Don’t get bogged down – 5 tips for improving your self-organization skills

Sich selbst zu organisieren bedeutet nicht zwangsläufig eiserne Disziplin. Quelle:
Sich selbst zu organisieren bedeutet nicht zwangsläufig eiserne Disziplin. Quelle:

Self-organization might sound a bit over the top, like arranging your pens according to color or being overly pedantic; but most of all, it sounds like a lot of hard work. Ultimately, only geniuses truly have control over the chaos. Searching for the necessary documents is generally an interesting challenge that has to be overcome just in time to meet that next deadline. And a challenge is a great learning experience anyway, isn’t it?

Self organization is a sensitive topic in some circles. It usually divides students into two camps: those who are super-organized and those who are rather chaotic. In reality, it is not necessary to choose between one extreme or the other, you just have to take these few simple tips to heart.

Generally speaking, the rooms in which students live are usually rather small. And in contrast to the size of the space, the mountain of course documents will only increase from one semester to the next (unless you spontaneously decide to throw away all your course notes and materials as soon as you find out that you’ve passed the exams).

However, most people keep their notes, at least at first, because you never know if you can use them again for a different course and/or seminar. And anyway, your blood, sweat and tears went into producing those notes. Or at least your money did, that is if you don’t only read notes on the computer screen. If you don’t have some kind of system, you will be buried by the sheer mass of documents after just the first few semesters – not to mention the fact that important details are easily lost in that mountain of paper chaos. And They usually remain lost until they suddenly resurface at the exact moment when you no longer need them.

By the way, this also applies to electronic files that are carelessly saved under the name file x, y, z (and it’s not long before you have completely forgotten whether the information was about your next holiday or seminar notes).

When chaos reigns

Plan A, B, C, D ... und wieder verworfen.
Plan A, B, C, D … und wieder verworfen. Quelle:

Many of us started the new year with the best of intentions, not to mention a few resolutions. Roughly half of these proved themselves to be unfeasible on day one, while the other half will be dropped a short time later. Carefully compiled daily and weekly timetables decorate the walls of your apartment or room but the work seems to increase rather than decrease.

Spontaneous purchases are a sure sign of the slide towards chaos – purchases that seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s not long before you realize how completely useless they are. The most popular examples of this include skincare products from a range of different brands, decorations that primarily just sit there and gather dust – and I’m sure you can easily think of a few other examples of things that you have bought but definitely didn’t really need. And this just helps to feed the chaos.

Halfhearted attempts are then made to curtail the chaos and steer everything back on course. But where should you even start? At the beginning. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? In this case the beginning means deciding how you want to deal with your documents and notes. Do you want to put them in folders, or ring binders? Would you rather write them in a notebook or do you want to go paper-free and have everything on your laptop or in your cloud? The next step is to go to a stationers and buy exactly what you need to be able to restore order. (I assume that you have one or more bin bags at your disposal, because everything you no longer need can either be used as a) rough paper, b) printed on the reverse side, or c) if it’s already been printed on both side and is no longer useful then throw it away.)

Stop the vicious cycle

The state of internal affairs often reflects the external situation – and vice versa. Anyone who has a perfectly ordered apartment during the exam period is actually busy procrastinating. We can control the cleanliness and orderliness of our home; but, it would seem, not our exam results (or how to handle the sheer quantity of stuff there is to learn). Or at least not direct, and that’s why we would rather tidy up, scrub the kitchen cupboards, clean the windows or consider whether it might be the perfect time to give the walls a new coat of paint … The problem is often the conflict between “I really need to get started” and “I don’t want to get started, because I would much rather do something else, anything else, as long as it’s not revision”. Cleaning and bringing everything into order suddenly seems much more appealing than worrying or being consumed by the fears and doubts that raise their ugly heads as soon as it’s time to get started on the revision.

If you have the same problems as I do, then you have to learn to create “basic order”; that means, a relatively orderly desk, nothing lying around on the floor and no clothes strewn around all over the place. This helps to create a space free of distractions, where you can work and that will help you to improve your concentration – instead of being continuously distracted by the chaos around you.

5 tips for improving your organization

Notizen retten Leben. Öfter, als man denkt! Quelle:
Notizen retten Leben. Öfter, als man denkt!
  1. Folders and ring binders. Instead of loose pieces of paper that you could paper the walls with, it’s better to have a system where you can bundle certain documents together. Important: Make a note of what is in the various folders – this will save you time when you are searching for something specific.
  2. Calendar. You can use a calendar to record appointments and help you to keep an overview of what’s going on in both your uni life and private life, and even at work.
  3. Prioritize. This is very important and is generally forgotten. Do the most important things first, everything else takes second place. If you are revising and the phone rings (or your mobile) then you will probably want to answer it. This is OK if it only happens once, but if it is happening continuously then this will really disrupt your concentration.
  4. Everything has its proper place. Your keys are in the door, your mobile phone is on the desk, important documents are in labeled folders. If you do these simple things then you will save time you would otherwise spend searching for things.
  5. Celebrate both internal and external organization. Once everything has been tidied away you suddenly have much more space, you’ve dusted the surfaces, old documents have been taken care of, cleared out or given away. Enjoy it! Let the tidiness have an effect on you, this will encourage you to keep it like this.

Of course, this is just the basics. But once you have internalized these strategies, it’s much easier to not let your room or your apartment sink into chaos – whether it’s exam time or not.

I wish you success with (self) organization!


Liebt Literatur und Psychologie. Hat einen Master in Germanistik und studiert Psychologie im Zweitstudium, um beide Leidenschaften zu vereinen. "Das Leben ist wert, gelebt zu werden, sagt die Kunst, die schönste Verführerin; das Leben ist wert, erkannt zu werden, sagt die Wissenschaft." (F. W. Nietzsche)

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