How to Organize Your Life in College

“We continue the way we start.” -Gretchen Rubin

Let’s create a time map for your first semester of college!

If you’re starting college next semester, chances are you are feeling INCREDIBLY nervous about this time.

Partly a good, I’m-so-excited, everything-is-going-to-be-so-much-fun, kind of nervous.

And partly an, oh-my-gosh-I-am-going-to-be-Responsible-for-feeding-myself-and-keeping-my-living-space-clean-and- waking-up-on-time-and-getting-things- done-all-by-myself kind of nervous.

Both are normal.

Both are fine.

You SHOULD be feeling this way!

But how DO you make sure that you get up on time every day, have reasonably healthy meals, get all of your work done, do your laundry, and everything else that comes along with being independent and on your own?

Two things: Time management and habits.

Those two concepts are basically married. You can’t have good time management without good habits, and you can’t form good habits without good time management.

So, where do you start? This is kind of a chicken and egg debate, but personally, I would start with the time management.


Create a Time Map

Start by creating a weekly “time map.” Open Word or Excel and create a table or spreadsheet. If you’re creating a table, you’ll want it to be 8 columns x 33 rows for 30-minute increments or (if you’re a SUPER detailed person like *ahem* me) 8 columns by 65 rows for 15-minute increments. SIDE NOTE: Please check the math on that 🙂 You are just creating 2-4 rows per hour.

Limit Your Active Hours

However, you are purposefully going to leave eight hours out of your day. Try NOT to schedule anything outside of those rows. Of course, there will be events here and there that you don’t want to miss… that’s not what I’m talking about. Don’t schedule SCHOOLWORK for yourself outside of those hours. College is an easy time to work past midnight, but there is a time management rule that “work will expand to fit the amount of time.”

Tell your brain those sleeping hours are not even an option! If it thinks they are, you will get distracted more easily and procrastinate more. I PROMISE this is true. If you need to get it done, you can do it in the 16 hours of your waking day. I’ll show you how!

Add in Your Class Schedule

If you already have your class schedule, or if you have a job and you already know the hours you will need to work, or if you cheer or play softball or are on the golf team, and you know you will practice at a consistent time every day/week, go ahead and add in those times.

Add in Travel Time

Go ahead and block out some time for getting ready and travel time to get to your location. One of my biggest mistakes during my early years of college was scheduling my activities where they bumped right up against each other. Add in time to change clothes, find a parking space, will hit a bunch of red lights on your way there, be REALISTIC about the time it takes to get to each place!

Read: Tips for Balancing Grad School and Real Life


Ok, so now that you have your commitments + get ready/travel time scheduled in, let’s look at what you truly need to live a healthy life. Physical needs come first. It’s hard to train your brain to think this way because there is little accountability for physical needs. No one else really knows if you ate Oreos for dinner, didn’t drink enough water, or only slept four hours last night.

YOU are usually the only one who knows and, a lot of times, the only one who cares. You have GOT to take care of your body. Buy your groceries intentionally. Find a few things that are the perfect balance of cost-effective and healthy, and stick to buying those items consistently.

Eating consistently in college was a HUGE challenge for me and, as a result, I fainted in not one, but two public places. YOU DO NOT WANT TO FAINT IN PUBLIC. I once fainted at the airport from not eating, but before I actually passed out, I was literally crawling on the floor because my body was too weak to do anything else. Talk about embarrassing.

Don’t put your body last. Take the time to eat and drink consistently. Take the time to get outside and walk/run every day, even if it’s just across campus. The more you take care of your body, the more focused your brain will be and the better your grades will be 🙂

Related: What to Carry in Your Backpack for College


First of all, let me say that I kind of hate the term “adulting.” BUT I can’t find a better way to describe this stuff, so… “adulting” it is! OK, on your time map, you should now have times blocked out for your concretely-scheduled commitments and anything pertaining to your health. Next up, think about what you need to do to keep your home and life running. These are all the things that fall under the term “adulting.”

For example, paying your electricity bill, vacuuming your carpet, scheduling doctor appointments, taking out the trash, putting gasoline in your car, etc. Schedule these things in so that you can keep your life up and running. They are usually things that don’t take long but are kind of boring tasks.

I love the idea that Gretchen Rubin presents in Better Than Before of having a “Power Hour” once a week. On your least busy day of the week, schedule in one hour to power through your to-do list. This hour should NOT include studying, working, or exercise. It is 100% dedicated to errands, to-dos, tasks, phone calls, and other things that you tend to procrastinate.

Make a list to power through and set a timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, stop and resume with your normal life. During next week’s Power Hour, pick up where you left off 🙂

Read: Best College Habits


Your time map should have your scheduled commitments, health, and adult life things all scheduled in. Next up, make sure that you have about three social activities scheduled in. You are your own judge of this. If you are someone who tends to blow off studying to hang out with friends, then limit your social engagements so you have more time for studying.

