Tag Archives: time management

Time Management: Prioritizing Tasks.

When things get out of hand (From LOLitsLloyd on Flickr)

I’ve written an earlier post about how to start managing your time properly by consciously assessing how much time you actually have. Here, I will explain a bit further of how to really use your time more efficiently by prioritize your assignments. Why? So you can get more work done, on-time.

First off, take a look at what assignments are due and order them by deadline, from earliest to latest. Of these assignments, if you have any that are due right now, as in, today or tomorrow, please stop reading this (or anything else, including Facebook) and do them right now. But, if you’ve been following my time management tips so far, you shouldn’t have fires burning on your desk and will have at least a little wiggle-room for what to accomplish next.

Now, start assessing your assignments list. What can be taken care of immediately? Short response papers and articles, for instance, can be done relatively quickly compared to, say, a 15 page term paper. These short assignments can be completed first as they are (for the most part) relatively easy and cluttering up your assignment schedule. As such, they should be the first to get done and quickly. By doing so, you’re freeing up more time to conquer the larger, more daunting assignments– like, the ones that count for a larger percentage of your grade and/or the ones your professor will be looking at closest. If anything, you can call it survival of the fittest and, in the arena of schoolwork, they should be eliminated immediately.

Following this method, you should work on assignments in order of least difficult and quickest to hardest and most time-consuming. You will then allow yourself to devote most of your time to assignments that require the most time, effort, and concentration, without other assignments slowing smoldering in the back of your mind. Wouldn’t it be easier to work solely and dutifully on that massive 10-15 page paper on Russian literature that’s 50% of your grade without smaller assignments nagging at you?

That being said, you want to make sure you’re being completely honest with yourself and realistic: in order for ANY of this to work, you need to devote the truly appropriate amount of time each assignment. This means you can’t dilly-dally over a 1-2 page response paper for four days; this would be the complete opposite of what I’m saying. Misappropriation of time is a symptom of procrastination— meaning, spending way too much time on menial tasks are really attempts to put off tackling the bigger ones. This not only makes smaller, menial tasks more tedious and time-consuming (literally), but also leaves you with little time for assignments that really matter. This is where you have to be as blunt and honest with yourself as possible– to know if the time you’re using is an appropriate amount of you’re just slacking off. And, should you realize that, yes, you are slacking off, you’ll need to summon the inner drive to cut it out and finish it, so you carry on to the next item on your agenda.

This is all easier said than done– and I know exactly how hard this can be. Like writing itself, this requires self-discipline and, sometimes, a little self-adjustment. But, with practice, you’ll be well on your way to acing your papers and your semester as a whole. This may not seem like writing advice per se, but methods like these give you the tools– such as more time and more discipline– to better yourself as a writer and as a student.

Stefanie Arr

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How to beat writer’s block.

Writer’s block.

We’ve all suffered from it. I certainly have and, at some point in time, I’m sure you have as well. Plenty of famous authors have succumbed to it, also. It’s an affliction common to both creative and academic writers alike.

There are many reasons to writer’s block occurs, and nearly just as many strategies to overcome or at least circumvent it. This week, I will cover those particular to academic writing, by going over scenarios that all students have found themselves in. By learning what to handle these kinds of situations, you can unplug the stopper, unblock your writing, and get yourself going again.

You’ve started writing your paper, but you don’t really know where you’re going with it.

This is probably the most common of writing blockages. You’re sitting at your computer starting your paper when you realize, “Crap, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

This lost feeling is often the symptom of disorganization. I’ve talked about the importance of outlining in some of my posts on personal statements, but it’s just as relevant here as well. When writing an essay or paper, you need to devise a convincing argument– a thesis that is strong from beginning to end, and is presented and explained thoroughly and clearly. One of the ways to ensure this is by creating an outline, so that you can create a framework to build your argument upon.

But, in terms of defeating writer’s block, outlining helps clarify your own thought process. Staring at pages of academic research, peer-reviewed journals, and a blank word document will cause anyone to go into a foggy, non-writing trance. But, realizing that your thesis can be deduced to a basic logical structure, it can ease some of your anxiety. With a well-devised outline, you can see your argument unfold which, in effect, will help you see exactly where you should be going.

