How to Be a Successful Adult Student - Being Organized
Being an adult student can be difficult while juggling so many other responsibilities. Lets dive into some advice on how to stay organized in school!
Let me confess something right up front: I am not a neat person. Anyone who has looked at my desk will verify that fact. But the fact of the matter is that being organized will help a person who is working at for a goal, particularly a goal like getting an education. Organization can be at any level, with any material, whether it is your living space, your activities, or even your thinking. While I may not have a very organized living space, my thinking and my activities are organized; they have to be organized for me to accomplish my goals.
Benefits of Organization
Organization, despite what my mother says, is not a goal unto itself. Organization is a useful skill because of the benefits provided. These benefits all have the result of being more effective and efficient in your life.
The first benefit is the ease of finding things. I cannot tell you how much time I have spent looking for something, a letter, my keys, whatever, that I know is there, only to find whatever I am looking for buried under something else. Sometimes this searching is almost unavoidable, but by being organized you can reduce the amount of time and energy spent looking for something you need.
The second benefit is that organized material often takes up less room. This is why closet organizers sell; they free up room. Look at an organized garage versus an unorganized garage, and there is more room available. A stack of papers takes up more space than those papers in folders. Again, I am not saying that you have to be incredibly strict about putting things away, but the facts speak for themselves.
A third benefit is organization reduces the chances of making a mistake. This benefit is readily apparent when it comes to planning and work, more so than with things. By being organized, by making a plan, you can avoid doing something twice or forgetting to do something. I organize my writing by making an outline, thus reducing the chance of forgetting a point or skipping an important aspect of whatever I am talking about. The same holds true for my classes; a lesson plan organizing my lecture and classroom activities means that I am much less likely to forget something that needs to be said.
The Process of Organization
I am not a fanatic about organization. I do not organize every aspect of my life, and even when I do organize, I do not worry about every detail. But when I do organize to whatever level I am working at, I always follow the same process.
The first step is to decide how you are going to organize something. When it comes to organization, planning is critical. Think about what you are planning to do, and then organize to help that plan. A bad system of organization is as big a problem as no organization. What are the critical aspects of what you are trying to accomplish? Organize to support those aspects. If these are not clear, you need to think about what you are doing before you start organizing.
When you start the activity of organizing, there are two approaches. Both work, and work well.
The first approach is to pull everything out and then put them back in the system decided upon. A good example of this is a bookcase. Whenever I am organizing my books, I always pull them all off the shelf, arrange the books as desired, and then put them back on the shelf in the desired order. The benefit of doing this is that the work often goes faster and the result is cleaner. The downside of this is the space needed to perform the organization. For example, I would not organize the furniture of my living room this way.
The second approach is to organize in place. Take one thing, and move things around until that one thing is correct. Then take a second item and correctly position this. This technique is particularly good when trying to organize based on the relationships between things. For example, when I am organizing my writing, I will create an outline of the ideas I am working with and then organize the outline by moving sections around, constantly looking for the best sequence of thoughts. This technique is much more fluid and can be done in pieces. However, it often happens that the same thing is moved multiple times. I go back to the furniture of my living room as an example of this liability.
Once the organization is in place, you need to monitor the effectiveness of the system. Make sure that the organization is really making things better. If not, then you need to rethink and redo your organization. Again, when I am writing, I will organize the paper, then write the paper using that organization. Then I will go back and read what I have written, making sure that the flow of ideas is doing what I wanted it to do. If not, then I will reorganized my work; this is what editing is all about.
Organization and Critical Thinking
It is difficult to think critically if your work is unorganized. Critical thinking seems to depend upon organization as much as the content being organized. However, the organization should not be more important than the critical thinking being supported. Make sure that the goal of the activity is not the organization being used but the result supposedly being supported by the organizing.
John Steely has been teaching mathematics, study skills, and habits of success for over 25 years. You can access a number of free resources he has found and made at Steely Services.
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