Whether you’re new to university or just sick of pulling all-nighters, here is a planning method to help manage your time and avoid the last-minute scramble.
Split your week into work blocks.
If you have a gap between classes from 1:00-3:00, that may make a great work block. Make sure the quantity of work blocks is realistic and remember to add breaks. No one can work for four hours straight, even if you’d like to.
Make a list of your whole semester.
Write down each day in the week and how much time you have each day for homework. Try to exclude weekends- we all need breaks! Leave space to add assignments later.
It might look something like this:
Week Two: Monday, September 12
Estimate how long each assignment and reading will take.
Consult the syllabus for each class and make a long list of each assignment and how long it will take you. For example, if you think you can read five pages in 30 minutes, that 20-page reading will take 120 minutes. Make sure to keep everything in the same unit (ie minutes) to avoid confusion. For larger things like essays, split them into steps and estimate how long each step will take you (ie, research 120 minutes, first draft 90 minutes, etc.). If you’re unsure, try to give yourself more time rather than less. Remember to note the due date for each item on your list!
Plug in your assignments to your work blocks.
Working backwards from the due date, plug the assignments into your work blocks. If you have a test on the 16th that you think will take about 180 minutes to study for, you might fit a 60-minute study block on the 15th, a 90-minute study block on the 14th, and a 30-minute study block on the 13th. I typically start at the very end of the semester and work my way back. Try to add buffer blocks of open work time whenever you can, just in case something takes longer than estimated.
–I have a specific week that is jammed full with tests, but I have a major project due the Monday after and I simply don’t have the time to work on all of it: Decide what you may be able to push into an earlier week. You may be able to finish the project in week seven before your tests in week eight, even though the project is due in week nine. Assignments, essays, and readings can usually be finished earlier than the due date, while studying for tests cannot. Finishing an assignment early doesn’t mean you have to submit it then. If you think you’ll get valuable info the week before it is due, edit the assignment to reflect your new info and submit it on the due date. Editing takes less time than writing the whole assignment!
–I’ve tried everything, but I just can’t fit my assignments into the work blocks: There may be a week or two where you’ll need to work outside of your scheduled blocks. If your schedule is overwhelming for the whole semester, though, there are a few things that could be going wrong. You may be overestimating how much time things take you. You may not have enough work blocks and may have to work a bit longer, like until 5 every day instead of 4:30. Even adding 20 minutes a day could make a big difference overall. If fixing these things still leaves you with too much work and not enough time, you may have to drop a class. At least you know now when you can still get your money back!
–I have to start an assignment early, but my teacher hasn’t posted the assignment outline yet: Try asking the teacher politely for the outline so you can get started. If they do not agree, try moving something else forward so you have space to do the assignment later. Unfortunately, if you have a teacher who consistently only posts readings/assignments the week they are due there isn’t much you can do other than move around items from other classes.
This system may seem like a lot of work, and honestly, it is. It takes a few days to plan it all out. But believe me, it’s worth it. Once your semester is planned out, you won’t need to worry about juggling all the things on your to-do list. You’ll know exactly what you need to work on every day. If you finish your daily work early, you can take the rest of the day off without worrying about whether you can afford to. You also won’t have a last-minute scramble to finish things you’ve put off. Instead, you’ll have a (mostly) consistent workload throughout the semester. This helps prevent stress. Lastly, your work will be much better when it is done over a longer, lower-stress period, rather than the night before.
If you liked this technique, give it a try! The only necessary materials are paper, a pen, and a few days of scheduling. You will then enjoy a lower-stress semester.