Not only do you need a work area and a chair for your home office, but it has to be in a good location, comfortable and away from distractions (and distractions can include a window with an interesting view).
Since your computer screen can get cluttered as much as your desk, keep some real objects around so you don’t get frustrated finding what you want in the virtual world.
Have a dictionary on your desk, some post-its, pens, and notebooks or loose sheets of scrap paper (I use paper that formerly lived as a bill or a flyer or an advertisement, with the back side blank and usable—good for the environment and good for your budget).
Work out a system to keep track of your tasks—i.e., do you want to keep your to-do list on paper or on a scheduler on your computer? There are advantages to both—you can lose that scrap of paper, yes, but you can also take it with you from room to room if you need to.
Create a template for your school documents. Right from the start of each class, see what requirements, if any, exist for handing or sending in papers. Do they want 12 point type, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins? Set that up as a template, and have the icon to that template right on your desktop so you never waste time starting a document that needs to be reformatted.
Create a class folder—place the electronic outline of the class, with assignments and overviews. If you didn’t get it electronically, scan the outline in or type it in. This will guide you in terms of class objectives and homework. If you don’t receive this, ask your instructor where you can find it—this is helpful in keeping you on track with the instructor’s intents, which in turn should influence your own choices of topics.
Create a to-do list and a research list, either on paper or electronically. The research list may include topics you are considering for assignments, or books/articles/authors that have come up that might be pertinent. The to-do list is narrower; this should be broken down to immediate and long-term. If you need to go to the library to take out a book, that’s immediate; if you have to hand in a paper in two weeks, that’s long-term, but picking out the topic is short-term. Review your to-do in the beginning and at the end of the day. Allow enough time to prepare for the long-terms by breaking them down and doing steps short-term.
Make sure you have spare ink for the printer, and enough paper to cover your term paper twice over (you’ll do something wrong and have to print something again, inevitably).
If you have to hand in a paper with a cover, get the cover ahead of time so you don’t crowd yourself at the end with time-wasters. The long-term list should only be filled with things that can’t be done yet; the short-term list should always contain items that can be done now in addition to those that should be done now.
Organization should reduce the irritations in your life; refine how much can be improved by a mix of virtual and real items: there are online dictionaries and some programs include dictionaries, but these open extra windows and can be annoying. Slips of paper can get lost and might be replaced by files—but files also open windows. Find the mix that works for you and approach your classwork by breaking it down to manageable bites. Keep your workspace clear and back up your files—always back up your files! A quick way to do this as you go along is to send yourself the paper you’re working on to your own email address; if your computer fails, you can pick up and continue from the library or another location that has a computer and a printout.