12/29/2011 11:17 EST | Updated 02/28/2012 05:12 EST

Four Steps to a Successful New Year in School

The new year is upon us and like Ebenezer Scrooge, we are not sure if it is the ghost of past, present or future school terms that shall be visited upon us. Here are four steps to guarantee a successful year. (Guarantee void where prohibited by over-achieving siblings who make others look bad no-matter-what.)

We are rarely taught how to succeed in life. Some people "have it," while for others success seems elusive. Many of us have some things we do well, but don't always know how to transfer those successes to the things in our lives that challenge us.

Here are some steps that will help you have a successful year at school. They can also be used for anything you choose to excel in.

P.L.A.Y : Prepare, Listen, Assess, Your Rewards

1. Prepare.

Space: The final frontier... Either it helps you take care of business or makes for a mushy brain.

a) Workspace:

Where do you do your reading and writing for school? Is it at your computer work desk or do you have a separate area for school work? (On or near the floor of your bed does not count.)

Wherever it is, decide to make this area clutter-free. You don't need to do it all at once unless you have a desire to; simply do five minutes of organizing every time you go to this area and within a week most of it will be done.

A proper workspace free of clutter frees the mind of a subtle, constant stress.

b) Reference

Finding your stuff when you need it is half the battle.

Set up proper shelving for any books or binders that will be required for your classes. Make sure that the materials will be easily seen and accessible when you need them. Organize some drawers for "stuff" that usually clutters your workspace.

c) Feng Sh-who?

Look at the images you have on your walls. Make sure that they are ones that inspire you to success.

d) Time.

Once you know your schedule for the next term, write down your classes, travel time, homework schedule, clean-up and kicking-around times into a weekly schedule.

Add to the last day of the week time to reorganize your work area throughout the school year. Consider it a weekly reset.

If you use a smartphone, start using either Google Calendar or iCal for writing in your weekly schedule. Use it on your computer as well. Your schedule should always be up to date. If there is a change to one scheduled event, do the change right away. Make it so that whatever is written in your schedule is always dependable. Being organized and showing up where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there is empowering.

2. Listen. Concentrate. Read. Engage!

Notes. Notetaking in class is an art. You have to figure out what is important and where to focus your work. Also, figure out the standard duration of the classes you are taking and do a concentration exercise at home (meditation is a great one) that is five minutes more than your standard class. If you can train yourself to focus for a whole class, you can make sure you are ready for whatever important notes need to be taken.

Do the reading! Then try to ask the occasional informed question. This helps you make sure that you are on track and it creates a good connection with the teacher. They really are there to help you.

Know yourself! If you are going to waste time if you have a computer in class, write notes by hand and then transcribe them at home. Don't put stumbling blocks in your way.

3. Assess and reassess projects, tests. Re-tests?

Remember the kids who always did their book reports the day after they were given? They were onto something. Without being overzealous, try to get reports finished by the halfway mark from the day they are given to the day they are due. This is only good if you have all the information, of course.

Tests. Most first tests are there to help the teacher assess you and help you assess your strengths and challenges in a class. If one part or many parts are off the mark that you were shooting for, make an appointment to see the teacher and ask the teacher how you can prepare to get the marks you want. If you failed, see if there is something you can do as a make-up to improve that mark and still ask how you can study more efficiently for the class. Once again, teachers really do like to see people do well and are usually pleasant when you see them in your off-hours to improve. (Note: Take responsibility for your "mess up" instead of making excuses. They will respect you for that.)

4. Your Rewards: Enjoy life! Give yourself treats!

If you know where you are going with your future career, find out what marks are needed (and what courses are needed) and shoot for that grade point average. If you are not sure, you can never go wrong with low 80s.

Working successfully means having a complete life. Do your work and then reward yourself with some video game play or anything that won't affect you waking up rested the next day (watching The Ring trilogy at 2 a.m. is not recomended).

When you are making changes, let your parents know your plans. Everyone benefits from good lines of communication.

There you have it. The four steps to a successful school year.

The whole world is a P.L.A.Y.

Get out there and remember: It is only through failures that we learn to succeed... if we choose to.