Many study guides instruct you to set a rigid schedule for yourself in which each minute of each day is devoted to fulfilling a certain task. These schedules block off time for everything from study sessions to mealtimes to hours when you can sleep. But here’s the problem: Schedules like these are virtually impossible to always follow.
What if, for example, you don’t feel like eating dinner at exactly 6:30 on a particular night? What if you are supposed to study from 8:00 to 11:00 on Tuesdays, but one week your professor wants you to attend a guest lecture at the same time? What if there is a really good party on a Friday night you want to go to, but you don’t have time scheduled for it? What do you do?
Look at the Big Picture
Student life is far too chaotic to be squeezed into a neat, orderly schedule. Your schedule will change frequently: One week you may have a major exam or a paper due, which will require more work, while another week, you may have to devote substantial time to an extracurricular activity.
Even weekly study tasks, such as reading lecture notes or assigned texts, will take different amounts of time. One week the assigned readings may be very difficult and take 12 hours to complete, while another they’ll be substantially easier and only take four hours. But if you are stuck in a rigid schedule, you won’t be able to make the necessary adjustments to provide the time you need.
Invest in a small egg timer, which you can purchase at your local grocery store. If you need to be reminded of your increments of studying or your schedule, a timer’s bell will alert you. Old-fashioned timers are easier than programming cell phones or PDA devices to keep you in check.
You do, however, need to have some kind of schedule so that you can keep track of what needs to be done and leave yourself enough time to do it. Instead of making a rigid schedule, you can plan a more general one that will allow you to make changes on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis. This general schedule only shows those activities you do every week of the semester at the exact same times. You should make it up at the beginning of the semester, before classes have actually started.
Make a chart listing days of the week at the top, and the hours of the day in a column on the left side. Or, you can choose to make your schedule through a computerized program such as iCal or Yahoo Calendar, but be sure you have a portable version with you accessible though your PDA, Blackberry, iPad, or printouts of a few weeks at a time that you can carry around in your backpack, to adjust, write on, and refer to as necessary.
First, find out the meeting times of all your classes, and block off those times on the schedule. Then mark off any times you will be consistently unavailable to study; for example, those times when you are part of a club or a team. As shifts occur in scheduling, such as an added review session before final exams or a study group emerges, be sure to promptly note them in your calendar as well.
After you’ve blocked off those hours, you’ll be able to see the times each day that are “free.” Those “free” times can be spent any number of ways—studying, doing work, socializing with friends, etc. You can decide each week exactly how you can best utilize those “free” times.
SAMPLE WEEKLY LIST OF TASKS AND TIMES
|Read Articles for Psych||Sun., Tues. Evenings (2 hrs.)|
|Read Chapters 1–5 of Huck Finn||Mon. Evening (1–2 hrs.)|
|Read Chapters 5–10 of Huck Finn||Wed. Evening (1–2 hrs.)|
|Study for Bio Quiz on Thursday||Tues., Wed. Night|
|Meet with Group to work on project for Soc.||Sun. Afternoon (4 hrs.)|
|Read Chapter 14 for Sociology||Tues. Evening (1 hr.)|
|Finish Poem for Lit. Magazine||Mon.–Wed. Night (after 11 P.M.)|
|Go over Notes from Lectures, Readings||Sat. (4 hrs.)|
|Library Research for Soc. project||Mon.–Thurs. Midday (between classes)|
During the week, work on each specific task during the time you’ve designated. Don’t force yourself to spend an exact amount of time on each one since these are guesstimates of how much time a task will take you. Take each task as it comes; some will take more time than you anticipate, some will take less. Just make certain that by the end of the week you’ve fulfilled all the tasks you set for yourself.
In addition to making a weekly list of specific tasks, it’s a good idea to make one for each day. Before you go to sleep each night, you can quickly make a list of the things you need to do the following day. You can include, in addition to study tasks, any specific errands you need to run, from doing laundry to returning books to the library. That way, you’ve got all your tasks in one place and you won’t forget to do something. As you do each one, cross it off the list so you can see yourself making progress and feel you are accomplishing something.
Prioritizing Your Schedule
Some weeks, you will have an especially heavy workload and face a severe crunch for time. To prioritize your tasks, look at your list for the week and try to put them in order of importance. For example, completing an assignment that must be handed in or studying for a major exam are going to take priority over most other activities. Prioritize what is not only due at your first deadline but also what may take you the longest to finish or the assignment or task that you find the most difficult. Expend your energy when you are the freshest (i.e., at the outset of your task, early morning, and so on) on work that is more challenging for you and harder to accomplish.
Always factor in plenty of time for sleep! Be sure your schedule does not get too full to limit that essential task of getting some zzz’s.
After identifying what is most important for that week, make certain you devote most of your time to fulfilling those tasks. If you finish them, spend the remaining time on the less important ones. If you don’t get to the less important tasks, you can make up for it in later weeks when your workload is less heavy. Just be certain you catch up at some point so you don’t fall too far behind.
Finding Time for Everything Else!
Of course, everyone needs time away from work, but you shouldn’t “schedule” in these times. As a student, your priority is fulfilling your study requirements, as well as commitments to extracurricular activities. These will take up a certain portion of time each week. When they are completed, any time that remains is yours to do with as you please.