and challenges, such as finding our “new normal and balancing competing responsibilities.

That said, there are some things we can do to take advantage of the metaphorical clean slate before us to start the year off in the best way possible. 

Get organized

My top suggestion is to get organized!

My husband and I recently moved, and it reminded me how much I hate the chaos of being half-unpacked and not knowing where things are. It was such a relief when we finally got everything moved, set up, and in their new places.

You don’t have to be Marie Kondo to reap the benefits of organization!  


I don’t know about you, but the state of my desk is often a good mirror for the state of my mind. When one is cluttered and messy, the other is likely to be as well.

Conversely, when I take the time to clean up my desk and organize the drawers or straighten up my office, it helps to put me in a better frame of mind for productivity.

There are a number of studies that demonstrate physically clean, organized spaces can improve our mental state.

So, taking the time to unpack your dorm room, put your clothes away, make your bed, and organize your miscellany could have a great payoff for your studies in the long term.   


What are your responsibilities? Most students juggle a number of (sometimes competing) demands: academics, job(s), friends, family, self-care, etc.

How will you prioritize them?

Use a calendar or planner to realistically assess the non-negotiables in your schedule–classes here, work there, date night with your significant other on Friday night. Then schedule in the other high priority stuff like extracurricular activities, studying, working out, practicing, going out with friends.

Do you have enough hours in the day to get everything done? If not, how can you solve the problem? Increasing productivity; eliminating time wasters; cutting an activity are all possible options.

Get creative; maybe you can double up on things like getting friend time while studying or working out together.  Trade chores with a roommate–I’ll get groceries this week if you pick them up next week.

You can also sometimes clear mental space by decluttering digitally. Consider the following: unsubscribe from emails that clutter your inbox (particularly if they’re distracting).

Turn off notifications on your phone. Start finding your way around whatever digital technology/platforms your school requires, and contact IT if you run into problems.

Create folders on your computer or in the cloud (I love Google Drive) for individual classes, so you can save, organize, and locate documents easily.  

Find and utilize whatever tools work best for you! 


Work starts quickly in college; sometimes you may even have reading assigned before the first day of class! So, it’s smart to get your books as soon as possible.

Also, it’s essential to make sure you have all the other supplies you need to get your work done. Laptops are pretty much a given, and a printer can be a handy extra. (That said, you should be able to get by using your university library or commons to fulfill any printing needs).

Other old school supplies like notebooks, pens, highlighters, and a planner will help you be prepared for notetaking, list making, and other activities that will keep you on track.   

Relax and course correct

Here’s my second suggestion: once you’ve done your best to set up a system, relax & course correct as needed

Don’t freak out! Perfection would be nice–but it’s rarely, if ever, achievable! Organizational systems are great and helpful, but they also break down sometimes. So give it your best shot, and then keep tweaking as necessary.  

It’s great to get off to a strong start, but ultimately, adjusting and following through are what will get you through the semester. So, maybe you waited a few weeks and a lack of organization caught up with you. Okay–just let that be a call to action to get working now! 

The sooner you organize your calendar, room, etc., the sooner you’ll start reaping the payoffs.

Also, recognize if you’re using organization, or some other good task, as an excuse to put off something even more crucial–like studying for that quiz tomorrow or turning in a late assignment. *No, I have never color-coordinated my sock drawer instead of prepping for a class… It was my t-shirt drawer.* 🙂

Lastly, find what works for you. Maybe your best friend has the neatest room ever with sweaters arranged by color, fabric, and brand. Maybe your roommate uses 5 different colors of pen & 3 highlighters to organize her planner. Or your brother has 17 alarms to make sure he gets to all of his scheduled activities.

If those systems serve them well, that’s fantastic. But maybe they seem overwhelmingly complicated to you! In that case, come up with your own streamlined approach using the tools and techniques that fit your life.