If you are someone who naturally tends to spend more time alone, try to schedule at least three social times for the week, even if it’s just grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting for a few minutes with a classmate after class. It’s obviously not going to happen at the same time each week, but try to make sure you get out with friends 3 times each week!

Social relationships are SO important and you need them in college! Use your own judgment for this because everyone is different, but ensure that you have enough time to study, too! You need to balance both.

Related: How to Stay Organized in Online Classes (Tips from an Expert)


Get a “Study Planner”

I bought a cheap planner from Target so that I could completely designate it to study time. I called it my “study planner.” In that planner, I wrote all of my due dates for assignments. This way, you can scribble in all of your reading assignments without feeling like it’s too cluttered!

Plan Backward

Then, I planned backward… two days before an assignment was due, I would write something like “reread and final edit of ___ paper.” Three days before that, I would write “add citations to ___ paper.” I would keep planning backward and adding small, bite-sized tasks for big projects. About two weeks ahead, I would just write something (very low priority) like, “think about a topic for ___ paper” or “jot down ideas for ___ paper.”

By planning backward, I was able to think of the steps that I would need to complete for this assignment and then give myself a deadline to have each individual step complete. This kept me from just writing something broad like, “Write ___ paper” and procrastinating until the night before it was due. This also gave me control over the amount of time I needed to not feel rushed or stressed about assignments.

Plus, this allows you to just open your study planner and see a color-coded prioritized study list in front of you; no thinking about where to start. Set a timer and power through it! Schedule “study time” on your time map, then work from your prioritized list.

Read: How to Get Better Grades in College


Now that you have your health, adulting, school/work, and social things in place, you can include fun on your time map 🙂 This includes any hobbies/interests that you have. Keep in mind that this will probably receive the smallest amount of scheduled time, and will most likely be the first thing that you cut out on busy weeks… but THAT IS OKAY. This is your lowest priority for now.

Include downtime things like reading for fun, painting, social media, volunteering, etc. In my life right now, this would include Junior League, this blog, or Instagram. Those are things that I love, but they’re also just for fun. They aren’t paying my bills, helping my health, or the health of my family.

When there is time to do these things, that’s great… but I’m also not going to freak out if I have to go a week without social media or if I have to pass on a couple of Junior League events. When my life calms back down, I’ll get back to those things. You can’t treat everything like a top priority. Decide now what can be the first to go and follow through on that decision when your time gets limited (which it will)!

Related: How to Prepare for a New Semester


Now that you’ve got everything in place, go back to your time map and look at how much blank space you’ve got in your week! Fill in the white boxes accordingly. I will really, REALLY encourage you to block out boxes for “social media” under “hobby time.”

Did you know the average American spends over 2 hours a day on social media?! That’s a full block of study time! Of course, you can learn so much from Instagram and YouTube… it’s not all mindless scrolling. But try to set boundaries so you don’t feel stressed later!

Read: How to Set and Follow Study Goals

I would love to see your time map once you’ve got it completed! You can share it on Instagram with the hashtag #organizedcharm, or describe it below! 🙂

What time management strategies do you use? What are your priorities 1-5?

Tips for Balancing Grad School and Real Life

“I’m Managing a full-time job, full-time grad school, and a social life…help!”

Sound familiar? 
Grad school is a pretty tough time in life because you typically have more responsibility than you did in undergrad. 
Maybe you’re paying your own tuition for the first time. Or your own rent. Or you now have a mortgage (or a marriage) or a baby. 
Maybe all of the above! And don’t forget about that full-time job you worked so hard to get straight out of college.
Going back to school with the responsibility of adult life can be super challenging! Whatever the reason, the blend of college life and adult life can be a struggle for all of us.

Here are some ways that I learned to deal with it:

Manage your time:

First of all, you are the manager of your time. Your boss probably won’t care about you being behind in schoolwork, and your professor probably won’t care that you’re overloaded at work. It’s up to you to find the balance of your responsibilities. Set limits and stick to them!

Read: 5 Time Management Tips for College

Start by prioritizing your time between the two… Yes, they may both be important, but which one is more important to your long term plan? Most likely, you’re in grad school to help further your career. If that’s the case, school is your top priority. 
Don’t be afraid to let your employer know which days you need to leave early for class. But also, don’t try to do schoolwork during work hours! Have the mindset that work time is for work and school time is for school. Don’t forget to leave time for working out and socializing! 
A good planner can really help in this area! Here are a few of my favorites!

Use effective studying skills:

Since you have a limited amount of time to study, you want to make sure your studying techniques are as effective as they can possibly be! Write down what you will work on ahead of time. This way, when you sit down to work, you can start working right away!
The Study Tips page of this website is full of my favorite study techniques I’ve collected over the years! Here is my overall study routine: Have a prioritized and detailed list before you ever sit down. 
-Set a timer for a certain amount of time. 
-Say NO to any and every distraction that comes your way during that time. 
-When your timer goes off, write down a detailed list of the next steps you need to take on this assignment. 
-That will be your prioritized and detailed list for the beginning of your next study session! 
Continue this cycle religiously, even using the same time and location! Consistency is key to creating new routines!

