Organization Tips for Online Students – Forbes Advisor

Organization Tips for Online Students – Forbes Advisor

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Taking college courses online adds a degree of flexibility to your schedule that can be liberating, especially for students juggling work or family commitments. But the freedom that comes with online learning also presents a number of challenges for the unprepared.

Below we offer some basic guidelines for getting organized in advance, which should help you succeed in the new year.

Declutter digitally to start

Your digital space is essentially your mental space. Untamed email inboxes and chaotic desktops can easily put a damper on productivity.

Whatever email service you use should offer tools to filter out junk and organize email conversations. For example, take the following tool.

  • Gmail filters allow you to automatically categorize, archive and delete messages or mark them as spam.
  • Gmail’s priority inbox tool separates important messages from everything else.
  • Microsoft Outlook’s root feature helps users filter low-priority emails.

Organize your desktop and folders so you know how to find everything. Create individual folders with clear names for documents, images and other media files, as well as special projects.

And finally, back up your information regularly via either the cloud or an external drive in case your device is lost, stolen or hacked. PC users can see Microsoft’s instructions for backing up Windows apps, settings, files, and photos. Apple users can set up Time Machine, the built-in Mac backup feature, to automatically save all their data.

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Find the right to-do list for you

Students all have different ways of taking notes and staying organized, but few methods are more convenient or beneficial than an old-fashioned to-do list. Once you’ve listed all the things you need to do in one place, you can decide which ones to prioritize and tick off the ones you’ve completed. Tracking this progress can help motivate you to keep going.

The following tools can elevate your to-do list.


Among to-do list apps, the highly rated Todoist comes in both free and premium versions for Mac and Windows and pairs evenly with Gmail and Outlook. Todoist’s streamlined interface, robust tagging, and easy-to-use collaboration tools also receive consistently good reviews. also integrates with Outlook and Google calendars and includes a daily “plan my day” feature. One software review site even called the “best to-do list app for people who forget to use to-do apps.”

Apps for reminders

If you want to get more basic with your to-do list, the reminder app on your phone can be an effective default option. Or you might simply prefer the tried-and-true pen-to-paper approach. The key is to find which method works best for you.

Plan your missions

Sitting down at the start of a term or semester and writing down all due dates is a smart way to start a new course and stay on top of assignments.

Review the syllabus for each of your classes at the start of the term. Take note of important due dates and mark these dates in a calendar so that you can refer to them regularly and plan your schedule in advance according to your upcoming workload.

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Create a study plan

Study plans are especially important for online students. Without the usual reminders that come with personal instruction, you may need more self-discipline to get the work done.

Review your schedule at the beginning of each school day so you are aware of what needs to be done before committing to a task. Doing so should allow you to pace each day according to your highest priority.

Consistency is essential for a successful study plan. Develop a plan that you can follow throughout the semester, and understand that you have to count on more time to complete assignments and study for exams in the last couple of weeks.

Make sure to take breaks

To be truly sustainable, your study schedule should include time for breaks. Taking breaks is essential for morale, and stepping away from the computer at regular intervals relieves eye strain, gives you a chance to move your body and improves concentration during periods of work.

Many people swear by the Pomodoro technique, which involves taking a five-minute break every 25 minutes. But consider taking a longer break after a couple of hours of steady work as well. Some tasks, such as writing a term paper, require longer periods of sustained concentration and should in turn be followed by longer breaks.

Regardless of how long your rest period is, breaks should include opportunities to stretch and otherwise move your body, refocus your vision, and drink water. Note that research from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions suggests that scrolling on your phone doesn’t qualify as a mindful break and may even defeat the purpose of taking a break at all.

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Create separate folders for classes

Store all your files for each class—lecture notes, writing assignments, related media, etc.—in a dedicated folder for that class. It’s fine to have these folders on your desktop or in your document folder, but just to be on the safe side, you should also consider an online option.

Consider creating a Google Drive folder to store all your courses. This allows you to access your files from anywhere and the files will not be affected if the laptop crashes.

Set up an efficient workspace

The physical environment in which you study every day is just as important as your schedule. Don’t fall into the trap of working in bed or on the couch; a professional setup at a desk or tabletop is more likely to put you in the right mindset for sustained work.

A reliable high-speed internet connection is a basic requirement, as is adequate lighting and a decent chair, preferably with lumbar support. Don’t overlook ergonomic considerations either. Too much time on a laptop touchpad can lead to strain, so it’s worth investing in a mouse and wrist pad.

Your space should have as few distractions as possible. If you can’t find a quiet place to work, consider getting a pair of noise-canceling headphones to drown out the noise around you.

Consider your support system

You can contact classmates to form an online study group. An online group can help you stay accountable for the duration of the course. In addition to promoting accountability, a study group creates a collaborative environment that can lead to fruitful discussions and mutual support.

To stay focused, try to keep your group small (three to five students maximum) and focused on the work at hand.

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