5 tips to stay organized while taking online college courses

July 22, 2021 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
Check out these tips for staying organized and on track for success when taking online college courses.

Earning your degree online means you have the freedom to manage your own schedule. This is liberating for many students — especially those balancing a career or new to college — but it can also be overwhelming if you’re not prepared. However, with a little planning and prioritization, building an effective organizational system is easier than you might think. Check out these tips for staying organized that can help set you up for success in an online program.


1. Start with the right study space.

Find a dedicated spot to call your home base, preferably with a desk or other surface to spread out your materials. By working in the same place each time, you’ll get into a routine, keep your mind clear and organized and set boundaries that will help you maintain work-life balance. Wherever you choose to study, make sure your space is quiet, well lit and clear from distractions.

“I add plants, coffee or tea, water and a small snack to personalize mine,” said Lauren Dohr, a working mother, and military spouse living in Homestead, Florida, who’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and a minor in history through ASU Online.

Remove clutter but keep your most commonly used supplies — such as headphones, pens, highlighters and notebooks — quickly accessible so you don’t waste time searching for them. This can also apply to your digital study space, where you should have a systemized folder structure to store class documents and assignments.


2. Make a plan and stick to it.

Setting goals can help give you a sense of direction. As a student, you’ll balance multiple responsibilities between life and learning, which makes creating a framework for the week a key to setting yourself up for success. It can be beneficial to organize daily and weekly goals to help you break up the tasks into a sustainable workflow. Cicily Boone, who lives in Austin, Texas, went through several planners while earning her bachelor’s in business communication with ASU Online. On Sundays, she’d pull up her course syllabi and make a plan for the upcoming week to keep her organized and on task.

“I write all of my assignments in my planner, and I write everything that is due in bright red so it really stands out on the page for me. I love having it all laid out for me to look at. The more I write it down, the easier and the better I’m going to remember it,” Boone said.

A planner enables you to visualize your week and can help you stay accountable. Since Boone was also working and running a YouTube channel, she used an additional layer of color coding to distinguish her professional deadlines from her academic ones. You can incorporate list-making tools like highlighting, check boxes, and hourly time blocks to help you prioritize your obligations and stay on track.

3. Set a consistent schedule.

If you’re balancing college with your career, family or other responsibilities, it’s beneficial to block out certain days and times to focus on school, whether you’re watching lectures, doing homework, or prepping for exams. You’re more likely to stay on top of your studies if you establish a routine.

Personal coach Vicki Sheerin is pursuing a bachelor’s in health sciences from her home in Ocala, Florida, while also being a single parent to two small children. Her key to staying organized is to dedicate time for her ASU Online coursework. By figuring out when you are the most productive, you can optimize your time and get the most work accomplished.

“Since I started Anatomy and Physiology, I have days of the week and certain hours of the day I assign to my schoolwork,” she said. “My kids know when I’m working on my school work it’s mom’s school work time. It’s almost helped them reinforce that they have school work they need to do, so we all have our obligations we’re working toward.” 


4. Use digital tools to your advantage.

You have access to several online resources designed to keep you organized and productive as a student. Online calendars, time-trackers, daily reminders, note-taking apps and digital post-it notes all serve to enrich your student experience by keeping you motivated and on track. You can also leverage the resources available to you as an online student. Sheerin regularly checks ASU Online’s learning management system to see what’s on her plate and get a head start on future assignments.

“I love the dashboard, where it gives you the forecast of what’s coming ahead. It helps me plan things out. Having that system of organization — keeping up with it and keeping consistent with what has to be done — makes it so easy,” Sheerin said.

Digital tools are customizable, simplify the task of staying organized, help you manage your course responsibilities and increase your efficiency and productivity.

As an ASU Online student, you’ll also have access to virtual tools including time management coaching, career counseling, supplemental instruction, tutoring and technical resources. These virtual tools were designed to equip you with the tools and resources you need to support your learning journey and unique goals.

5. Create a sustainable pace.

It can be challenging to figure out the best place to start when you have several responsibilities and upcoming deadlines. In these instances, prioritization is vital to your academic success and mental clarity. If seeing a long list of upcoming assignments makes you nervous, break your tasks down by level of  importance and focus on what progress you can make that day.

“Take it one class at a time,” Dohr said. “One class has a final paper, one has an exam, and the other has a two-part project? Great, tackle them one at a time! Which one seems to come easiest to you? The paper? Great! Start with the paper and then work on the rest.”

You can divide your time and be more productive by simplifying assignments into smaller tasks.

Sheerin shares this outlook and approaches life as an online college student in the same way she approached her health and wellness journey. 
“You have large goals and things you’re trying to accomplish. You can’t do it all at once. You have to do it in small chunks. That’s how I got to my weight-loss goal. It becomes easier to keep up when you establish that regular, consistent habit, whether it’s every other day or a little bit each day,” she said.

How to catch up in an online course

Falling behind in class? Check out these tips for catching up in an online course, staying on track and accomplishing your goals.


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