Transitions: How I Stay Organized

Personal organizer and pink flowers on desk

One of the biggest challenges for many people in college is keeping everything organized.  There are so many things to juggle: academic classes, extracurriculars, campus events, jobs, homework, workouts, friends, spiritual life, keeping up with family, pursuing hobbies and relaxing…

As my advisor told me the other day, learning to manage time is the single most important element for succeeding in college. And it can be overwhelming. But I’ve figured out a system that works really well, and honestly is very simple, which I’m going to share with you today. This is what I do to stay on top of everything that’s important to me.

My organizational system is guided by this one major principle: immediately write everything down in one place. 

  • Get a planner. This can be physical or electronic.
  • Every time you commit to something, schedule something, find out about a deadline, or think of something you need or want to do, write it down in there immediately. You will develop your own system for how you organize this information. But the biggest thing is to get it written down.
  • Then, when you’re trying to plan your day, you won’t have to worry about forgetting things or having random sticky notes scattered around your dorm. It will all be there.

This doesn’t mean you won’t ever forget about something or leave it to the last minute, but if you can form this one simple habit it will go a long way toward your organization.

So, what does this look like in my life?

My Planner

I currently use a Day Designer planner. I’ve tried both paper planners and electronic ones, and while the electronic ones are more convenient in some ways, I just prefer writing things down on physical paper. I’ve also tried Erin Condren (excellent but very expensive) and Plum Paper (also really good, slightly cheaper). My planner is where I write down scheduled events, deadlines, and miscellaneous to-dos.

 

I cheat a little bit from my own rules and actually have two places that I write things down, because I also use Powersheets, a Christian goal planner that guides you through goal-setting at the beginning of the year and then at the beginning of each month. I use this for long-term goals that don’t have set deadlines, which I then transfer into my daily to-do lists in my actual planner.

 

My Planning System

First of all, at the beginning of the semester, I wrote down every single assignment or test from every syllabus on the day it was due in my planner. I definitely recommend doing this immediately; that way you don’t have to keep checking back to your syllabus if you forgot what things are due.

At the beginning of the month, I do the following:

  • Fill out my Powersheets for the month. This is how I keep track of the goals that are important to me but don’t have upcoming deadlines (writing and other creative pursuits, health and spiritual growth, etc.)
  • Write down blog posts on each Saturday in my planner with my other deadlines so I remember to get them done.
  • Write down any birthdays with my other deadlines so that I know to prepare for them.

And then here is how I plan my day:

  • The planner I use has a schedule side and a to-do list side. I write my schedule out first, checking my calendar for anything unusual and then filling in my daily routine of classes and activities. I also fill in the times I’ll use to get ready, do devotions, eat, sleep, etc. Whatever time is left is my “to-do” time, at which point I’ll refer to the to-do list on the other side of the page.
  • Next I make my to-do list. I start by looking an entire month ahead at all of the deadlines I have coming up, and making note of what I need to get done or start working on so that I can get it done by the deadline/due date. I like to work on things in several sittings, usually, rather than getting it all done the night before. Some people might work better in one sitting, so figure out what works for you!
  • Once I have all of those urgent to-dos written down, if I still think I’ll have time accomplish more, I add household tasks that need to get done like laundry and cleaning. Then I go to my Powersheets and pull things from there until I have a list that fits the timeframe that I have that day.

Here’s an example of what a typical day will look like:

And that’s pretty much it! Sometimes I’ll put stars next to the top three things I need to get done, but I don’t always do that. It’s honestly not a complicated system but it requires diligence to stick to the schedule and the list each day, and careful thought about what my priorities are and how I’m going to use my time.

Time management is actually one of my favorite things to talk about, so let me know if you have other questions or want to see more on this, or even want to hear more about the philosophy of time management from a Christian perspective! I know my posts have been getting more practical and less spiritual lately, but there’s still plenty of spiritual content coming. I wanted this series to be helpful in a variety of areas for people who are going to college soon, so stay tuned for more of both practical and spiritual advice, and share in the comments how you manage your time!

love, grace

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Advice to My Freshman Self: Get Involved

action, athletes, black and white

Four years ago, I entered the world of public school for the first time. There are so many things that I wish I knew then, and my hope is that by sharing those things with you, I can help you make the most of your high school experience.

First of all, get involved. 

