THE BLOG
06/04/2014 03:10 pm ET | Updated Aug 04, 2014

Two Must-Do's for Better Organization

Just as math facts like the Pythagorean theorem help to set the foundation for your tests, organizational skills help to set the foundation for your life.

Having a clear mind and a clear space allows you to think and act with purpose. When you have an organized room, you can walk in and find the exact object you need. When you have a running to-do list, you can dive right in and know exactly what you want to accomplish. No strewn shoes or extra "I can't forgets" to trip over. Smooth, clear, focused channeling of your intention and your energy.

From scheduling your test dates -- and the days on which you will register for them -- to having a clear study plan, to knowing where to find your materials, to keeping track of the rest of your life so that it doesn't impinge on your designated prep time, a solid organization practice can be a total game-changer in your approach to SAT and ACT test preparation.

Now, with one quick "Google," you'll find lots of organizational tips, tricks, and rules that are supposed to give you a structured, streamlined life. But, usually when I'm presented with a list of 50 things I could do, I take few, if any, of the suggestions.

So, rather than bog you down with a lot of minutiae, I'm going to tell you the two must-do habits that you can implement in your life starting today.

1. Write it down. (A.K.A., keep a to-do list)

2. Schedule it in.

That's it.

My organization philosophy boils down to one basic principle: everything has its place.

We often think of this in terms of physical space. For example, I never misplace my keys because I always hang them on a hook right by my front door. It's also true for our mental space. One of the biggest mistakes we make is thinking that the thoughts in our head need to stay in our head... they don't.

Just as it's hard to find the book you're looking for in a cluttered room, you can't think clearly with a cluttered mind. Cluttered minds are a result of having a million obligations and appointments bouncing around in your head that you need to keep straight. They come from having a bunch of "Oh, I absolutely can't forget to's".

The best way to create an organized mind is by putting down on paper all of the information that would otherwise stay in your head. Keep a running to-do list of anything that doesn't need to happen at a set time, but does need to happen, and schedule in all appointments immediately upon making the commitment.

Event: Remembering you need to do something, or saying you will do something.
Reflex: Add it to your to-do list.

Event: You make plans.
Reflex: Add it to your schedule.

Both habits encourage accountability -- one of the key characteristics of high-achieving individuals -- while also preventing double-booking, over-scheduling, and missed appointments. Plus, by writing down to-dos and appointments, you don't need to invest the energy in remembering them. You free up MAJOR amounts of mental space that you can then direct to the present moment.

Start by taking one clear action. It might be as simple as blocking out test dates and other important events in your calendar. Then, keep it up. Small, consistent actions lead to big, impressive results.

Oh, one more thing... "Organized" doesn't mean "Perfect."

In an age of Pinterest and blogs, we receive many images of organized perfection. The perfect bedroom; the perfect binder; the perfect food presentation. But, the truth is, organization does not demand perfection. It doesn't require that your life be photographer-ready at all times. In fact, holding oneself to this kind of standard can actually become distracting and counterproductive. Organization is a tool, not an impediment, to progress.

Now, I want to hear from you: What is one thing that you can do today that will help you to feel better organized?

Erika Oppenheimer is an SAT and ACT test prep coach. She works with students from across the country on a mindful approach to test prep.

To receive Erika's free Organize Your Test Prep series, visit ErikaOppenheimer.com.