Find a great home organization system:

The final piece to balancing full-time work/school and normal life is to find a quick and efficient home organization system. I like FlyLady’s system because she just says to do a little bit every day. 
She has a free app that works as a recurring checklist you can use on your phone! Plus, you can edit it to fit whatever daily chores/routines you need in your own life (“feed the dog”, “file papers”, etc.). 
Also, this simple technique is my Holy Grail of home (and life) organization!
The key to balancing several different areas of life is to make sure you’re maximizing your productivity and not procrastinating

Read 8 Anti-Procrastination Strategies

By having these three things consistently in place, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family (or secretly binging your favorite series on Netflix)! 🙂 

What tips do you have for balancing full-time work and school? Share them below! 

Follow Organized Charm on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more productivity tips!

7 Tips for a Productive Finals Week

If there is one things I’ve noticed “trending” on all of my social media news feeds, it’s stress. Or a lack of productivity. Or procrastination. Or sleep deprivation. Or despair. If only I could combine all of those into one word… Oh, wait; I can: Finals.

Let me tell you how so many of my Finals weeks went during undergrad: I would set out all of my schoolwork and then procrastinate well into the night. Maybe I was sitting at my desk, but I was scrolling through Facebook or articles or I would suddenly decide that I needed to rearrange my office supply drawer. THEN around 11 PM, I would realize that I actually had no choice but to do my work. By then, my energy and focus were long gone and I was feeling resentful towards my work.

I would stay up way too late until I finally fell asleep surrounded by my books/notes/etc. I would wake up around 2AM with all of my lights on, read another paragraph or go over vocal words again and then fall back to sleep. THEN I would wake up around 6 and complete the entire paper/study for the test on the morning that it was due. What?! Who does that?! Oh, and then there was the crying. You can’t forget the crying during finals week. It’s an important part.

Finals in both semesters are challenging, but there is just something about the end of the fall semester that adds this extra layer of anxiety. Christmas, maybe? Or the cold weather? Or the shorter days? Or even, all of the football games. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to set out some helpful productivity tips! And most of all, just remember that you’re almost there!

1: Plan Each Day on the Night Before
I can tell you right now that I can tell a HUGE difference between days where I wake up with a plan and days when I try to make my plan in the morning. Like, it’s the difference between me getting 1 thing done and getting 39 things done. Really.

I love this whole article from Underground Success but my favorite tip is “set out your super 6 the night before”. So, tonight, look at your crazy finals week schedule and choose your 6 biggest things that need to be accomplished tomorrow! Write tomorrow’s to-do list tonight!

2: Set Aside Sleeping Hours (and Stick to Them!)
So, as time has gone on (and I’ve gotten older… shhh.) I have learned that there really is something to be said for good sleeping patterns. This is going to make me sound like the oldest person in America but I literally go to sleep every single night at 10pm. I know, right? 

We also wake up at our house at 5:30 every morning (and by “wake up”, I mean lay in bed and listen to the alarm). One can’t happen without the other. So, I told you that to tell you this: Set aside a specific time to go to sleep and follow that every night but especially during finals week! You need sleep! Your brain will be more focused, your memory will be better, and you will feel less stressed if you get enough sleep! As tempting as it is to skip sleeping during this time of year, don’t do it !

3: Hit the Ground Running
When you wake up, start working right away! Make the bed and have breakfast! Take a (quick) shower and get dressed! Then start on that to-do list that you made last night! Start working before you even have time to get distracted by anything or before you can even think about how much you don’t want to do!

Set a deadline for yourself and work like crazy to meet it! I always, always choose to work high-priority (things that are either due the soonest or worth the most points) to low priority. Life will happen, so keep in mind that you may not make it to that 6th thing!

4: Always Know What Your Next Step Is
I recently read this article on productivity and it said to make sure you finish every conversation (e-mail, text) by knowing what the next step is. For example, if you’re trying to make plans with someone, rather than just saying “let’s get together” say “let’s get together on Saturday”. Things are more likely to actually HAPPEN that way!

Well, I loved that advice so much, that I’ve started thinking of everything like that! So, when you shut down your computer after spending time working on a huge paper, stick a Post-It on it with where you need to begin next time!

For example, “3 more citations, 2 more examples, 2 more concluding paragraphs”.

That sounds more manageable and less vague than “finish paper,” right?

5: Block Out Social Media
I know I literally talk about this all fit time, but I just always, always read all these articles about how social media has a negative impact on productivity! I mean, really… you don’t even need me to say that because we all experience it every day! For finals week, try these tips:

—> Hide your social media apps on the second screen on your phone
—> Set aside a 20-mintute time limit for social media
—> Turn off your alerts/push notifications

Just use these tips until you’ve turned that final assignment… But who knows, you may feel so much less-stressed that you keep them that way!