You have a topic, but you hate it.

The writing assignments that you dislike are some of the most difficult ones to write– this much is true. Whether you find the topic to be boring, the content disagreeable, or you just don’t understand the material, you have your reasons to dislike the assignment given, all of which are hard to surmount.

Unfortunately, there’s no way out of doing what is asked of you. Sorry, but there’s no way out of doing the work. That being said, you can get yourself through it.

As I have said earlier, you should aim for a topic that addresses the overall theme of the course– what does the professor want you to come away from course with? What major themes or ties can be drawn through the material? If you’re still having difficulty, then consider this: What aspect of the material did you like the best? Or, what can you at least explain the best?

If you’re still deep in trouble, try speaking to your professor or, at the very least, your TA. (This is when having good time management skills will come in handy.) If you are having trouble finding a topic that interests you, they should also be able to offer suggestions. However, if you’re you’re having difficulty with the material itself, you’re experiencing more than writer’s block, and should look to outside help. If this is the case, you must speak to your professor– not only so he/she could understand your predicament but also to better your own understanding of the task at hand. If for whatever reason they aren’t helpful to you (and they really should be if they’re worth their salt), try talking to your classmates. Or, find someone who has taken this class before. Even try speaking to your librarian. Your goal should be to reach out to someone who can give you some guidance– if you’re truly lost in the course, you need to throw out a lifeline. If you find yourself struggling with the material, it will make the writing process that much harder. Do everything you can to find someone to help you– most schools have some sort of advising or tutoring program that you can turn to for help, as well.

You just don’t want to write. 

Well, sorry to break it to you. There’s no real way to get out of this aside from taking an incomplete, dropping the course, or, worst of all, failing it outright.  As fatalistic as it sounds, even if you don’t want to write, you’ll have to resign yourself to the task eventually.

But, sometimes, this extreme dislike is often masking some other problem– do you not want to write because you don’t know how to engage the topic? Or do you not want to write because you don’t understand the material fully? Or, alternatively, do you just not want to do it because you’d rather play Words with Friends? Be honest with yourself. If you’re having difficulties engaging with the material or understanding the assignment, follow what I said above. Often, writer’s block emerges when you are experiencing some sort of difficulty with the assignment, so do a bit of a self-check up. Here, brushing up on your outline will help you figure what kinks need to be worked out– it will help you see where the fogginess is coming from. Talking to others, like your professor or classmates, will help as well– some outside feedback may just be what you need. Try to figure where this writing malaise is coming from; chances are it’s from being overwhelmed by one of the issues I’ve stated above.

But, if you don’t want to write simply because you “just don’t want to,” then you’ll have to get past that. There’s no easy way around it. Get off Facebook, Twitter, this blog, whatever. If need be, disable your Internet connection– save all your articles and research so you can work offline to avoid distractions. Do whatever it takes for you to stop procrastinating and get motivated.  In this case, talking to others may not be the best idea; you can’t afford yourself any further time away from doing what needs to get done. You might not like writing, I understand that. You might be one of those people who just don’t feel “right” in academia– I understand that as well. However, there is no salve or “quick-fix” to getting out of doing the work. (Or at least moral ones anyway, and I’m certainly NOT suggesting those by any means!) And, spending time away from the assignment is only putting off the inevitable which, as time goes on, will only grow in its dreadfulness. So, do yourself a favor and just get it over with. Stretch, go for a short run, take a shower, whatever– then, grit your teeth and rip the bandaid off and just do it. Trust me, you’ll be happier once it’s done.

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

Application tips: How to survive the home stretch.

In a previous blog post, I gave application tips for those who are basically finished as well as for those who haven’t even started the admissions process yet. Now, I know a lot of you may not have fit into those categories– and, you are not alone. Most of you in fact lie somewhere in the middle– you’ve gotten the ball rolling a long time ago, but you’re not quite done yet. You are by no means green– you have gone over what goes into the admissions process time and time again, and know exactly what is required of you. Yet, time is ticking, and deadlines are approaching and the pressure is on.

