Getting organized for school, work and life

Learn about various digital tools to help you stay organized, including how to make a to-do list, keep an organized calendar, and find things faster.

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Organization is one of the most important yet daunting skills for students and young adults. Getting organized can take some time and effort, but it will save you time and stress in the long run. There are many benefits of organization, including being able to find things easily, knowing where one is supposed to be at any given time, and keeping track of future tasks and assignments. Still, at a recent Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Adulting 101 session called “Getting Organized,” roughly 72% of participants indicated that they struggled with organizational habits.

There are three main tools for staying organized: a to-do list, a calendar, and a notebook. These tools can be found in both physical copy and online through websites or apps. Make sure you have easy access to all your tools when you need them and that you enjoy using them.

A to-do list helps keep track of tasks. By making a list of all your tasks ranked by priority and urgency, you can figure out what you need to do and when without worrying about forgetting something. The first step in making a to-do list is doing a brain dump. This means taking some time to think about everything you need to do and writing it down on one page so you can see everything at once. You can include anything you want on this list, including homework, watering the plants, and watching TV shows. Once you’ve made a brain dump, the next step is to come up with a “do date.” Whereas a due date tells you when a deadline is, a do date indicates when you are setting aside time to complete a task. This is helpful for staying proactive. Once you have a do date for each task, you can transfer your tasks into a formalized to-do list in a notebook or an app like Todoist.

A calendar helps you keep track of your appointments. You should write down when your appointment is, who it is with, and where it is. For this purpose, you can use a calendar app on your phone or computer, a wall calendar, or a daily organizer. Make sure to check your calendar before scheduling new appointments so that you don’t double book yourself. You should also make sure to schedule time for work, meals, and recreation if you know a day will be busy.

A notebook helps you organize your notes. You can either use a physical notebook or a virtual system, but this is essentially an easily accessible place to store all your notes and thoughts. One method would be to organize your notebooks by different topics or subjects and having a separate notebook for each. Others prefer to have one notebook, divided by labeled sections or color coding. It should be organized in a way you understand and can remember so that you can quickly find notes when you need them.

One system that can combine all of these tools is the bullet journal. A bullet journal is completely customizable and can be made to fit your needs. Some companies sell pre-made bullet journal-type notebooks, and there are websites like Notion that can serve as a virtual bullet journal, or you can make one yourself. You can create pages for to-do lists, calendars, and notes. You can also use it to journal, set goals for yourself, write down funny quotes from the day, or make trackers for things like exercise, reading, or anything else you can think of.

Getting organized is an individual process, and the most important thing to remember when you start to get organized is that you should find a system that works for you.

Michigan State University Extension  and Michigan 4-H Youth Development helps to prepare young people for successful futures. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or youth entrepreneurship, email us at or follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) by searching 4HCareers.

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