How Do I Stick to a Schedule?

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July 21, 2022 by

It’s easy to become stressed at college with so much to do: attend classes, complete assignments, study for exams, join orgs, hang out with friends, go to work shifts, and catch all the campus events. It can be even more stressful if you’re a new student and this is your first time managing your own schedule. So how do you do it? 

Finding a System That Works for You 

First things first: You must find a schedule and system that works for you! Even if you’re a more spontaneous and disorganized person, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of method to keep track of all your assignments and plans.
Probably everyone’s first thought would be to get a planner. Planners and notebooks are helpful because you can carry them in your backpack throughout the day alongside your textbooks and always have them on hand during your classes. Whenever a professor mentions a new upcoming assignment, you can just jot down a note in your planner! Having a paper copy is especially helpful for classrooms that don’t allow computers.
Some people, however, prefer keeping a digital calendar on their phone or computer to easily rearrange events and add extra information. I like to use Google calendar so I can access my schedule on both my phone and laptop and quickly check it even if I’m without my backpack and notebooks. I typically color-code it as well, putting regular events — like plans with friends or campus events — in a neutral color and putting each class’s assignments in a different color— like Old Testament in red and English Comp in blue. This makes it easy for me to glance at my online calendar and see how heavy my workload is for each day or week and which classes I need to prioritize.
Sticky notes are also a popular option! It’s easy to start your morning by making a list of the things you need to complete that day and sticking it where you can keep track of it, like your laptop or your desk. I also like to use the digital sticky notes on my desktop to plan out my day. This other method may be a bit overkill, but I find it works well for me: At the beginning of each semester, I will put every assignment and exam date from my classes’ syllabi on the digital sticky notes in chronological order; then, each time I complete a task I delete it from the sticky note. This way, I have the whole semester’s class agenda in one easily accessed place, but I can condense the sticky note into a small window to avoid overwhelming myself. 

If none of these systems seem like they’ll work you can experiment with others, such as dry-erase board calendars, phone alarms, or planning apps! If you try one system out and you don’t like it, you can always try something new until you find your preference! 

How to Follow Your Schedule 

So now you have your schedule figured out, but how do you stick to it when you get busy? Firstly, stay focused! If you have three assignments due the next day and you only have the afternoon to finish them before a campus event, then give those assignments your undivided attention. Go somewhere like the library to minimize distractions. Turn off your phone. And focus for a couple hours so later you can spend your evening having fun on campus with friends!
Secondly, give yourself enough time for each task! If you have an assignment that takes several hours, carve out the time you’ll need in your schedule. Don’t try to shove it into a half-hour window between two of your classes. Just in case, give yourself some extra cushion time if you can and divide bigger tasks into smaller steps you can tackle throughout the day.
Finally, review your schedule regularly enough — at least once a day — that upcoming assignments and events don’t sneak up on you. Glance through the week as a whole, too, and check for bigger assignments that might take more time than the day before to complete. Plan ahead! After finishing tasks, cross them off! Not only will you be able to keep track of what’s done and what’s not, but you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment with each strikethrough. 

How to Prioritize 

But sometimes there’s too much to fit into one day. One of the most important parts of managing your own time is deciding what’s most important — what you should prioritize. My mom once gave me an illustration of an empty mason jar that represents the hours in a given day. There are several big rocks, many small pebbles, and a pile of sand to fill the jar — each representing an item on a to-do list. The rocks symbolize high priority tasks, such as school and other work. The pebbles are tasks of medium importance, and the pile of sand is tasks of small importance. If you fill the jar with these things in reverse order, starting with the sand, you will not have room for all the rocks. If you fill your day with the little things that aren’t important, you won’t have time for the things that actually matter.
Naturally, your class schedule is fixed and, thus, structures the rest of your timetable. Your homework assignments are also high priority and should generally come before hanging out with friends or watching TV. And, of course, spending even a little time with God and reading your Bible is important and helps keep you grounded even in busy seasons. Sometimes, though, it’s okay for homework assignments to take less priority, say you’re feeling burnt out and need to take a break. If you need to spend less time and energy on an assignment than usual in order to take a nap or spend some time with friends, that’s OK! Your schedule can be flexible depending on the day or week —

In short, your schedule will depend on and fluctuate a lot with your class schedule and your energy level. If you’re an incoming freshman, don’t worry! Time management isn’t easily mastered for anyone at first, but experimenting with different planners and finding what works for you will help in the long run. Just start with the “rocks,” and you’ll have room for your “pebbles and sand.” 

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