Staying Organized in an Online World

Maria Beauts

You’ve spent years building a productive routine for yourself, and with life happening virtually that entire routine seems thrown off balance. Well, you’re not alone. Many people feel unproductive and disorganized while studying and working virtually. Organization has always been a key to success, but now more than ever it is important to find new techniques that work for you. 

Let’s discuss some ideas you can try to stay organized in an online world!

Keep to-dos out of the calendar

One important tip is to keep your to-do’s out of your calendar. It might be tempting to put every detail of every task in one place, but that might make your calendar messy and less efficient.  A good way to have both but be efficient is to create a to-do list first, and then in your calendar set aside designated hours to go into your to-do list and complete those tasks

Keep a separate to-do list and update it as you go through your day. Then make sure it is displayed in your work space so the activities are visible at first glance. Take it old school and have a written list on your desk or on a whiteboard. Or you could use an application to keep track of progress.

Here are some free apps you can use:

  • Google Tasks is connected with your Ryerson Google Calendar, but is still a separate function.
  • Any Do, which combines a calendar and a to-do list together.
  • Todoist allows you to create tasks and even set deadlines for them in the app so you can be reminded before you have to submit something.
  • Microsoft To Do (previously known as Wunderlist) is another useful tool. You are able to share your lists with other people, which can be helpful in group projects or when dealing with household chores such as grocery shopping.

Keeping it organized

Now that you have a calendar, the next step is to make sure it is organized and easy to use. Let’s discuss some ways you can make your calendar clear to understand as a glance. 

Colour code activities

Take a look at your calendar, whether it’s online or a printout. Is everything in one monotonous color or is a rainbow explosion? Neither is the way to go. Create a simple, lean colour scheme and stick to it. Classes in one colour, work in another, study in a third and person activities in a fourth colour. Then take to your calendar and make it appropriately coloured so you can clearly see when you are doing what without needing to read the details of the day because colours will pop-out, and you will instantly know what your day will be like.

Acronyms or codes

Colouring could be limiting so another good system would be to come up with your own alliteration or acronym for things. If you take the first letter of defining words such as S, C and P from “Study”, “Class” and “Personal,” respectively, and then use them in your calendar event names to get a quick idea of what activity is scheduled.

For example, starting the name of the event with a capital “S” if it’s going to be a study session, followed by a course code and chapter you want to study for example “S-mkt301-Ch3.” This would decipher as a study session for marketing 301 on chapter 3. If you cut it down further (and don’t have any courses with the same number in the course code), you can even say “S-301-ch3” to convey the same thing yet keep it short. You can use these acronyms or codes for other activities in your calendar and get creative with your naming conventions.

No matter which method you choose, remember to set a legend for yourself to keep things uniform. On the side of the page or a separate sticky note define what each colour/acronym code means stick to it for a few weeks and once you build a habit of organizing your calendar it will become easier. In no time you will have a helpful calendar and an organization system unique to you.

My personal tip: Check your calendar at the beginning of every day so you can quickly review what you have going on that day. And check it again before you end your day so you can see what will be going on tomorrow.

Set up “work hours”

This point goes hand in hand with creating your colour coded schedule. Make sure you are using all the hours available to you wisely, but don’t give yourself space to procrastinate. Schedule in time for meals, exercise and sleep because all these things are necessary. Sitting at your desk aimlessly for hours and neglecting self- care won’t make you more productive. Put in reasonable restrictions of meal times with family or catch up calls with friends.

Buffer strategy

A good thing to schedule into your calendar is a buffer event or a “catch all” task. This time is meant to help you catch up if you haven’t completed something or extra time to finish if you originally under budgeted your time. Task sprawl is so common and happens to everyone once in a while. Don’t let it get you down. Putting an extra miscellaneous time in your calendar to just catch up overall can help with this.

My personal tip: I try to schedule all my study, review and assignment time from Monday-Friday, making my work week full. Then, if I fall behind on something, I can do some catch up on the weekend in my designated buffer hour. But I don’t assume the weekend will be prime study time, as other commitments and activities tend to come up. When you create your schedule, make sure you are balanced but aren’t giving yourself room for procrastination.


You wear many hats in life, and having work and school virtually means everything is done at home. This can make it overwhelming on how to get things done and what to do when. Take a few minutes to write out your goals and tasks for the day or week and then narrow down what is most pressing, most time consuming and most challenging. This will help paint a clearer picture of what you truly need to do in a given time frame.

Take the Dump & Sift Method of Prioritization as a starting point for sorting out your weekly tasks.  When it comes to scheduling your school work and assignments make sure you are aware of all deadlines and check D2L periodically to know if deadlines have shifted.

My personal tip: When you write down deadlines in your phone or to-do list, you should always set a deadline for assignments a day in advance of their real deadline. This way if you forget about an assignment or aren’t done, you receive a reminder a little bit before and can have an emergency buffer to complete it.

Make plans and engage those around you

Your surroundings can be a great support system for you, but could also create challenges in yourself organization. Make sure that people in your household are aware of when you are working, taking tests or in a lecture. It is important to set those boundaries, especially if you share space. Making sure everyone is aware of important events makes it easier to share space, stay quiet and limited recreational internet usage to make sure everyone is connected to important events.

You can also ask them to help you be more accountable. Ask parents in advance to not distract you if you are studying or if you live with other students then plan a quiet time session together so that you are both working individually and not letting each other get distracted. If you don’t have students around you, take advantage of the Virtual Study Halls offered by the Academic Success Centre. Here you will be able to meet up with students, set goals for your study session and then check back in if you were able to achieve them in two hours.

My personal tip: l pay attention to the people around you and find ways to help each other and be productive. Being virtual has its ups and downs, but there are ways to manage your surroundings and stay productive.   

Additional resources

The ASC website has a lot of resources for personal organization that you can explore on your own. There is also the option to meet with a Peer Academic Coach, an upper year student trained as a learning coach, to help make an action plan and discuss some more organizational activities in more detail. Or attend a Train to Learn workshop on goal setting and motivation to discuss ideas with other students.