As a freshman, I was shy, and doing new things scared me. So I didn’t.

As a senior, I really regret it. This year I’ve been finding my feet and trying more things that used to intimidate me. Volunteering at choir events. Doing Latin competitions. And so on. Every single time, I wish that I had started sooner and had more years to participate.

So my biggest advice for teens, especially middle schoolers and young high schoolers, is to get involved in something now. Don’t wait. The things that you are afraid to try? Those will often end up being your best memories of high school.

Especially if you are an introvert, don’t let fear of new social situations keep you from doing things that sound fun. You will almost never regret doing more and going places, at least to a certain extent. It’s how you will feel included, find friends, and enjoy yourself throughout your teen years.

If you’re already involved in a performing art or sport or something, make it your goal to get even more involved. Go for more days each week. Take the extra opportunities that are offered. Find ways to serve and give back to your organization.

If you go to a public school, stay up-to-date on what’s going on. Especially during your freshman year, try everything that interests you at least once. You can narrow it down later to the ones you really care about.

If you’re homeschooled or your school doesn’t have a lot of opportunities, seek them out. Take classes in your town, join a sports team, get involved with your co-op if you have one, do community theater, etc.

And in the later years of high school, once you know where your interests lie, choose a few things that you can invest in and be fully a part of. Don’t just be nominally involved. Be someone who shows up for everything, volunteers for everything, signs up for everything.

I’m not saying that you should overload yourself; you need balance, time to study and sleep and hang out with your family. But as a freshman, balance wasn’t the advice I needed. I have no problem keeping time for my own pursuits. The advice I needed was this: don’t let fear of a full schedule keep you from trying things that look interesting. You can always take a step back if you get overwhelmed.

Do the things that you’re good at. Do the things that interest you. Don’t let fear hold you back. That is how you will make friends, learn your strengths, and start to use your talents for God’s glory.

What do you think? How involved are you at your school or in your community? Which do you struggle with more: balancing your schedule or fear of getting involved? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Read more:

Three Habits to Cultivate Now (+giveaway winner!)

Transitions: Learning to Trust God Through College Applications

7 Things I Learned at Public High School (Guest Post at Apple Trees and Pumpkin Seeds)

4 Ways to Read More During the School Year (+book recommendations!)

I know many of you who follow my blog are avid readers, with stacks and piles of books waiting to be read. I am, too. I love books and reading is one of my favorite leisure activities.

But once school starts, our time slowly slips away from us and we find ourselves reading less and less. What can we do to ensure that even during the school year, when life gets busy, we are still enjoying great books on a regular basis?

I have four tips for you:

1. Take a book with you to school every day.

This may not apply to those of you who are homeschooled, but it’s the single tip that has made the most difference for me. I carry the book that I’m currently reading in my backpack every single day – it’s a daily essential just as much as my planner is.

Because there’s so much downtime in public school classes, and because I’m a pretty fast test-taker, I get a lot of reading done in little bits and pieces throughout the day. Between classes, after a quiz or test, on the bus, during study hall if you don’t have anything else to do…all of that is valuable time perfect for pulling out a book.

2. Set aside particular times in your weekly routine to read.

During the school year, spontaneously picking up a book in your “free time” usually isn’t going to happen (mostly because that free time doesn’t really exist). But if you structure longer chunks of reading time into your week, you’ll make steady progress. For me, this is usually weekends, especially Sundays. But whether it’s every evening before bed or for three hours on Saturday afternoon, plan some regular time into your schedule when you can consistently get some reading in.

3. Listen to audiobooks.

To be honest, I really prefer print books. There’s something about holding a book in your hand that just can’t be replaced. But if you’re an auditory learner, or you’re literally always on the go and can’t find time to read anywhere in your schedule, audiobooks might be a good option. You can listen to them while you’re driving, working out, doing chores, walking your dog, and more; it’s a great way to get through the books you want to read while still getting other things done as well.

Using audiobooks for school reading while multitasking can be a great way to save time too. (Even consider putting them on double-speed to save even more time!) You can then use the time that you would have spent reading school books to do other things (like reading for fun, maybe…?).

4. Choose books that you can’t put down.

Finally, make sure you are reading books that pull you in, books that you will voluntarily choose over social media and all those other time-wasting activities. If forcing yourself to read Charles Dickens is going to mean you never actually read at all, then don’t try to read Charles Dickens during the school year! Maybe do that over the summer instead.