6: Remember your “Big Picture”
So, it may be totally true that making a passing good grade on your Landforms final seems completely pointless when you’re studying English. Believe me, as a Legal Studies major I was always like, when am I ever going to need to know about the layers of dirt? And I was right. No one in my adult life has ever asked me about where the Humus layer is.

BUT think of it as a tiny little stair step that is leading you to your dream career! We must be required to take some of these silly classes for some reason. Just think of all of the people who have done this before you! And listen, if I can do well in pass classes like Finite Mathematics and Political Statistics, then you can, too!

7: Keep a “Distraction Notebook
Oh, hi. I just gave you a justification for heading down the notebook aisle at Target (at least, that’s how I would read that). But it’s really completely true! Nearly every time that I have some huge project due for someone else, I all of a sudden have a brilliant idea for something that I want to do! Um… that’s how this blog was even created in the first place (I was avoiding do an Educational Research project).

And guess what? You don’t want to forget those ideas because they may turn out to be amazing! Grab a cute little notebook and every time that you feel distracted by some big, great idea, write it down! When Finals are over, you can open it up and use your break to work on those amazing and creative projects you came up with!

If all else fails, just spend your 20 minutes of social media time scrolling through #finalsweek on Twitter.

I promise, it will make you laugh 🙂

What are you doing to get ready for Finals week? Are you super stressed or do you feel like you’ve got it under control? Any tips that we could all use to get more done?! 

Finals Cheat Sheet + Printable Study Checklist

24 short days until Christmas! The music, the decorations, the social events with friends and family, and all of those cheesy Hallmark christmas movies are just waiting for you…

…right on the other side of Finals (dun dun dunnnnnn).

And because I know you’re stressing (because it is literally the most stressful part of the semester), I’m compiling some of my favorite study tips into this one post! (complete with a free little checklist to hang up in your study space to remind you)! READY?!

Planner: SO IMPORTANT! Have a plan before you sit down to study! Otherwise, you’ll just spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what you already have done, what you need to do, and where you need to start! Keeping a planner that is up -to-date cuts down on prep time and boosts actual study time!

Study Materials: Where are your notes? Your textbook? Did you leave something in your car? Do you need to print some PowerPoints from your class website? GATHER everything BEFORE you sit down to study! Nothing is more frustrating than being ready to work and then realizing you don’t have everything you need to be able to work!

Clean Environment: Sometimes, if I’m having a hard time focusing, I look at my environment. Do I have papers scattered all over the place? Are there random things that are out of place that are subconsciously distracting me? Take a minute to organize things and get your study environment as clean and organized as possible!

Productive Time of the Day: What time of day do you work best? Research shows that 9am-12pm is typically the best time for completing cognitive tasks (which is why most businesses and schools are open during this time), but YOU know YOU better than anyone. Are all of your roommates out between 1 and 2 every day? Then maybe that’s your most optimal time!

Minimal Distractions: You love Instagram. I love Instagram. We all love Insta. And Twitter. And Pinterest. But they are a constantly alluring distraction from the task at hand (studying, duh). And guess what? That just makes you want to check your phone even more. Resist the urge! In fact, eliminate it altogether by putting your phone on silent and sticking it in a drawer or in a different room.

And no, sending Snapchats of yourself pretending to be asleep (or crying) while surrounded by your notes does not count as studying! Sorry.

Comfortable Clothes: If there were ever a perfect time for Victoria’s Secret’s entire PINK collection existing, it’s Finals week! This is literally (and by literally, I mean figuratively… obviously) your free pass to live in yoga pants and over-sized t-shirts for the next two weeks! TAKE ADVANTAGE!

Writing Utensils: This is so beyond obvious that I feel silly even mentioning it. BUT really think about what kind of writing utensils you need for studying! Highlighters for highlighting in your text book? Pencils for doing math? Colored pens for editing your paper? Put some thought into what would benefit you the most for studying each subject!

Paper: Same as above. Post-It’s that you can jot notes on and stick in your textbook? Notebook paper for outlining a paper? Index cards for memorizing definitions? Graph paper for practicing statistics problems? (by the way, if you are currently in Statistics, know that my prayers are with you)

Calming Music: A long time ago, we used to have to buy those relaxing CD’s from Target (you know, the one’s where you could select a preview to every single one first?). But these days, we are super blessed with things like iHeart Radio, iTunes Radio, and Pandora. Go to “Add New Station” and then select “Browse Genre Stations”… there are countless choices! And if you need some choices, check out this post!

Timer: I work faster with a time-limit! And I’m guessing you do, too. This really, REALLY helps to cut down on distractions because you know that, if you only have an hour, you better not waste any of that time by Facebook stalking.

There will be plenty of time for that when the timer goes off.

