Back-to-school after a fun, slower-paced summer break can be tough. Early wakeups, school days, practice, and homework, can seem jarring after a few months of a more leisurely pace.

While some people tend to keep a pretty similar pace in the summer, making the transition easier, I’m more of a “work hard, play hard” personality-type. I tend to dive in deep when I’m in work-mode, and then have no troubles taking it easy when summer comes around.

I’ve found the key to successfully transitioning is getting organized.

Truthfully though… I’m not a “naturally” organized person. And I have yet to find a great deal of joy in the organization process. While I love an organized life, the process of getting all of my thoughts and physical space in order sometimes looks more like chaos.

Because these skills don’t come as effortless to me, I’ve had to work even harder to find simple ways to stay organized.

So instead of a list of 542 ways to get organized, written by a person who loves rearranging her books in alphabetical order… I’m going to give you three practical tips that will have a massive impact on your productivity, and get you organized as painlessly as possible.

Tip 1: Set Goals and Break Them Down

Thinking about your goals can be overwhelming, especially when they are still in dream-phase. For example, you may be thinking things like, “this semester I’d like to apply for college, win an award in cross country, get straight As, earn a full-ride scholarship, etc.” And while those are all great thoughts, you’ve got to BREAK. THEM. DOWN.

Write out your goals in a way that is specific and measurable. For example, instead of saying, “this semester, I’d like to apply for college.” Your goal could instead be “I will apply for eight schools I love by December 15th.”

Then, take it a step further to where the real magic happens. Create action steps. Ask yourself, what steps need to happen for me to reach my goal? Be specific.

Create detailed steps and tasks you’ll need to complete. For the goal of applying for ten schools, you’ll need action steps like:

– use an online tool to create a list of 15 schools I like

– break my list down further by taking campus tours

– fill out all my applications

– perfect my personal statement

– ask for letters of recommendation

By breaking things down in advance, you’ll have a road map to guide you through days when pressures and distractions are high. And when you do have downtime, you can quickly reference a task and knock it out versus wasting time wondering what should happen next or flipping on the next season of Stranger Things. Which leads to my next point…

Tip 2: Identify Your Biggest Distractions—And Minimize Them

Most of us have them; those kryptonite-like forces that can crush our productivity; Netflix-binge sessions, scrolling through socials, texting, etc. And when you snap out of your entrancement hours later, you’re left wondering where your time went and how you’re going to get everything done with the little time you have left. Or… you give up and settle for a far less productive day than you had planned.

Confessions time! Binge-watching Netflix series is one of my biggest distractors. Which is why I gave up watching TV after vacation this summer, as I remembered how quickly I could tear through multiple seasons of a show. I realize I am vulnerable in that area, and so I prefer to save Netflix binges for times when I know I’m not sacrificing getting something important done, like on a vacation or the holidays.

Whatever your weak areas are, be SUPER honest with yourself and then figure out the lines you need to draw for you to work your best. If it’s social media, set a timer for how long you’ll stay on and when the alarm goes off, set it down, no matter what. NO EXCUSES. If you manage to save yourself just 1 hour a day, that’s 30 hours a month! Imagine what all you could get done with that time!

Tip 3: Use a Planner

If you’re in the College Ninja community, I can assume you are a super motivated person working your tail off to nail the college prep process. And with that, you have a lot on your plate! It’s almost impossible to keep all the balls in the air without having a daily reminder of what needs to happen next. And if you find it easy to keep track of everything, then tough love moment; you may not be pushing yourself to your full capabilities.

The good news is, getting your to-do list and schedule organized is simple thanks to the many GREAT planners available to match a variety of personality types. They range from super simple, bare-bones checklist type planners to highly-elaborate, plan-every-detail-of-your-life planners. For me, I use the Panda Planner. It’s very thorough in breaking down my day and has personal touches I like, such as listing things I’m grateful for and daily affirmations. It’s known to be especially useful for people who have a lot to remember and can get distracted easily.

Even if your “planner” is just a checklist written on a blank piece of paper, take a few moments each morning to create your plan to get the most out of your day.

I hope you’ll give these tips a try! They’ve worked wonders in my life, and I’m confident that if you stick to them, you’ll notice a nice productivity increase in yours too.

Remember, be patient with yourself. Even if you get lost in a distraction or forget to break down a goal, try again.

Like I’ve shared, organization hasn’t always come naturally to me, and I have to remind myself of these tips often. But as I’ve been consistent and kept trying, staying organized and focused has become easier. 

Do you have any fantastic productivity or organization tips? I’d love to know them! Comment below and share your faves!

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