If you like classics, by all means read classics. But if you just need to read light, fun books to take a break from schoolwork, that’s totally fine too.

Here are a few of my favorite lighter reads to get you started (if you want more details about any of these feel free to leave a comment!).

Image result for paper crowns mirriam nealPaper Crowns by Mirriam Neal (fantasy, fairy tale; be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of this if you haven’t!)

Image result for the lunar chroniclesImage result for heartlessThe Lunar Chronicles and Heartless by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi/dystopian, fantasy, fairy tale retellings; some intense scenes/violence and mostly clean romance)

Image result for the penderwicksThe Penderwicks and sequels by Jeanne Birdsall (contemporary, family)

Image result for vinegar girl Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (contemporary, clean romance; maybe some language, I don’t remember)

Image result for interrupted rachel coker Interrupted by Rachel Coker (historical, clean romance, Christian)

Image result for miss peregrine's home for peculiar children series Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and sequels by Ransom Riggs (fantasy/weird sort of historical; some language and intensity)

Image result for dragon king trilogy stephen lawhead The Dragon King trilogy by Stephen Lawhead (epic fantasy, adventure; some scary scenes/violence)

Image result for mitford series The Mitford series by Jan Karon (contemporary, family, Christian)

 

What do you think? How do you make time to read during the year? Have you read any of the books I recommended, and what others would you recommend? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

 

 

 

Remember…Take It One Step at a Time

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Last week I reminded myself and all of you that we can’t do everything. Today, I have one more thing to share with you that I hope will help you manage your stress and enjoy life.

Because the truth is, even if you are only doing essential things and not trying to do everything, life as a teenager can be very stressful, confusing, and somewhat scary. Once you hit high school, you have a million things flying at you and you’re suddenly expected to make a bunch of decisions that will impact the rest of your life (or at least some of it).

School, church, extracurriculars, college prep, home life, friendships…it can get overwhelming. But the Bible has something to say about that.

I want to bring the encouragement of Matthew 6 to any of you who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed:

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” -Matthew 6:34

This is the answer to the stress of this phase of life and every other phase after: Take it one step at a time. 

Don’t think about the things you have to do in two weeks. Don’t think about how many decisions you have to make in the next year. Just think about this:

What does God want you to spend today doing? 

And then, to narrow it down more, what does He want you to spend the next hour doing?

Just do that thing, with your full attention, to the best of your ability. And then, do the next thing, and the next.

When a big decision comes your way, choose the best path that you can and move forward from that, one step at a time once again, trusting that God is in control and that one decision will not make or break your life.

If you trust God to direct you, all you have to do is keep moving forward, using your time wisely to complete the work that He places in front of you.

Let Him take care of the rest.

Let’s seek peace together this school year by placing it all in God’s hands and simply moving forward each day, one step at a time.

love, grace

Remember…You Don’t Have to Do It All Now

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School has started, and I’m realizing something: I can’t do everything. 

There are so many things I want to do. They sound so interesting and fun, and I have way too many interests to pursue all of them. So I’m having to make some very conscious decisions about what I choose to prioritize and how I spend my time. And that’s okay. 

It’s a simple truth, yes, but it’s something that we often have a lot of trouble accepting. Especially when, in this day and age, we have opportunities coming our way right and left. Play this sport! Sign up for this class! Join this club! Do this volunteer job! Apply for this job! Participate in this activity!

There’s something I want everyone reading this to remember. You don’t have to do everything right now! 

There’s a point to keeping bucket lists and things like that. You aren’t going to be able to take every opportunity immediately at this point in your life, but just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to pursue it.

As a teenager, you’ve got your whole life in front of you. Don’t be afraid to put things that sound fun on your “someday” list and move on. Want to learn to surf? Great. Maybe not this year. Want to play tennis? Great. How about in a few years when you actually have time. Want to learn to dance? Great. There are adult dance classes being offered all over the place.

There will be a few things that come to the forefront of your life that you need to focus on. Remember that you don’t have to take up twenty hobbies at once in your spare time. Save some of them for later.

And if all else fails? You can learn to surf in heaven. 🙂

love, grace

What do you think? Are you tempted to do everything right now and get overbooked and overwhelmed? Share in the comments below!