Well, unfortunately, the pressure is on– to some extent. By now, you should have already taken the necessary exams and, hopefully, gotten the scores you want. Or, you are either awaiting new scores to come in or planning to retake very soon. Clearly, this is a crucial step in the whole process as test administration dates can frame your entire application timeline– this is especially the case for college and law school applicants. So, ideally, you should have completed this step by now or, at the very least, know when you will be doing so. If not, see my previous blog post about how whether to start the application process from the beginning this late in the game.

With that said, where do you go from here?

First off, breathe. That’s step one. You are almost there. Then, start cracking.

Compile a list of deadlines. To have a full handle of this process, you should have in mind some sort of time-frame of official deadlines and even “unofficial” ones. Meaning, you should know when your schools officially stop receiving applications and when you are hoping to get your applications in by. This list should function as an official tally of when your application materials must be completed by.Most of you should have done this by now. If you haven’t, drop everything right now and figure it out, stat. If this is a mental list, get it down on paper or on-screen; it is more helpful to see this list written out, chronologically, in front of you than juggling it somewhere in your mind. If you have this already written down, pat yourself on the back. Then, revisit it. Be mindful of when everything is due, and when you would like to have them completed by.

Now, time to consider your applications themselves.

Take note of what remains outstanding.  Write down what you have completed already, and congratulate yourself on having done so. Then, concentrate on what remains to be done, and write them down. This will be your “Remaining Items” list. Your list could look like this:

  • Letter of recommendation from Professor Thom
  • Study-abroad transcript from Narnia University
  • Addendum for freshman year “open container” issue
  • Resume
  • Personal statement
  • Diversity statement

I know this seems like a lot– in fact, it may seem like your entire application. However, these are examples of items that you might not have finished entirely and, as such, they are outstanding.  And, chances are, these examples may very well be on your own list, too. So, what now?

Compile your “Next Action” list. Consider what you have listed above. What are the steps necessary to make this “Remaining Items” list a “Completed/Stick a fork in it” one? Think about what actually needs to be done, and write those items down. It very well look like this:

  • Email Prof. Thom to follow-up
  • Check the status on my transcript request from Narnia U.
  • Call admissions rep of XYZ University to find out if I have to disclose an “open container” violation or not
  • Proofread resume
  • Submit personal statement electronically
  • Make final revisions of diversity statement.

Okay, great. Now, your “Remaining Items” list is in a more digestible form– a truly detailed, precise “To Do” list. So, while looking over this new list, think: what can be done immediately?

This, of course, is largely a judgment call– for example, proofreading your essay can be an easy task for, say, me but it can be  a more time-consuming and arduous task for someone else. Also, if you have been working on your personal statement nonstop the past couple of weeks, you may feel that it’s time to work on other parts of your application. So, carefully consider what can be done right now, and what should be worked on in the long run. Submitting an essay electronically certainly takes less time than revising a whole diversity statement so, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can definitely squeeze in the former in the meantime.

This, of course, is an exercise in effective time management— of how to fit in what needs to get done in the time that you have remaining. So, taking these lists into account– your deadlines, remaining items, and next actions– you should be able to create and maintain a firm grasp on your application process. Now that your oh-so close to the finish line, you must have the utmost control over what needs to get done, and when. Being mindful of when your materials need to be in, what remains to be completed, and what remains to be done is only way to do that.

Application tips, the Black Friday edition.

Ah, Thanksgiving. Its passing signifies so many things. The start of the Christmas shopping (or groaning) season, winter weight gain, basketball, and admissions. Thanksgiving is often considered the unofficial admissions deadline for the following fall semester. While most early-action and early-decision deadlines have ended already (most early deadlines are either October 15th or November 15th), the ever-growing application rate has only exacerbated the need to submit applications early and “go complete” as soon as possible.

So, now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s crunch-time.

I’ve gotten many emails from students, all under varying degrees of duress: from those who have only very recently decided to apply to school, to those who are chewing their nails before hitting “submit”. To help staunch your panic, here are tips to help you survive this season.

If you’re applying this cycle… and breaking a sweat about hitting “submit”.

