Session 3 – Systems and Organization

Thinking in terms of systems is a powerful way for students to increase their academic performance. Stress is the result of a system not able to handle the load. If people are stressed out, the common reaction is to use the system they currently have in place, just work harder. This is for students who think the only path to better grades is to try harder. But to only try harder with the same system, using the same actions, only leads to stress.

To help students handle the load of work, their system has to be upgraded, so it’s helpful for students to focus on creating an upgrade for that system. In this case, we’re looking only at the binder they have and changing the organizing principle, which, by default, is organizing it based on the categories of their class schedule.

When their binders are organized by action students can write clearly what papers need to be turned in, study or get rid of. Students acquire a certain sense of organization that helps students become more effective and less stress because they know where all of the papers are. They have a place to put every single one of the papers that make sense and make use of proactive organization by the next action the paper will take. Students save hours each week by not having to look for papers or feeling anxious about where they’re hiding.

How to best support your child

How you can help as a parent is by helping your child organizing this binder with the five folders and look into your own organization system and see how you can apply some of the principles here.

From the Academic Life Coaching Workbook

You’ve just created a vision for where you want to go in your life, and you’re also more aware of the three ingredients to be successful academically.  Now it’s time to find a way to make that vision – and your ongoing academic success – reality.

The best way to accomplish such an undertaking is to create a system that’s sustainable and designed to fit you.  The key is to work first on the system, then to do the work.  The mistake most students make is simply diving in and doing the work and without thinking about the best way to do it in the future or designing a way to stay on top of all their work all the time.

Without a system, most people bounce between being completely on top of things (like having a clean room, binder and all their work finished) to being behind (a messy room, stuffed binder, and a few missing assignments).  With a system there are sure to be times when things get hectic, but you’re able to handle a bigger workload without feeling the stress.  A great system is the key to doing well in school and avoiding most of the stress associated with being a student.

The other key is to look at creating a system where the stuff (for example: your binder, your notes, your planner, your desk, etc.) aligns with what you need to do and what wants to happen naturally.  Here’s an example that illustrates the point:

Back in 2005 I was working with a student who was helplessly disorganized.  It was March but he had papers stuffed in his binder from the beginning of the school year, and they weren’t just the class syllabus.  He had actual quizzes and old homework assignments crunched in between the rings and in the bottom of his backpack.  His parents thought it was no use, and since he was getting good grades, they left him alone.  The only problem was that he was super stressed out anytime he had to find something and the level of stress was starting to get to him.

We looked at what he had and what he was trying to accomplish and we decided that he only needed to do five things with any piece of paper he was handed.  He had to do it as homework, turn it back into the teacher, study, file, or get rid of it.  To mimic the actions he needed to take, he created a binder with five folders and labeled each folder with the action.  He did NOT immediately clean out his binder all at once.  Instead he let his system work for a week, and what he found was that he was naturally cleaning out his backpack and class binders because he had the confidence that he really didn’t need many of the papers in there.  It was a slow natural progression, and even weeks later (and years later) he still used the system to keep on top of his work.

His system:



The paper is the raw material.  The you is the choice point. And the arrows and actions are the structure of the system.

Now it’s your turn to create your own system.  The first part is to get clear on what you want to accomplish.  Then it’s on the fun part of creating a process that seamlessly takes you from your starting point and raw ingredients to your final product (while avoiding most of the mess).

Desired Outcome:

Inputs/Raw Ingredients:

What’s currently working?  (This gives you great clues on what you can build on.)

What’s NOT currently working?  (This gives you great clues on the structures you need.)

Decision Points:  Determine the point you have to make the decision to do something with the raw materials (it will inform the kind of structures you need)

Structures:  Align what you have to do with binders, bins, folders, planners or whatever you need to mimic the action you need to take.