How to have a successful semester, from the start.

Plan for school. (from Kate Consumption on Flickr.)

In earlier posts I’ve covered time management tips, and ways to make your work load (and, therefore, your life) easier.

So, now that the semester is in full swing, here’s a few tips on how to manage your time correctly, from the start.

Map out your work load.

The first step to optimal time management is to know exactly what will be due this semester, and when. Collect all your syllabi given at the start of classes and jot down in your calendar when every single assignment is due. Whether it’s a paper, presentation, or simply a set of readings, write them down. It doesn’t matter if you compile this into a weekly planner, iCal, or Hello Kitty wall calendar– what’s important is to create some sort of temporal guide of when everything are due, so that you can plan your time accordingly, leaving no room for error. Also, be sure to be as specific as possible so that you can immediately identify what each assignment is and what exactly the assignment entails.

Map out your weekly schedule.

Next, you should have at least a general idea of what your weekly schedule would be like. Ideally, you will know your course schedule before class begins; if you are working, you should also know of where these classes will fit into your schedule. Even for those who work in shifts, you should have at least a general idea of what your schedule will look like, at least roughly. Whatever that case is, you should plan our when during the week you will be class, at work, or at any other obligation that you may have and for how long.

The purpose of this is to figure out, at least generally, how much free time you will have during the week. Aside from knowing when things are due, a crucial part of effective time management is knowing how much time you have to work with. When creating your schedule, it’s helpful for you to see all the items on your schedule– including free time– in blocks of time. Breaks between classes, free evenings or mornings (!!) should be blocked out in your weekly schedule, just as like your classes or work shifts. These time blocks need to be delineated just like real “things to do” because these chunks of free time are what you are actually going to manage. To manage them –or anything else– properly, you need to be fully conscious of their limitations: how long and how often these blocks are are, and what you can possibly do with them. Like money, you can’t properly manage the time you have if you don’t know exactly how much you have to spend.

Plan out a flexible study schedule.

Now is when you put all of it together. If you have been following along, you will now have a solid grasp of when all your assignments are due and of how much free time you will have every week. Using your weekly schedule against your assignment calendar,  you should be devise a tentative study schedule.This schedule should map out roughly when you should complete your assignments or study for exams, throughout the coming weeks. Taking each schedule into account, you should start figuring out when you should be working on particular readings or assignments and how you can manage your time to do so.

During this, it’s absolutely crucial that you are honest with yourself about:

1- how much time you have available
2- how much work you have to do
3- how much time it actually takes you complete certain tasks.

I’ve written earlier posts that discuss why knowing how much time you have is important, and why being honest with yourself is even more so.

All this being said, the point of this whole exercise is to organize your time and, at the same time, spend them as productively as possible. Success throughout the semester, application cycle, and life in general rest on this almost completely. But, don’t be (too) overwhelmed by it. Be flexible with your time– unexpected things happen so wiggle room should always be made to accommodate such things and, of course, to enjoy them.

Stefanie Arr

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