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Break it down to avoid a breakdown

By Brigid Conroy, 4th-year Biochemistry student

I have affectionately named the last week of November “The Week of Horror” in recognition of the truly wild number of final assignments and presentations due in the span of those five short days. Managing multiple deadlines is tricky, especially if one or more of the assignments are final projects carrying a significant weight in your final grade. If you are facing several looming deadlines, read on and learn how to break down projects to avoid an end-of-semester breakdown!

A crucial first step in managing multiple deadlines is a monthly view of your due dates for the remainder of the semester. Whether you use the monthly view in a day planner, Google Calendar, or print a Term Calendar Template, the key is to have all of your due dates in one location to which you can easily refer. I keep my calendar posted above my desk so that a quick glance puts me back on track when a Facebook break runs too long! Include the dates of other tests and major activities in your calendar to get an accurate sense of how much time is available for schoolwork over the next several weeks. Be sure to include how much each assignment and test is worth so that you can prioritize your time effectively.

Once all of your deadlines are laid out, take some deep breaths as necessary, and then break down each assignment into manageable chunks with their own deadlines. PLAs like to call this step “making molehills out of mountains.” If you have a good sense of how you’ll break down an assignment, use the Task Analysis tool to lay out each step and select a due date.

Another useful tool, and your first step if you don’t know where to begin, is the Assignment Calculator. Simply enter the due date of the assignment and the calculator will break it into chunks and set a deadline for each. It even provides links to resources that will help you at each stage.

You can adapt these steps to your particular project and you are off to the races! Add these deadlines into your term calendar and adjust them if you find certain steps are taking more or less time than expected. The benefit of breaking down projects is that it not only keeps you on track towards long-term deadlines, but it also makes overwhelming tasks seem more manageable, which is key in combating procrastination!

Now what if this process is complicated by the fact that some of your projects involve group work? These deadlines can be managed in much the same way! In the first group meeting, I always encourage my group members to bring their day-timers or calendars and start a discussion about what other commitments we will be managing around the due date of our project. This allows us to break down the project as a group and set deadlines that work well for everyone. An advantage of group work is that it can keep you accountable for meeting these deadlines by, for example, having members submit their work to a Google Doc.

I spent several days before Hallowe’en joking that I was going to dress up as my to-do list for November as a truly terrifying costume. But with a clear picture of your due dates for the rest of the semester and mountainous tasks broken down into manageable molehills, there is no need for the last weeks of the semester to be scary!

Photo courtesy of Randy Robertson under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.