You’ve gotten your test scores back, your transcripts have been sent, and your letter writers have sent in their recommendations. Now, you’re tying up loose ends: editing and proofreading your addendum, your diversity statement, your resume, and, most important of all, your personal statement.  You’ve drafted and re-drafted, and have finely honed your writing materials to such a degree, you can’t possibly add or subtract anymore. Everything is done… right?

First off, it’s completely understandable to have less-than-itchy trigger fingers. You are only beginning on a process whose end-result could have serious, life-altering effects. So, yes, stress is to be expected.

If you have most of the necessary components in line– your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores– and are only working on your own parts, you can breathe a little easier. Unreliable letter writers and unhelpful university policies can be the cause of a huge amount of stress; so, if you were able to get past those in good time, congratulations. You have gotten the relatively uncontrollable parts of your application out of the way, so relish in the fact that your application rests now on you, not on outside circumstances.

At the same time, you can’t prevent yourself from letting go. You are your own worst critic and, at times, your own worst slave-driver. So, don’t beat yourself up and nit-pick your application to death– doing so will only allow more and more time to pass.

To ensure that you’re not holding yourself back, entrust your written application materials with someone else. Whether it be with an editor, your advisor, a professor, or even a close friend. Get another set of eyes to look at what you have written so far and give you honest, reliable feedback. Ask them: Does your writing need further tweaking? Are your statements concise, well-written, and well-argued? Does your resume make a positive impact? Your reader of choice should be able to give you an accurate assessment of your work as it stands and tell you whether you can send it in, or need to work on it a bit more. That being said, they should be able to tell you if you’re almost there or are ready to go– and, chances are, you may be that much closer to the latter than you think. So, listen to their advice; if you have chosen your reader carefully, they are usually right.

If you’re applying this cycle… and haven’t started your application yet.

These kinds of emails are certainly the most panic-stricken ones, to say the least. You’ve decided, at the last minute, that you want to apply and give it your best shot. Well, here’s the deal.

The application process is an arduous one, requiring a lot of preparation, time, and, of course, work. If you have read the above, you will find that the application packet entails the following:

  • The application form. Yes, it’s a form but a long, often tedious form.
  • Transcripts. Depending on the school, this can be an easy or mindbogglingly difficult task. Also, be mindful of processing times of both the school and the admissions board.
  • Letters of Recommendation. These will have to be completed by either your professors, advisors, or (if you have been out of school for some time) employers. This could mean tracking down someone you haven’t worked with or seen in some time and asking them to complete a major aspect of your application on their own time. The obvious potential issues are obvious.

These, of course, are not considering your own parts of the application– you will still have to submit a personal statement and a resume. And, you will also have to consider supplementing your application with an addendum or diversity statement– additional materials that are not necessary but, if needed, are in fact additional work for you to consider.

I’m a big proponent for optimism and I certainly don’t mean to discourage you. However, you do have some serious thinking to do.

Will you realistically have enough time to complete these tasks? Consider your work/school/personal schedule and situation. Can you feasibly do this? If you feel that you may not be able to, then you have your answer. Wait this cycle out and try next time– you’ll be better prepared and will be more successful than this go-around, guaranteed.

If you feel that you could very well pull it off, ask yourself: Will rushing have a detrimental effect on my application? Rushing to get your application in and getting dinged the first time around is no better than waiting until next year and trying with a better hand.

I understand having your heart set on getting that degree or attending that particular school. But, if you are just deciding to do so now, you should give it some more thought. If you’re worried about not being able to do it next time around, then consider the time involved– if you can’t apply by next cycle, then will you be able to even attend next fall?

You’re making some pretty big decisions very quickly. And, if you’re finding yourself scrambling to make this happen, you could very well be forcing yourself to make these huge decisions even more quickly which can be problematic. Take some time and think: Can you do this, or should you wait? Is this for you? Is this a fluke, a rash decision? Is this even possible? Be honest with yourself.Think very, very carefully and be mindful of your answers– yes, these are big things which is precisely why you need to be slow and steady in your decision making.

Interview with LSAT Blog

LSAT Blog by Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz of LSAT Blog was kind enough to interview me earlier this week. In our interview, we discussed burnout (and how to fight it), diversity statements, and addenda.

