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A trick I learned from my academic coaching mentor Beth Samuelson is the Mothership, a filing system that transfers all relevant papers out of binders and into a safe spot at home. In this case “relevant” refers to any papers that will help a teen study for his or her — Gasp! Noooooo! — final exams.

Motherships come in all shapes and sizes. Today my client Alice brought in hers — all hail the mighty accordion binder! — and we cleaned out more than half of the papers in her binder. What a load off! Here’s what we did:

MotherShipSort STEP 1: Sort.

First, Alice goes through her big binder and pulls out anything she wants to save. This includes tests, study guides, and other graded work. She makes a pile for each of her classes.

MotherShipRecycle STEP 2: Recycle.

Alice recycles anything that she doesn’t need any more. Check out how full this recycling bin is getting!

MotherShipTestStudyGuide STEP 3: Staple.

Alice staples all her study guides to her tests, so she’s all set for final exams studying (two months early, in fact!).

MotherShipAccordion STEP 4: File.

Alice files them all in her new accordion folder. Notice the two sets of tabs. This was Alice’s choice: she decided she wanted to a row for any graded work that needs to be saved but won’t necessarily help her study for exams. The second row is where she’s keeping all study materials, like old tests and study guides.

As Alice left the Learning Center, her backpack was lighter and so was her step. That sounds dramatic, but it’s also true! It actually feels good to be organized! Next time we meet, Alice and I will talk about building her Mothership filing into her regular routine. Next time, it should take 5 minutes to organize her papers, not 40.

Do you have any experience with the Mothership concept? If so, please comment! I’d love to hear.