If you just met me and saw my messy hair, room and mind then it would be easy to assume I was a very disorganised person. However! When it comes to uni work (and work in general) I am on it; I've got it all sorted out and oh my goodness it makes everything so much easier. Basically these tips have kept me stress-free during term and mean that, by the time exams roll round, I am actually doing revision rather than learning everything from scratch. I cannot say enough how much easier these things will make your semester!
Write yourself a reading list
This is going to take you a couple of hours BUT this list is going to save you hours and hours and hours of time in the next couple of weeks. So! Open up a word document, write out "Week one" and then, giving a new line to each, write out each of your courses. Now you're going to have to do some researching using your course directories and basically any resource you have about your course. The aim is to get all of the information you might have to look up later in one easy to find place. Write out all of your readings, all of your deadlines, all of your projects and important dates per week.
Now pin up your reading list and celebrate your brilliant preparation skills! Last year I was really organised and managed to read most things on my list, but it was also wonderful to be able to glance at what I had to do that week and prioritise. If you know you're really busy then it's so important to actually know what is on your to-do list in order to choose your tasks.
Super-over-achiever-tip! Once I've done my reading I score through that title with a highlighter. This is a really clear way to show what you've done at a glance. The day after I've done a reading I try and write up a few easy notes on that reading in order to consolidate it in my mind. If I'm really confident on that topic and I like it, I'll then put a star next to the reading so that when I choose essay titles or revision topics to prioritise I will know which topics will take less effort and be most enjoyable.
Make a super-clear timetable
This is my timetable (I made it on Paint because I'm super high tech). I type out the things I know I will have that week and leave space for the rest. I then use that space as a little daily to-do list. This really complements the way I think; my time is divided between tasks with set times and days and then free-time in which I have other tasks to do which can be done at whatever time.
I try and write out a schedule every weekend with the work-related tasks I know I will have and then add to it throughout the week. Also, I've been really general on the image above because it's the first week and I haven't really found my groove yet, but I try and be as specific as possible. Instead of "Philosophy reading" write "Read 1 chapter of David Lewis". This made a huge difference in actually producing quality work rather than just getting work done last year. Previously I would write, "Do one hour of philosophy reading" Then I'd spend a bit of time choosing which one, then I would get a bit distracted while reading and let my mind wander and then before I knew it my hour was up and I would cross it off my list and walk away from my open book immensely proud. My point is that reading, thinking, processing and learning takes a while and your aim here is to complete the task rather than to pass time.
Print out your readings ahead of schedule
The world is full of some very generous naughty people who have scanned in textbooks, as such most textbooks are available as PDFs online. While giving back to the wonderful authors you read is brilliant, most students are rarely in the position to buy eight books at £60 each and to be honest sometimes it's just preferable to have a printed copy to scribble on and highlight. As this is obviously a very grey area, try and research alternatives if you can; most unis will upload lots of resources and readings and so many articles are public domain from wonderful sites like jstor. I try and print off my readings at the weekend and file them away. For some reason (laziness, I know it's laziness) taking away that short step of having to find and print a reading makes it so much more likely that I'll actually get it done.
Keep an ongoing glossary
From week one keep a document on your desktop which you use as a glossary. As soon as you learn a new term stick it in the glossary in alphabetical order. If it's a particularly good description you might later use in an essay, then also note down the source of the description. This is great to have in lectures; if your lecturer suddenly says a term you can do a quick Ctrl+F and if it's there you have a very brief revision and if it's not there then you can confidently feel no guilt in not knowing. Yay! The best use of your glossary is when you come to revise; you basically have your flashcards all written out. Hurray for time saving!