Here is an excerpt from our interview:

2. Now, about supplemental essays. What do you tell your students about writing diversity statements?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the diversity statement. Two of those are that:

1. Diversity statements is only for underrepresented minorities (URMs)
2. Diversity statements are mandatory.

Both of these statements are far from correct.

You don’t have to be an underrepresented minority to write a diversity statement. Similarly, diversity statements are not adversity statements, either. Anyone who feels that their background or upbringing has allowed them to have a more diverse experience can write one. This also goes for anyone who feels that, by being part of the representative admitted class, will bring diversity to the student body of their prospective school.

That being said, you don’t have to write a diversity statement. Yes, it can be a valuable asset to your application package, but it’s not mandatory and, therefore, isn’t necessary. If you are considering writing a diversity statement, be sure that you have something well-argued and genuinely compelling to say; it’s better to submit your application “as is” with its required materials than to submit an extra essay that is questionable or, worse, written poorly.

For all my dear readers out there applying for law school, LSAT Blog is one of the best resources for help with LSAT preparation on the Internet, hands down.

Stefanie Arr

Interview by LSAT Blog

LSAT Blog by Steve Schwartz

Recently, I’ve been interviewed by Steve Schwartz of the LSAT Blog.

The following is an excerpt from our interview:

3. How much time should one spend revising a personal statement, and how can one tell when it’s *finished*?

It’s impossible to set a firm amount of time and have that work for everyone. Everyone works at different speeds and everyone has different amounts of free time available to them. So, whether it’s one month or an entire application cycle (about four to five months), one has to allot enough time to write multiple drafts and to revise and review appropriately. It’s also important to be honest with yourself about how much time you actually have, and to be realistic with your goals. Rushing should NEVER be an option.

You can read the rest of our interview here.

For all my dear readers out there applying for law school, LSAT Blog is one of the best resources for help with LSAT preparation on the Internet, hands down.

Stefanie Arr

Time management tips.

Finals, oh no! (From Mortsan on Flickr)

It’s coming to the end of the school year, which means, for many of you, it’s “finals season.” With what feels like 148,927,826 final papers due (give or take a few) and that many more final exams, final projects, and other final end-of-the-semester things to worry about, how do you find the time?

To do so, you have to MAKE the time, not find the time.

Sadly, there is no way to make days longer or for weeks to magically appear between now and your deadlines. Unless a way to bend time is found, there is no way to add extra days or hours to what you already have, or to recoup “lost” time. There is no two ways about it, you have a lot of things to do, and a very limited amount of time to do them. So, it’s crucial to make use of the time you have, and to do so efficiently. Time management means exactly that: to manage your time available. In order to do so, you will have to prioritize, by dividing your time appropriately.

Dividing your time “appropriately” means to devote the appropriate amount of time to the tasks at hand. The appropriate time, however, means the ACTUAL time you need to complete a task. So, your mission is to be honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself you work best under pressure when you… well, don’t. In the same way you know your paper isn’t going to write itself, know your own strengths and weaknesses; if you know pulling an all-nighter isn’t going to end well for you and for your grade, then don’t do it. Time isn’t going to magically expand itself and you’re not going to magically work at a vastly different pace than you’re normally used to. If you genuinely feel you do work best under pressure, that’s okay, too– but, think twice about it. Is this really the case? And, if it can be avoided, why would you want to put yourself through that?

More time is ALWAYS better than too little time. By managing your time consciously and honestly, you’re allowing yourself to have more time, time being one of the most crucial factors to improving your skills as a writer. How, you say? This is how. So, again, be honest with yourself. The more conscious you are about how much time you have available and how much time it will actually take to complete your assignment fully and completely, the more likely you are to do it.

So, sit down with your planner, Google Calendar, or what-have-you, and make an assessment: How much work is due? How much time do you actually have? How can you safely allocate the appropriate amount of time to each task? This is the first step to actually managing your time effectively. By doing so, you’ll be in a much better position to not only survive your hectic end-of-semester schedule, but to totally ace it.

Stefanie Arr