Looking back on my (almost!) four years of university, I think I’m most proud of how much my time management skills have improved since high school. Part of it has been out of necessity — I’ve taken on far more than advisable at several points of my undergrad. But generally, I’m comforted by a sense of control and order; knowing what’s ahead relaxes me and allows me to focus on one task at a time. To kick off 2017, I wanted to share some of my favourite organizational tips to start the semester right.
My mom often makes fun of me for my obsessive need to write everything down, from coffee dates, to meetings, to classes. However, it’s the only way I remember anything. The moment an event comes up on Facebook or a date is announced — for an exam, a party, or work — I enter it in my calendar with the time and location. Colour-coding helps with ensuring each week is balanced.
At the start of each term, I also go through all my syllabi and enter the assignment due dates in my calendar under “tasks.” This way, I can get a bird’s eye view of my semester and predict which weeks will be difficult, which then allows me to plan ahead and ask for extensions if need be. It’s calming to see what’s coming up, but not actually focus on remembering more than eight hours of my schedule at a time.
Many apps offer to-do lists. My favourite feature of the one I use (Todoist) is the “Next 7 days” layout. Like the Google calendar, it allows me to stay informed about what’s around the corner but not focus on more than a day at once. Checking off items is also super satisfactory, and I’ve taken to listing every little task so I can check more off and feel motivated to keep going. Keep in mind that these don’t need to be all work-related either. Some items can be fun or at least provide a break, such as taking a shower or going for a walk.
Write Out a Schedule
In the weeks when I’m particularly stressed and overwhelmed, I find it helpful to draft a detailed schedule by hand: study for midterm (10-12), eat lunch (12-1), write essay (1-3), walk the dog (3-4), shower (4-4:30), etc. With a plan, I find it much easier to focus on the task at hand without getting distracted by everything else that needs my attention. The keys to a successful schedule are frequent breaks and realistic time frames; it’s not reasonable to expect more than three hours straight of productive work, and setting that goal is just setting myself up for disappointment. But knowing that I have allotted the necessary time to study, my breaks then feel guilt-free and refreshing.
Although I’m comforted by lists and plans, I can definitely understand how they might be stress-inducing for others, so make sure to find what works for you!