Start: If you’re a new reader to this blog, you should watch the video in this post. It’s less than 5 minutes and the information is INVALUABLE for productivity! One of the most important things that I learned from it is to JUST START! Once you’ve started a project, your brain gets this nagging feeling to go back and finish it!

And if you’re having a hard time starting, maybe check out this post to find out why!

Focus: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One thing at a time. One day at a time. This is the motto that my super laid-back (no really, like Matthew McConaughey level of laid backness) husband tells me to repeat when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Some other of his favorites: do less and just get it done.

Track Your Progress: WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU DO! This allows you to (1) be proud of yourself and (2) keep up with where you need to begin next time!

Relax: Last spring, I posted a video from Dr. Marty Lobdell on studying. One of the first things he says is to work for less than one hour! In fact, most of our attention spans run out around 30 minutes. So even though pulling an “all nighter” may feel productive, it’s actually having the opposite effect! Your mind (and your body) need sleep, too! Study in smaller, super-intense bursts of time instead!

Update To-Do List: If you want, you can print out the free printable progress tracker in this post to keep you up-to-date with your progress on different assignments. OR, you can just use a regular old piece of paper to keep up with how far along you made it during your “bursts” of study time. When it’s time for you to stop working because your timer went off (or because you came a little too close to throwing your laptop across the room), write down the very next 3 things that you need to do for this project! This will allow you to get straight back to work as productively as possible the next time you work on this project!

Clear Computer Desktop to Neutral: Clear to Neutral is a beautiful concept. You can read all about it here, but the basic idea is this… Leave everything exactly the way you want to find it next time! Instead of leaving 14 windows open on your computer when you go do sleep, name every file! Close every browser window! And straighten up all those loose documents into neat and organized files. You can leave your most frequently used documents and folders on your desktop but that’s all!

Clear Actual Desktop to Neutral: So, no one looks at a super messy desk and says “ooh, I could get so much work done there!”. They just don’t. Keep your environment organized. Put papers away… even if it’s just into a drawer for now. Your study space should be a place where you actually enjoy being!

Reward: Um, hello? You just checked a few things off of your to-do list? GOOD JOB! It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get it all done right now. There will always be more to do (believe me, always). Every time you work on schoolwork, you’re more prepared than you were before. So, celebrate that! Give yourself permission to mentally check out while mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr. or watching a silly YouTube video or having cookies or champagne (or all of the above).

Yes, Finals are coming. But you are ready! 🙂

Here is a printable version of the checklist (if it works)!

How are you preparing for finals? Are you feeling overwhelmed or do you feel like you’ve got it together? Can you think of anything to add to this checklist? If so, add it below! 

A Look Inside Organized Charm’s New Etsy Shop!

Last week, I made a pretty big announcement. Who decides to throw an Etsy shop into the mix with finals rapidly approaching? And not just normal finals… but the culmination of one’s graduate school career? Oh, that would be me. No big deal.

And even though it has been a lot of work to get everything in the shop set up, I have to say that I am SO, SO happy that I decided to do this! I already have 10 (yes, 10!) printables available in the shop and I’m adding another one today! YAY!

Before I officially announced this shop via OC, I wanted to be sure that I could successfully create “mini” planner pages… and guess what? I can! And I, of all people, am totally thrilled about that!

So this post is dedicated to the shop! Kind of like a cheat sheet / tour / what to expect!

(And who among us doesn’t love to know what to expect, right?!)

Okay, so here is everything I can think of to tell you!

PICTURED: Daily Checklist with Timeline and 5 Categories
Who: The shop name on Etsy is “Organized Charm“! (obvious one, right?)
What: Mix & Match Planner Printables
(like, YOU choose what YOU want to have in YOUR planner)
*Items Available:

Full Size (8 1/2 x 11) 

Mini Size (5 1/2 x 8 1/2)

Mini Grid Weekly View

*Coming Soon: More mini printables! Including a Cleaning Schedule, Daily View, Finance Tracker, Month at a Glance, Year at a Glance, and more options for weekly views!

PICTURED: Horizontal Weekly View
Where: Etsy (AKA the website equally as addictive as Pinterest)

When: This shop technically opened on Monday… but it’s grand opening is TODAY! YAY! 🙂

PICTURED: Year at a Glance Printable 
Why: I created this shop because I wanted more options/control over what goes in my planner. And if I wanted that, I thought that other people might be looking for that, too!

PICTURED: Month at a Glance
How: These are instant downloads, which is super convenient! If you’ve ordered from Etsy before, then you are familiar with how it works. But for those of you who aren’t so familiar with it…

Here’s how it works!

1. Login/Visit Etsy
2. Choose the printables that you want/need/love the most!
3. Checkout
4. Download your new printables!

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! 🙂

Have you used Etsy in the past? Did you have a good experience? What kinds of printables would you like to see in the shop?

