For most of my graduate degree I’ve been taking online classes, which I’ve loved. But it turns out that keeping my classwork organized can be almost as challenging as doing it! I’ve found that it can be all too easy to lose track of important paperwork or assignments when I’m taking a class online and all I’ve got is a mess of electronic documents to wade through.
It took some trial, some error, and some panicked searching for documents I swore I had saved somewhere on my laptop at some point, but I’ve developed some great techniques for staying organized and staying on top of my classwork. The best part is that with just a little effort and a few simple ideas, I feel like I’m a better student, less stressed, and way more efficient, too.
Plus, with a few tweaks, any of this advice can apply to any of your electronic files, either personal or at work!
The first thing I do when I start a new course is to take my syllabus and put all our due dates into my online calendar. And when I say “all” my due dates, I mean all of them, from reading assignments to posting requirements to papers due and exams to take. Then I set alerts for every due date, making sure I’m always on top of where I need to be in the course and what I need to do. Just make sure you’re careful when you enter in your dates and double-check for typos!
Organized, Logical File Names
You’d be surprised when you realize how easy it is to forget to save your files with clear file names. Your instructor may have a document called “syllabus” for you to download, but how do you know which syllabus to open up when you have a question about your exam schedule?
The best technique: Always rename your files when you download them. For course documents, use the class name and number, a logical and clear description (syllabus, exam one, first paper, etc.), and the date. For example, ENG100_syllabus_042512. Once you make a habit of saving your files with clear, standardized and easy to read names, it’ll always be a snap to figure out what files you’re looking at and find what you need.
Carefully Labeled Folders
So what do you do with all those neatly labeled files? You organize them, too. When you save your document, save it into the correct folder. Your organizing system will obviously depend on what classes you’re taking and what kind of documents you’ve got, and will evolve as you figure out what works best for you.
What works for me? I’ve got separate folders for each class, obviously, and separate folders for school paperwork and financial aid. But inside the class folders, I’ve got sub-folders that help me get exactly where I need to go when I’m looking for something specific: Paperwork, Papers, Exams, Resources, and Misc.
Play around with a folder structure that works best for you, the way you think, and the classes you’re taking!
Current and Archived Documents
This is the tip that’s saved me the most time and energy: making sure my folders stay organized and uncluttered by archiving documents I’m not currently using. Once I finish a paper and post it for my instructor, I immediately pop it into a subfolder in the Papers folder called Archive (you can call it Old Papers or Finished Papers or Submitted Papers—whatever works for you!). You may even want to get hyper-organized and have two folders—such as one for papers that you’ve gotten graded on, and one for papers you’re still waiting to get back.
Staying on Top of Things!
The best way to stay organized is to stay on top of things—once you start to let things slide a little bit, the harder it is to catch up, until you are overcome with a tidal wave of disorganization. Believe me, I know from experience. So just take a moment, with every new file you create or download, to name it well and then pop it into the right folder, so you’ll never have to hunt frantically for the file you swore you had two days ago.
Do the Bare Minimum
The most important thing to remember is that you should only be as organized as you need to be. Set up your files in a way that makes you efficient and feel like you’re control of your online education, but don’t go overboard or it’ll get so complicated you’ll never want to use the system you so carefully designed.
What are your tips, tricks and techniques for staying organized and on top of your electronic life?
Sara Nelson is the Social Media Guru for CollegeAmerica, overseeing the college’s profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and more. She is also a student in the Master in Business Administration (MBA) program, and she enjoys spending time with her family, listening to good music, and eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.