Adjusting to online instruction this fall might be challenging. Here are three tips to stay organized and keep on top of your academics during COVID-19.

Staying on top of assignments and Zoom meetings for your online courses doesn't have to be overwhelming as long as you're organized.
Staying on top of assignments and Zoom meetings for your online courses doesn’t have to be overwhelming as long as you’re organized.
Photo by Marten Bjork from Unsplash

Organizing might seem like a mighty feat, something only a few people can achieve. But you can easily organize your time and schedule and make your days much more comfortable and stress-free. Organizing doesn’t have to be a scary task, especially when you need to organize so much in such little time. Even when you have work, school, and other personal obligations within your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t organize it so you can have as much time to yourself as you need to work on some self-care and do the things you love.

School has started once again, and with much of that instruction taking place online, students may find it challenging to get organized and stay on top of their coursework. By following a few simple steps, you can avoid the stresses and uncertainties of what the kids call “Zoom University.”

Get Organized Online

There are a variety of mobile apps to help you stay organized.
There are a variety of mobile apps to help you stay organized.
Photo by Elle Cartier from Unsplash

First, determine which of your classes are synchronous (Students take the same class at the same time) and which are asynchronous (Students take the same class at different times). To figure this out, double-check your detailed schedule in your college portal and make a list to differentiate between the two. If you are still unsure after checking your portal, don’t be afraid to e-mail your professors for clarification. Once you’ve got that sorted out, you can use your smartphone or laptop to download one of the many calendars and notepads from your device’s app store.

Google Calendar is the application that I find most helpful, but there are other free calendar apps available. How best to use this tool? Well, let’s say I have a synchronous class between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM on Mondays. I can open the app, and by clicking the plus sign button on the bottom right-hand side of my phone screen, I can add an event to my calendar for this class. I can also set a reminder for ten minutes before the class starts. Reminders allow me some time to set up my work-station before I need to join the Zoom meeting. I can even color-code the class, so it doesn’t get lost in the other events I have saved on my account.

For asynchronous classes, you need to find a reasonable amount of time to watch the lectures your professor posted online and to do your assignments. Ideally, you would want to at the same time the university schedules the class. If that isn’t doable, then you will need to do some thorough planning. So you can ensure you don’t forget about the class. Again, setting aside a block of time between one and two hours, with an added reminder, through a calendar app will be a wonderful start in organizing your school responsibilities during online instruction.

Not Tech-Savvy? Get Organized the Old-Fashioned Way

The "Old-Fashioned" way of organizing might be unconventional, but it can be effective.
The “Old-Fashioned” way of organizing might be unconventional, but it can be effective.
Image by AbsolutVision from Unsplash

Just because COVID-19 has forced you into an online classroom, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything online. If you’re used to the traditional pen and paper way of doing things, then get yourself a daily planner. A nice planner is a great tool to help you organize your classes and assignments. You can also invest in a handy To-Do list-style notepad or a cube of sticky notes to use for some more old-fashioned organizing.

You can purchase planners from many online retailers and in-store at Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, to name a few. Planners are customizable and come in a lot of neat yet creative designs. I prefer to buy my planners from Barnes and Noble because I like the quality of their planners.

Do you prefer a planner with the dates falling down the page vertically, with boxes for you to fill in your events? Or would you rather the dates move across the page horizontally with wide-ruled lines to write in your assignments? Maybe you’re bold and prefer an undated planner? Or perhaps you want something simple, so you choose a solely academic planner? It’s all up to you, but if you go old-school, don’t forget to use it!. Like any other habit-gaining activity, such as dieting and exercising, you must check your planner daily.

The key to organization isn't so much the method but, rather, the effort you put into planning and tackling your tasks.
The key to organization isn’t so much the method but the effort you put into planning and tackling your tasks.
Photo by Estee Janssens from Unsplash

If planners aren’t your thing, creating to-do lists inside of a small notebook might be a better strategy for you. Personally, I prefer using miniature notepads rather than actual notebooks when I create a to-do list. A tiny detective-style type of notepad may be essential to remember your daily tasks. Need to do laundry? Add it to the list, so it doesn’t get lost in your head as you’re working on a discussion board post. But be sure to cross out the activities and assignments you finish as you go.

If you’re more of a tactile person, sticky-note reminders will be the most helpful. Write out the tasks or assignments due that day or week on a handful of sticky notes. Write in bold and dark letters for better visibility and slap those bad boys onto surfaces around your house in visible spots. Having a constant reminder every time you move around your home will help you accomplish what you need to do. Once you’ve finished a task, you can take down the sticky notes and start over. The key is to take down more notes than you put up. Otherwise, you will find yourself so overwhelmed by sticky notes that you might not get any work done at all.

Also, don’t be afraid to get creative! You can color-code your class assignment due dates. You can highlight important events. You can decorate your planner with stickers. You can even jam out to your favorite tunes as you transfer information from your syllabus to your planner or online calendar!

Breathe, Relax, and Don’t Stress

Taking time for yourself is important during uncertain times.
Taking time for yourself is important during uncertain times.
Photo by Haley Phelps from Unsplash

Times are undeniably tough, and with all the stress and uncertainty in the world, it may be therapeutic to take back some of that control in your life. You can easily do this by getting organized. Simplifying your daily tasks is key to your success as a student in this new online academic world. Plus, you’ll be grateful in the long run for taking the time to plan out everything.

However, none of these tips will mean anything if you don’t have the self-control and self-regulation to stay on top of your schedule. I take great pride in my organization skills, but they mean nothing if I don’t remind myself to stay on task. I’m not suggesting it’s easy. Between work, chores, and family responsibilities, I have to be the one to put my foot down and resist the urge to binge-watch “Law and Order: SVU” when I need to read three articles for one of my classes.

I’m a graduate student, and I find that sometimes there’s not enough time in the day to do everything. However, I trust myself to stay up to date with my readings and assignments because I want to succeed. And I can do this with the help of the organizational tips listed above. But I also know that I need to take time for myself too, so I take a moment to breathe, relax, and de-stress.


The most important thing to remember in all of this, though, is to breathe. Breathe and take time to relax. Avoid overwhelming yourself by trying to get too much done in one day. If you can’t get yourself to concentrate on an assignment, don’t force it. If you’ve taken the necessary steps to stay organized, you will have the time available to take a break. But keeping yourself healthy is paramount these days, and worrying about every unfinished task is counterproductive to that goal. That form of stress is relievable—preventable, even!—with some advanced planning and preparation.