Lessons from the English 101 Classroom: Get Organized!

#writing #tips #novels #creativity
By Whitney Jones

As a college instructor of many composition classes, I can safely say it’s one of the most important courses a college student can take. And its value extends beyond the classroom, for my students, but also for the readers of this blog. In this series, Lessons from the English 101 Classroom, I’m going to give you guys an insider’s view of the most valuable strategies and information I give my students. But without all that staggering debt!

Often my job as a teacher of English/Composition 101 is simply  to help new college students learn how to juggle a shit ton of academic and personal obligations. I teach them how to organize their academic lives.

Much like my composition 101 students, we writers need help juggling our writing with a full-time job, or two, or parenthood. Today, I’m sharing with you the four tips I give my students, and that I use myself, to help you get organized, get your work done, and most importantly, get it done well!

Print your schedule and keep it where you’ll see it

For my students, this means the course schedule with all the due dates of reading and writing assignments that I put in my syllabus as well as their class and activities schedule. “Print it out,” I say, “Put it in the front of one of those binders with plastic covers. That way, you’ll always see it!”

And the one’s who take this advice are the ones who never turn a single assignment in late.

Many of you have work schedules, daycare and kids’ activities schedules that you’re working around. If you don’t have a mandatory schedule to follow, type up a writing schedule, set due dates, and work in whatever timely obligations you do have. Then, no matter what your schedule is like print it out.

After you print it, paste it, well, everywhere! On the wall above your desk, on your fridge, on the bathroom mirror. Put it where you’ll see it. This constant reminder will keep you on track and keep that old saying “out of sight out of mind” from ruining your writing project.

Alternative: Do you have a love of giant wall calendars? Use it to make your due dates and daily obligations clear. Use it to keep yourself organized and on-schedule!

Highlight the priorities on your to-do list

Another piece of advice I gave my students was to create prioritized to-do lists based on their prominently displayed course schedules. If they had two tests in one week, they needed to learn how to schedule studying and completing their normal daily work at the same time. Prioritized to-do lists help with this.

They can help you, too!

Once you’ve got your project schedule typed up and displayed prominently, write a to-do list. Put your bullet journal to good use or use that chalkboard or white board you’ve installed above your desk.

Your prioritized to-do list should identify the tasks that you need to do first, second, third… you get the picture. You can prioritize in a number of ways:

  • by due date–return to your printed out schedule and get those dates down on that to-do list.
  • by difficulty–start with the easy stuff to get the ball rolling, the tackle the hard stuff. OR get the hard stuff out of the way first!
  • by desire–Do what you want to do first OR get the thing you least want to do out of the way before going on to the stuff you enjoy.

Use your technology productively

For my students, this meant that I showed them how to download the app for the university library and how to use that app to find digital and physical books in the library’s digital and physical spaces. It meant that I showed them how to use the audio recording devices on their phones as well.

You can use your technology in similar ways.

Figure out how to use library services on your phone, iPad, and computer. Download and use a recording device to get your ideas down on the go. Use the notes function for the same purpose. Or, use your tech in conjunction with your schedule and prioritized to-do list by setting alarms for due dates.

Embrace routine

Finally, I always suggested to my students that they get into a routine. I told them to go to the writing center at the same time each week, to do their homework for the class on the same days. It needed to become habit for them.

And it needs to become habit for you.

For example, every night at 10 pm, write for an hour. Do not fail to do this. At first, it will seem like a chore, an obligation, but then you’ll find your rhythm, and it will become as routine as brushing your teeth in the morning or turning off the lights at night.


What strategies do you guys use to get organized? Let us know in the comments! And, if you liked this post, keep an eye out for more in the series. In the mean time, check out this post on structuring your writing sessions for success.


  1. This is great information! I’m in the middle of writing a book, and there have been distractions galore! When you work from home, everyone thinks you have time to talk on the phone. However, this isn’t the case. I’ve asked family members not to call unless it was an emergency between the hours of 9:00am-4:00 pm. I found that all my writing time was being used up by endless phone calls. I know they wouldn’t call me if I worked elsewhere. This has allowed me to establish a routine and protect my time. I’m looking forward to more insights!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you find these pointers helpful! I work from home, too, and folks definitely don’t respect the home workspace as much as the other more business-y workspaces. Sucks. But I’m glad you’re fighting for your writing time! Keep up the good fight and I hope we can help in whatever small way!


  2. Love all these tips! These are things I’ve had to learn after years of learning how to manage my time. But I am glad you’re teaching the kids these in their first year so they know them right off the bat!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A lot of these I already do which makes me feel good! I can always work on using technology more effectively. Although I do use a lot of productivity apps and tricks, it’s hard to not get sucked into the hole that is social media.


  4. I loved my Composition classes, and I went on to earn my degree in Professional & Technical Writing. I still organize my writing assignments by desire and level of difficulty, and I still use a recorder to capture my thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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