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Back to School Shopping: Graduate Level Organization 101

August 6, 2014

Heading off to boarding school this fall? College? Even graduate school?

I am sure you are in the thick of back to school shopping. There’s just something about it. A fresh start. New beginnings. And that’s just the shoes!

I have written about my personal tips for surviving and thriving in a rigorous academic setting with a learning difference. Well, on a recent trip to Office Depot for boring old printer paper, I got distracted with all my old favorite school supplies– and some new exciting ones! I was reminded how critical it is to start your school year prepared, organized, and ready to kill it.

I have collected a few of my top faves from graduate school, which I hope will be helpful for all ages and needs. Whether you struggle with organization and executive functioning, or just live for this stuff, I hope this post will be fun and helpful for you.

Warning: I love colors! It’s my belief that staying organized should be fun. Whether you prefer all black leather or crazy colorful, I think it’s important to find what you like so you will stick with it.

The Binder.

Some courses really necessitate a binder which must be lugged to and from class. Other classes, you can get away with simply bringing your laptop or notebook for note taking. My favorite way to utilize binders is to keep them at home and use them to file all coursework, e.g. readings, assignments, handouts. For note taking, I used my laptop or an old fashioned notebook.

To type or handwrite? I believe in both and knowing which to use based on your learning style. The truth is that using a computer can be distracting (hello Pinterest and iMessage). If this the case for you, you will have to be honest with yourself and discipline yourself in your internet usage (you could go as far as turning off your Wifi). For me, I am a very fast typist, but I noticed I would process information better when handwriting. If I was typing, I could practically record the professor’s words verbatim without thinking. But that lack of thinking was just the problem. I paid more attention and learned more when I handwrote notes. Play with what works and be honest with yourself about what does. One of my favorite things about using my laptop was the Pages app, which has a feature whereby you can record the lecture as your type. For extremely complicated lectures, this feature was invaluable to me as I could go back a re-listen to the lecture to ensure my notes were complete. Consult with professors prior to recording to ensure you have permission.

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Inside the binder… I love these pockets, but do not get them they are just going to collect junk. ‘Kay?

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If you are taking your binder to class and are vexed by paper, I highly recommend these notebook punches. Keeping a hole punch at the ready will allow you to immediately file any handouts given in class. Paper freedom!

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The pencil case.

Headed to Harvard graduate school? You definitely need this classy pencil case. No seriously, you do.

I tried to be too cool for pencil cases, but it was quickly clear that no one is too cool for a pencil case. Unless you love rooting through your bag, you need a pencil case.

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A mini stapler. Doubles as a friend maker. Everyone is gonna want a piece of this action.

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Flags. More on these later but these are amazing for staying organized.

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Highlighters. So many highlighters. You NEED highlighters if you are any kind of visual learner. These were brilliant in helping me engage with and organize information, and even just stay interested — turn any reading assignment into a creative project!

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I love this pencil sharpener. And you would be surprised how often you might need one. If you use mechanical pencils, make sure you have lots of lead.

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Your favorite pens. Get your favorite because writing should be as comfie as possible.

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Study Stuff.

At some point, you may find yourself having to study. Here are some things that I have found helpful…

Stickies of all shapes and sizes. I used these for taking notes in text books and making to-do lists. They are especially helpful on group projects when you may be leaving short memo’s for your partners.

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Index cards. So old fashioned, but they work! Creating the actual flashcards helps you learn, and of course reviewing them (especially with friends) can really help to cement things. You can keep index cards in rubber bands, or in the boxes sold separately. I do like the boxes.

Sidenote: I also love concept webs — creating and recreating webs helps establish those connections in your brain.

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Tabs. I LOVE these and still use them. These are repositionable and writable– use them to mark off assignments, create quick references in texts and notes, mark passages when preparing for a paper. These will save you so much time.

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 Back at your desk.

One thing I did that was very helpful was to buy these big desk calendars at the beginning of each school year and rip out all the months in the semester. I transferred all important dates from my syllabi to the calendars– projects, tests, big reading assignments. I color coded them by type of project (I love color) and hung up three months above my desk (as one month ended, I added the next). This enabled me to have a serious visual every day of what was coming up… and prevented anything from sneaking up on me.

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The agenda. Ah, the agenda. There are so many and I really think this is the most personal office supply out there. I have tried many and my favorite is the Russell and Hazel Smartdate line (not pictured — check out their website!), which is great because you can mix and match and really create your own system. It is available online and at the Container Store. Anything you LIKE and will use is what is best for you. If you can reliably use a roll of toilet paper, I think that’s just great.

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The biggest battle for me has always been paper. I recommend starting with a system of files for completed assignments, readings, etc. You can also use the binder system mentioned above.

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This file envelope is also dandy, especially for keeping big projects together.

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I love these inexpensive clear boxes for keeping odds and ends together– everything from paperclips to documents. You can really never have too many little boxes in my opinion.

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Zipperlock bags… I love these for staying organized and was introduced to them by a professional organizer. Great for just about everything from bathroom items to photographs to, yes, school supplies.

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And that’s it! Those are some of my favorite school supplies and how I use(d) them.

Do you need more help? Boarding school, college, and graduate school all represent new challenges and tests to ones’ toolbox of study and organization skills. We at RNG do provide consultations and also have a nationwide network of tutors, learning specialists, diagnosticians, ADHD coaches, executive functioning coaches, psychologists– and even professional organizers.

What are some of your favorite organizer finds? Would love to hear feedback in the comments!

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