Visual Notes: Crash Course

How much more likely are you to read an infograph than an actual article or research study? Probably a lot more likely, right? In fact, 90% of info transmitted to our brains is visual! “Yeah, so what?” you might be asking. So… have you ever considered using visual notes for studying instead of just writing out a bunch of words? You know, a little like creating your own infograph? I started doing this for two reasons:

  • #1: When I was in high school, we had a teacher who would allow us to create a 1-page study guide that we could use on our tests. I know, I know… sounds so easy, right? And you are right, it was easy. But here is what our teacher knew: He knew that we would spend SO MUCH time analyzing and evaluating what information to put on those study guides, that we would secretly be learning more information the whole time we were creating them! Pretty sneaky, huh?
  • #2: I am a visual learner. And you probably are, too. In fact, 65 percent of us are visual learners! This is why we may get overwhelmed when we open a document/e-mail/textbook that just has dense paragraphs and paragraphs full of words. And I don’t mean for that to sound as bad as it may sound (like we’re too lazy to read a book or something). It’s just that images, like charts or graphs or illustrations or photographs, can make it easier on our eyes and our brains because they improve a document’s readability.
In fact, when I was in my Educational Psychology class a few years ago (favorite one ever, btw), our professor told us that one of the jobs within that field is to create those little images and tables in textbooks! I just thought it was pretty cool… I never even thought about why they were in there! Now I notice them all the time (AND I actually pay attention to them)!
Now, whenever I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by a topic, I try to put all of the most important info onto ONE PAGE using a mixture of bullet points, charts, drawings, keywords, whatever I think will help! I created a study sheet of visual notes for my most recent certification exam (the last one ever. YAY!). Luckily, I took photos of this one because, as you know, studying is a little like working out: If you don’t photograph it, it doesn’t count.
As you can clearly see, stick people are my specialty. Just look at Jean Piaget’s glasses.
Remarkable talent.
So, how about this: How about if, the next time you’re studying for an exam, you comb through your notes and your textbook and create an infograph-style study sheet. One sheet (or poster) with pictures to quickly trigger certain concepts in your brian with a few keywords or major facts to remember! Then hang it up somewhere where you will see it frequently throughout the day (like above your desk or on your mirror to look at while you’re getting ready).
Maybe you’ll be able to get a little more into studying using a method like this than you would if you had to sit down, pull out your notes, and flip back through pages and pages of your own handwriting! I have included some examples of “visual notes” to inspire y’all! Also, there are links to several different sites that mention them (and other things) as well!
Of course I love this one by Liz Cazaly because it’s about education, too! Win-Win!
This one is by Austin Kleon (of achieves what I was TRYING to do in the photo above.
And this one by Guilia Forsythe makes it easy to scan through the categories of the topic!
Here are some links to sites that are
not drawn by Kindergarten teachers
actually informative on this topic
talented at drawing visual notes
Remember, it doesn’t have to be good to be effective!
Thank goodness! 🙂
Do you take visual notes or have you ever tried? How do you typically create study guides? Have you tried that trick of putting them on your mirror (or somewhere in your home)… if so, did it help or not help? 

Write Notes in Your Own Words

I can’t really remember when I started doing this, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime around my Junior year of undergrad. Okay. Wait a minute. Actually, I can tell you exactly when I started doing this! I remember it like it was yesterday… it was indeed the fall semester of my Junior year. Apologize by OneRepublic was on the radio every 15 seconds and Facebook was still the only social media network we needed.
I was in a World Civilizations class (which somehow made me hate my favorite subject… history!). My professor was wonderfully nice, but she literally, LITERALLY typed entire pages/paragraphs of notes onto her PowerPoint slides. At first, I joined the whole class in frantically trying to copy each slide word for word, until I figured out that I could quickly read the paragraph, then paraphrase it into one or two sentences.It was like reaching this super state of zen or something.

I was able to stay so calm during her lectures while everyone else stressed about the slides. And yes, that is the only time in my life that I have been less stressed than… oh, I don’t know, anyone else. A lot of people went on to drop or fail that class (her tests were also 100 questions long). But not me. In fact, I did so well that it ended up being my first time to be exempt from an exam! Once I started grad school, I learned why paraphrasing the notes helped me so much.
And I totally love the reason because… it’s science! It turns out that what I was doing (just to save my hand from getting a cramp) was called active listening. Instead of mindlessly copying words without thinking, I was forcing myself to comprehend the material before I could write it. That way, when I re-read my notes, I totally understood them because they were all in MY own words to begin with! 
On top of active listening, this gave me ownership over the notes… I created themThey were my wordsmy examples; not my professor’s. And we all love the things that we create, right? That’s why teachers aren’t supposed to use red ink to grade papers anymore… It’s just too traumatic for us to see our beautiful creations all covered in that mean-old red ink!
 Below, I have listed some articles on effective note taking, but the one I like the most is University of Reading because it compares Active Note-Taking and Passive Note-Taking! Passive Note-Taking includes things like underlining, highlighting, and copying from Power Point slides! All of our favorite things to do! When you look around your classroom, you are probably swimming in a sea of Passive Note-Takers!
BUT who wants to do more work and get less out of it? No one, that’s who! So check out these examples of Active Note-Taking! Go into class with a purpose and with questions about the topic! Try to connect the new information you’re learning to other information that you already know! Think of your own examples. And, of course, write notes in your own words! (unless you need to remember a direct quote, obviously).
Less writing, less study time, and better understanding of the topic?
Ummm… yes, please! 🙂
Here is a really cool article about Effective Note-Taking from University of Reading!
Do you take notes in your own words? Why or why not? 
If not, do you think you might start now?

Note Organization Checklist

Keeping up with class notes can literally get a little messy sometimes. I didn’t start rewriting mine until my junior year of college when my Landforms professor mentioned it… but ever since then, my newly-rewritten, color-coded notes have acted as study guides for upcoming quizzes, tests, and exams! 

So, knowing exactly where to find what information is super important! And obviously, it required a system! The way it looks has transformed over the years, but the main idea stays the same!

Every semester, there are a certain number of quizzes and exams. They are almost always on the syllabus (I don’t think I’ve ever had a college professor give a “pop quiz”)… so there is pretty much NO reason not to be prepared for them! 

When I rewrite my notes, I try to make them look like a study guide… or an infograph… or something else remotely interesting to look at! Hence, all the different colors, silly doodles, and bullet points! Try to fit as much important info as you can onto one page!
Then keep all of the notes from every class together and in chronological order! Last year, I tried out a filing system. This year, I’m using a binder. Some years, I just put them in a designated side of my class folder

Different things will work for different people (and different professors’ teaching styles), so don’t be afraid to change it up! Just be sure to be consistent with whatever system you choose to use! Keeping all the notes together is the most imperative part of keeping them organized!
Be sure that each page of notes is labeled with a date and topic header. This will help you quickly flip through the top of your papers as you look for particular chapter notes or notes from a specific time frame! 

Since tests are usually organized by a few chapters at a time (Chapters 1-4, or 5-8), it’s helpful that these notes are all back-to-back wherever you choose to keep them. If you’ve been writing page numbers in your notes, you probably know exactly which pages the questions will come from, too! 
And if you used a graphic organizer to help you rewrite your notes, definitely don’t leave that out! Date and label them just like you would any other page of notes! In my opinion, these are some of the most helpful “study guides” because they are just very visually-easy to read. 

A good combination is to outline the actual textbook chapter and rewrite your class notes using a system that works for you! Between those two documents, you should have all info you need for the exam!
Once I finish with a particular section of notes, I either put them in the back of the “notes” section or I paperclip them together to let me know that I’m finished with that information. Don’t throw them away! 

It’s always nice to keep them around just in case you need to revisit something in the future… or if you have a (*DUN DUN DUN*) comprehensive exam at the end of the semester! (aka: how you know your professor really hates his/her life and wants you to be miserable, too).

If that’s the case, better start those flashcards now!

Finally, don’t be afraid to use some “mixed media” to help you quickly identify useful information in your notes! Post-It’s, Sharpies, Washi tape are all awesome ways to draw attention to information that you’ll need to find quickly again (…and again… and again) throughout the semester! 

At the end of the day, “organization” is a pretty subjective word, so you need to find out what it means to you and implement the best practices for yourself to keep up with the information in your notes!
And even though I joke about comprehensive exams, don’t let them stress you out either! Because so much information is covered on them, nothing really gets too in-depth so I actually think they’re easier than exams that cover more narrow scopes of information. 

If you don’t take away anything else from this post, take away these two things: 

Everything else is just the compulsive-freakishness-icing-on-the-cake! 🙂 

How do you keep your notes organized throughout the semester! Do you tear them out of your notebook or just flag the pages? Or if you keep notes on your computer/iPad, how do you save/study them?!

How I Make Flashcards

Because a photo is worth a thousand words (and a few paragraphs) today’s post is written Sarah Vickers-style (and I say that out of love for her and her stylish ways). Well, with two exceptions: I took these photo myself and everything “featured” in them is less than $10 altogether. Okay, fine… three exceptions because I captioned the heck out of these photos to make up for the lack of writing! 

Okay, here are some flash cards I’ve made over the past year (and saved because they’re obviously priceless). 
This is a cardboard gift box from Starbuck’s, which turned out to be the perfect flash card holder!
My number one rule of flashcards is: MAKE THEM INTERESTING. The more colorful, the less I hate looking at them!
Aside from these markers, I really love the Crayola Tips ones (the skinny, white markers). PERFECT for notes!
I use whatever helps me remember the material: an acronym, a chart, an example, a picture… the sillier, the better!
For information that I’m already pretty familiar with, I just write some bullet points or a definition. 
Once I start studying, I highlight things I need to work on for next time… so apparently, I didn’t do so well on this one!
Real-life examples are the best because they’re just so memorable and obvious! 
For new or more challenging information, I get more in-depth by drawing charts, examples, graphs, pictures… this one is from some silly show on Bravo… but it worked perfectly for the definition! 
I worked in a restaurant over the summer and the menu was… though for me.
Whatever the opposite of a “foodie” is. That’s me.
Graphic organizers even find their way into my flashcards! I used my Papermate Flair pens for these pictures, btw!

Do you make flashcards to help you study? I’ve heard it’s helpful to cut the corners off… but I’ve never tried that, have you? Do you use pictures on your flash cards, too?!

Note-Formatting Resource

I was recently asked to share a post on how I format my notes. It’s pretty straightforward the way that I do it, but I’ll do my best to make it sound interesting!

Scribble Fast Notes in Class:

If I’m in class, I kind of just scribble my notes quickly with a mechanical pencil… making sure to include all examples and maybe draw a quick graph if I think it will help me remember the material.
These are my really quickly-written, really sloppy-looking notes. I use a lot of abbreviations, bullet points, and paraphrasing so that I can keep up with the PowerPoint/professor. It’s never fun to be that person in the class that everyone waits for as they copy the entire slide word-for-word!

Rewrite Notes When You Get Home:

Once I get home, I rewrite my scribbled notes into more logical, colorful notes that I will actually be able to read in the future. In the photo below, old notes look the ones on the left and the more-organized, rewritten notes look like the ones on the right. The ones on the right get saved and used as future study guides.
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List Chapter/Content in Righthand Corner:

When I rewrite my notes, I start at the top of the page (naturally) by writing the chapter/content title at the top center and the date in the top right corner. This is so that, when I’m flipping through my notes, I can quickly look for a particular chapter, date, or topic… which saves a lot of time in the future!

List Your Headings:

Then I begin writing the major headings/slide titles/topics on the left side of the notes page (by that red line that’s on notebook paper… the margin line, maybe?).
I used pink in this example because it stands out the most to me, but you can choose whichever color you like best (obviously). I used to write the title in a different color, but now I like the title, date, and major points to be the same color.

Format Your Bullet Points:

If there are numbers or bullet points for the major headers in my notes (1., 2., 3.,), I put those to the left of the red line. If there aren’t, then I just don’t put anything over there. This is just helpful for things that may have steps (like Bloom’s Taxonomy for those of you who are Education majors). It helps me remember for tests!
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Add in Your Important Information:

Then I just start filling in the information under each heading/topic by rewriting my original notes. Just copying the info from my “scribbly” notes and adding missing information, removing repetitive information, or clarifying things that may not have made sense from my first round of notes.

Add Textbook Page Numbers:

If I’m following along in my textbook, I add the page number of everything we cover in my notes. This makes it easier to read the text in the future because you’ve already connected it to something learned in class!
Also, there are SO many times when a professor/teacher asks a question and the answer is literally written right there on the page. It’s not a trick- go ahead and say the answer! Then write down the page numbers because if they bring it up in class, they’ll probably bring it up on the exam!

Add Keywords to Trigger Your Memory:

Add keywords to your notes. If I’m pretty familiar with the concept, I’ll jot down a few keywords to trigger my memory. However, if I’m learning the material for the first time, I write down whole sentences to reexplain it to myself when I read the notes again.
In this example, purple and blue could really be consolidated into one color… but if there are a lot of different levels, it may be helpful to have more colors to differentiate the information! Add page numbers for quick referencing!

Draw/Write Down Examples:

I draw or write every example in my notes. Examples given by the professor or book help you picture the concept in real-life. This is what helps you remember the content the most. I love examples because they bring the material to life and actually give it a purpose!
Teachers are always adding real-life examples or stories to go along with their lectures! WRITE THESE DOWN! They make the information so much easier to remember! And the crazier the story, the more likely you are to remember it on the test! yay!

Add Vocabulary Definitions:

Add new vocabulary terms to your notes! I write them all the way to the left of the red line (in the margin) so that it stands out. I may even highlight that if it’s a super-important concept AND a new word. This means that the things to the left of the margin line are page numbers and vocabulary words, which makes it easy to find and reference both!

Add as Much as You Need:

When I get to the bottom of my notes page, I just draw an arrow pointing to the right in the bottom right corner to show if there is writing on the back. Although, lately I have really been trying to condense my notes into one page instead of two.


If I do write on the back, at the top of the page, I write the topic name follow by continued. 

Then I use the same formatting system for notes on the back of the page. (gotta save those trees!)
If I’m writing notes straight out of the assigned reading, I write them like this. And that’s pretty much all that I can think of to describe the way I format my notes.
Please let me know if this sounds confusing or if I should clarify something!

Do you have a special system for formatting your notes? How do you do it? Do you rewrite them afterward or just format them the first time.