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“How are there already so many things to do?!”: Strategies for starting the term off right

By Sarah-Louise, 3rd-year Philosophy/Environmental Science student

Somehow another summer has come to a close and we are all back to school. Whether or not this is your first September at Queen’s, we know that these first few weeks are very exciting. I always look forward to catching up with friends, going back to my favourite coffee shop on campus, making the most of the last of warm weather, and getting back to my extracurricular involvement. Naturally, I also anticipate my new courses, but it seems like there are a lot of distractions! The first week of introductory lectures is through and the readings and assignments have begun to pile up already. It’s time to make a plan to start the term off right!

Weekly Schedule

Do you find yourself too overwhelmed by where you need to be in the week to find time to study and get things done? Scheduling yourself out with a weekly schedule is a great time management tool to help you!

  • Start by entering in all of your fixed commitments, such as classes, work, and meetings. Notice that there is a lot of blank space! We all have 168 hours in a week and we get to decide how they are spent!
    • We know that we are most productive when we commit to a health sleep schedule with regular times for waking up and going to sleep. Last year, I really struggled with maintaining that once the term got more busy, so I have entered this into my weekly schedule for the term to hold myself accountable. You may also want to decide the boundaries of your productivity before you continue scheduling.
  • The next one may feel a little strange if you haven’t done this before, but schedule in time for your physical and mental health; enter into the schedule when you will have time for healthy eating habits, physical activity, and self-care (i.e., activities which help you recharge, such as a weekly coffee date with a friend or time to go for a walk). These are essential to your academic success and more importantly, your general wellbeing!
  • Estimate how many a hours per week you will need to dedicate to homework for each of your courses. Sum the hours and add them to the schedule in 1-3 hour chunks. Be mindful of when you are most productive. Just because I have empty space in my schedule at 10:30pm-1:30am does not mean that I should pencil in my homework time for PHIL335 (An Examination of the Critique of Pure Reason)! Once you have enough homework blocks, you may also want to assign different courses or specific activities to these to help you stay on top your work throughout the week.
  • Feel free to adjust as needed; this is your life and your schedule!

Want to give this a try? Here is the Learning Strategies weekly schedule template.

Course Calendar

If you are most worried the multiple deadlines in one course, you may want to make a timeline for that specific course. I found this most helpful when I took an online course. There were tests, quizzes, readings, assignments, and forum posts with different schedules, which was quite confusing at first, but I used the syllabus and the help of my TA to create a schedule to keep track of everything. Another tip in this type of schedule is to record the grade value for each entry. This is helpful to put things into perspective and can guide your preparation.

Term Calendar

If you are like me, having a term calendar is a really helpful way to make sure you plan stay on top of your work. At the beginning of the term take the time to write out all of the due dates for your courses (e.g., labs, essays, tests, midterms, etc.). I also use this to write out all of my busy times for extracurricular  involvement; I’ll block off time for the conference I am attending in October and the campaign I’m running in November. This way I have a realistic look of when my busy times will be in the year. I can (try to) prepare myself mentally for those really busy weeks, but also work ahead to avoid having a really chaotic week by working ahead.

Daily/Weekly To-Do Lists

We all work differently, and that’s okay! If you benefit more from a less restrictive time planning, try organizing your tasks using a To-Do List. Start by writing down all of the things that you have to do in the day, or the week. Once, it is important to prioritize your tasks; you might have thought to write down that you should do laundry before you listed the online quiz that has to be done by 10pm, but it doesn’t mean that you should do them in that order! Learning Strategies recommends the ABC Method of Prioritization. Code the list with ‘A’ if the task is important and urgent (must get done); ’B’ if it is important, but less time sensitive (should get done); and ‘C’ the miscellaneous tasks that are left (could get done)—I like to colour code them too! Not only does this help you remember your tasks, but it will also ensure that you are completing them in a systematic way.

The Learning Strategies department says that the three best predictors of academic success are optimism, organization, and time management. I am going to use these strategies to incorporate all three of these into my approach to the term. Now it’s time to reacquaint myself with my favourite booth in Stauff and those lovely desks in the Harry Potter room, and get started on those readings!

Want more resources to help manage your time this semester? Check out the free online resources Learning Strategies has to offer.

Photo courtesy of photosteve101 under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.