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Manage your time (better than me)

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With exam period looming we, as students, begin to feel existential dread over the fact that we are going to be bound to our study desks for the foreseeable future. It’s even worse with the Christmas festivities going on. Isn’t it? The answer is no. Everybody should be able to engage in and enjoy the time they spend doing non-academic activities, even if they do have exams just around the corner.

The main take home message from this is that you should be finding time to engage in the things you love to do, even when you have exams. I’m hoping that by sharing some of my top time management tips, you may find that a little easier.

I’ve been a university student for over 5 years now and I was an A Level student prior to that, and basically I’ve been revising for as long as I can remember, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified in this kind of thing… it may be nothing you haven’t heard before, but it may help.

I’m going to discuss my top three tools for time keeping (in no particular order):

  • Diaries and calendars,
  • To-do lists,
  • Timetables.

1. Diaries and Calendars

I have literally always been a huge stationary fanatic, so it’s unsurprising that anything I can buy supplies for is a huge win for me. I’m a sucker for a good diary, and I particularly love a full page-a-day book which I can use to write all of my commitments, deadlines, meetings and so on.

I use my diary as a back-up of my calendar, which I rely more heavily as it’s easily accessible and on-the-go. Every single thing goes in my calendar, from my yoga classes to beauty appointments to really important academic things like deadlines and supervision meetings. This keeps me in check, and it is therefore my number 1 recommendation if you struggle with timekeeping and tend to forget about important upcoming events.

If you’re going to use a calendar or a diary, you need to put each and every single thing you do in it, or it won’t work in my opinion. What’s the point in having all your important meetings with your supervisor in there if you then double book the next one with your doctor’s appointment? Trust me on this one, if you start to use the calendar/diary and become reliant on it, you will need to have it filled in properly.

My biggest calendar tip:

Colour code your calendar, as it makes quick glances much easier. For example, I have my university things in orange, deadlines in red, appointments in blue, personal things (e.g. holidays) in purple, and birthdays in yellow. It sounds high-maintenance, but it really helps.

2. To-Do Lists

Another organisation tool that I use in both physical and virtual versions is a to-do list. This kind of tool will help you feel like you have your life under control, and more importantly your revision, studies, deadlines and any other tasks you need to do. They’re also good for allowing yourself time to do other things.

My general rules are as follows:

To-Do List Book – To be kept on desk, open and next to laptop at all times. Consists of a checklist of things to do that day, which involves both big and small tasks. This is important as not ticking things off can seriously affect your motivation for that day and you’ll find yourself getting less done. There is no bigger relief than ticking that box, so make your tasks small!

To-Do List App – I use this when I’m having one of those days where I’m running around trying to get things done, which is usually my day off. This list will consist of things like ‘go to the post office’ and ‘write blog’. This is perfect for allowing yourself time to relax and do other important things in your life as you still feel as though you’re accomplishing something every time you tick a box.

Try adding in tasks for things you WANT to do, e.g. ‘catch up with friends’ or ‘call home for a chat’.

My biggest to-do list tip:

ALWAYS make your tasks small enough so that they can be completed and ticked off as the day goes on. If you’re working on one task for near the whole day that task is way too big. As mentioned previously, this will severely impact your motivation and subsequently hinder your progress.

An example would be: instead of writing ‘finish essay’, try ‘write introduction’, ‘write argument one’, ‘criticisms’, ‘conclusion’, ‘reference check’, ‘proof read’. You can see already how much more easily you could work through that list and give yourself a little boost each time you tick one off.

3. Timetables

Admittedly, I have created these partially to procrastinate in the past and have ended up worse off for it, so if this sounds like something you’re going to do then please stop reading here.

Timetables can be fantastic ways of drawing out what needs to be done and when. I do mine semester to semester and try to include a week-to-week outline of what I plan to do. I usually use Microsoft Excel to do these, and if you struggle with the formatting they have templates that you can use (also good as it cuts out a lot of time).

I’ve used various methods, and to be honest I’m still unsure which is the best. For my master’s degree I used both a weekly plan of what I needed to do for each module, which included reading and assignments, alongside a Gantt chart which planned out how long I should spend on each assignment and when to start in order to get it in for the due date.

Last semester I used a more traditional timetable which looked more like a schedule, showing things such as “9am-12pm Revise”, “12pm-1pm Lunch”, “1pm-5pm Write Essay”. I’m not convinced this was very effective for me, although it may be for some of you and it is worth trying different methods until you find the best one to suit you.

My biggest timetable tip:

Don’t create a timetable during your study time. It is so easy to get distracted making one of these when you want to avoid doing your work, but the reality is it might not even benefit you much in the long run, and it definitely is not benefitting you if it’s making you procrastinate. If you want to make a timetable you have to do it in your own time, and you’ll need a good few hours to make a good one so bare that in mind.

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