So you’ve finished your back to school retail therapy and there’s a pile of folders, binders, highlighters, and pens waiting to be organized into your backpack. Ready or not, it’s time for the new school year to start. Take advantage of the clean slate of back to school season by setting some new school year resolutions. Here are our favorites:
This one is a pretty tall order for a habitual procrastinator—but it’s also the resolution most likely to make a huge difference to your grades, test scores, stress levels, and overall quality of life.
The problem with kicking a procrastination habit to the curb is that the immediate gratification of doing literally anything other than the reading assignment/study session/essay/whatever that you’re supposed to be doing is so much more attractive than the delayed gratification of finishing the thing you’re supposed to do in a timely manner.
And immediate gratification is, well, extremely gratifying.
There is no secret shortcut to breaking a procrastination habit. It takes willpower and self-discipline. But it helps to have a plan. Here are some tips for becoming a reformed procrastinator:
Create short-term goals and rewards.
Giving up the immediate gratification of procrastination is slightly easier if you give yourself short-term gratification in the form of rewards. Start with small goals. For example, maybe you start with 5 minutes of phone time for every 10 minutes of studying, and then for every 15 minutes, and then for every 20 minutes, and so on.
Write down everything.
One problem with procrastinating is how easy it is to forget about tests or due dates that are more than a couple days away. Get a planner and write down everything. The visual will help give you a reality check on just how much time you have left before something has to get done.
Break big tasks up into little ones.
Let’s say you have a big essay due in 3 weeks. Three weeks is a long time away—you’ve got plenty of time! But before you know it, 3 weeks has turned into 3 days, and you haven’t even started. Instead, break your big essay down into small tasks and set yourself shorter deadlines: have all of my research done in 7 days; I’ll have an outline in 10 days; a rough draft done in 14 days; in 18 days, I’ll finish editing; by the due date, I’ll have my final draft done. This way, you can still procrastinate a little bit on each individual task, but you stay on track to finish the bigger project in time.
Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” You could probably replace “desk” with backpack or locker and arrive at the same conclusion. But there’s cluttered, and then there’s open the locker door and a pile of stuff falls out.
Life in general—and school in particular—is a lot easier when you can find the things you need, so it’s worth taking some steps to get and stay organized this school year.
Clean out your stuff.
Schedule time to clean out your backpack, binders, and locker once a week. If you do it every week, cleaning out your stuff only takes a couple of minutes.
Create a system.
You’re more likely to stay organized if you spend time creating an organization system. Maybe you’re a three-ring-binder-and-color-coded-dividers type of gal, or maybe you’re a manila-folders-and-labels kind of guy. Whatever floats your boat.
Avoid loose papers when you can.
Loose pages are the enemy of organization for students. It’s so easy to stuff them in the front of a binder or in the bottom of a backpack, never to be seen again. There are a lot of loose pages you can’t eliminate—like all of the ones your teacher hands you. But when you can avoid loose pages, you should. For example, take your class notes in spiral notebooks. Notebooks don’t get crumbled and lost in the bottom of a book bag, and they provide a natural chronology to help you locate specific items.
Build Better Study Skills
You study and study, but your test scores don’t go up. Things go in one ear and out the other (or, in the case of reading, in one eye and out the other?).
You’re studying wrong.
Here’s how to do it right:
To really learn new things, you have to space out your learning over time. Cramming for a test is a really short-term solution with some bad long-term consequences.
Don’t ignore health.
You’re young and healthy, so clearly you can subsist on Doritos, Gatorade, video games, and four hours of sleep! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Good diet, exercise, and sleep habits literally make you smarter.
Study in different places.
The old advice to set up a quiet study spot and always study in that same spot is actually wrong. Science suggests that your best bet is to study the same material in different places to build stronger associations with the information.
Studies show that you’re more likely to retain information if you learn it with the intent of explaining it to someone else—better yet, really master the info by actually teaching it to someone else!
The more often you have to recall information, the better you get at recalling it. If you test yourself on the stuff you’re studying, you’ll have an easier time remembering key info on your actual test day.
Learn about the science behind these study skills tips with our Five Tips to Help You Prep for Finals (or literally any other test).