Develop Organizational Habits

6 Ways to Develop Organizational Habits Now to Avoid Stress & Clutter Later

I’ve taught many students over the years who struggled fiercely in school. Those who were organized managed to stay afloat and achieve success. I’ve also worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easily, but their grades did not reflect their true abilities. They stumbled because their poor organizational skills impacted them in each and every subject area.

If your child is the one who needs some tweaking when it comes to neatness and planning ahead, start the new year off right and set the stage for him or her to develop lasting organizational habits.

Here’s how to get & stay organized:

Set Up an Appointment to Talk – Instead of having an off-the-cuff conversation that might not go well, set up a time to talk. This way, you and your child will have a chunk of time to have an uninterrupted chat. For example, you might say “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk about the last two quarters of the school year after dinner tonight?”

Nag No More – As parents, we may see the benefits of staying organized, but our kids may not. And the last thing they want to hear are our constant reminders like “Did you get your things organized for tomorrow?” or “Did you clean out your backpack?” Instead, during the appointment to talk, try saying something such as “I know I was on your case a lot last year. You’re getting older and I don’t want to nag you. Let’s get prepared for the new year by setting up systems you like.”

Maintain Neatness – Most every student starts out the school year with an organized binder, but for some, this state of neatness doesn’t last long. The key to maintaining order is a 20-minute pre-arranged weekly session called the “clean sweep.”

During this time, everyone in the house drops everything and gets organized. This is the time kids use to sort and file papers, clear out binders, and organize their backpacks. Stick with this one routine and you’ll see a real difference this school year.

Archive Colorfully – Some kids are packrats and some are purgers when it comes to school papers. They don’t know what to save and what to keep. A good rule of thumb is that old tests and quizzes should always be kept. Most everything else can be tossed. Those important papers can be filed once a month into a Pendaflex hanging file folder. Label each tab with the subject name and in no time, your child with have a colorful archiving system set up to keep all of those important papers organized.

Homework Folder –It’s never too early to begin good organizational habits. From the day the very first assignment is given, a separate homework folder can help. A study of middle school students found that having a dedicated homework folder (just one folder for every class) helped students locate their homework with more accuracy and turn it in on time. Label one pocket “To Be Completed” and the other “Completed.” This is important so that students get in the habit very early on of putting schoolwork in the correct place.

When an assignment is given in class, it should be placed in the left pocket and when it’s finished at home, it goes in the right pocket. Repeat the mantra, “Homework isn’t done until it’s in your folder” until this process is automatic.

Homework & Study Area—Identifying and setting up multiple areas that are relatively free of distractions is very helpful for students. Students should have a few potential study areas that are clear of clutter, such as:
– The kitchen table
– The dining room table (my favorite)
– A home office (on the main level—it’s too hard to monitor homework time if it’s occurring upstairs or in the basement)

It’s important to have school supplies in one central location so that time is not wasted searching here, there, and everywhere for pens, pencils, or paper. Label a shoe box with the child’s name or purchase a shower caddy to keep materials upright. This way, as students move homework locations, their supplies are portable.
I hope these tips help your student get off to a great start to the new year! If you find that your child has a hard time taking your advice, sometimes a neutral third party specialist can help relieve stress at home and ensure that the child is equipped with proven strategies.

Ann K. Dolin, M. Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections and is the author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework.
Phone: 703-934-8282 – Website: