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October 27, 2023 by

It’s Friday night. You were about to make a Young’s run when your classmate sends you the text: Just finished my paper! Paper? Frantically, you check the Canvas calendar. Sure enough, due at 11:59 p.m. is the term paper that completely slipped your mind. You check the clock. 6:08 p.m. You have just under six hours to crank out eight pages proving you know a thing or three about the class. Skipping dinner, you work nonstop, and your submission is loaded into Canvas three minutes before the deadline. You fall into the bed, pull the sheets over your head, and finally get the z’s you’ve been fighting all night

Does this sound familiar? What if I told you this didn’t have to be your reality? That you could have had the work turned in days ago? Below are helpful tips for staying academically organized and becoming the student your professors dream of

Plan for your week. 

This is likely the most common — and annoying — advice you’ve received in relation to time management. You likely fall on a spectrum between “That just isn’t me! I’m not the planner type,” and “My Google calendar has had my assignments color-coded since the first week of school.” 

Newsflash: both of these people are turning in assignments somewhere around 11:45 p.m

The reason your planning isn’t working isn’t because of the method! Yes, people are different, and the method that works seamlessly for one seems absolutely absurd to another. But no, the hours you spent poring over the book with the acclaimed “best system for organization” probably wasn’t worth it. Any system can be effective as long as you know your strengths and weaknesses. The key to effective weekly planning is internalization. There are two factors to achieving this idea: 

  1. Choose a day of the week to review your assignments for the following week so there are no surprises. You’ll get a good idea of how busy you’ll be during the week and which days would be wise to set aside to get some things done.  
  2. Do a quick review of the entire syllabus on each planning day to make yourself aware of big projects you might want to be thinking about. If there’s extra time in the upcoming week, knock out the first paragraph to that final paper that’s due in a month! You’ll thank yourself when the due date comes closer — and when you feel every other professor must’ve placed a bet on who can assign the most work to their students. 

Utilize the awkward “in-between” moments to cross one more thing off your planner.  

Don’t wait until you have five free hours to sit down and get all your work done. While it’s nice to knock out everything at once, these moments are rare. That 30 minutes you have in between classes can be used to accomplish much more than you think! It could be finding a new source for your paper, scribbling a few math problems, or even just reviewing for an upcoming test. These minutes add up!  

These are also great times to work on small parts of big projects. While it theoretically feels good to hunker down and complete that 10-page paper from start to finish in one sitting, in reality, it’s not practical, realistic, or productive. We approach burnout more quickly working on the same assignment for seven hours straight, and we end up producing work far below the quality of which we’re capable. Breaking up these multi-part assignments means we spend less time on it as a whole, and we can produce something we’re actually proud to attach our names to.  

Before you know it, you’ll be in bed at 9 p.m. every night thinking you’ve forgotten something … it’s a melatonin. Get the rest you’ve earned. 

Don’t overcommit. You know yourself! 

People are different from each other. Some may find that they work better on a packed schedule, and others need more time to sort things out. It’s important that you know which one you are. Just because your roommate can juggle basketball intramurals, being a D-group leader, and “o chem” review sessions on an average Tuesday night and still be in bed by 10 doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. And that’s 100% okay! If you instead need to spend your evening completing algebra homework — with your trusty tutor Mr. Khan, of course — then by all means, do that. Learn what success looks like for you. Don’t feel bad about what doesn’t work for you; instead, capitalize on what does

On this same note, don’t burn yourself out. If it turns out that putting on the hat of nursing major, employee, soccer player, social butterfly, and video game player proves too much for your plate, it’s OK to reevaluate and make some sacrifices. Trying to complete homework when your mind isn’t rested and balanced will actually slow you down as you think at a lower level than you’re capable of. You’ll end up spending more time on the tasks that you could’ve easily knocked out, wasting precious time and energy

James Clear, author of bestselling book “Atomic Habits,” notes that “When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.”1 Saying yes to too many activities that don’t make sense to your academic and spiritual development means you are saying no to doing the things that matter. Saying yes to going out to eat the night before a big test means saying no to the couple hours of studying you may have needed, for example. Learn what you need as a student to be successful. 

Don’t wait for the perfect study environment to get something done.  

If no one else has told you, let me be the one to break it to you: no one “feels like” doing their work. Waiting until you have a real desire to do something means you will find yourself cramming it in at the last minute because your only motivation is to avoid receiving a 0. That one study room or your favorite table in the SSC might not be available when you want it, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a good time to clear that Canvas calendar. You really don’t need your computer at 100% and your Zebra mildliners color-coded in order to begin the study process. Don’t spend more time thinking about school than actually doing it

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t create study conditions you enjoy — please do! If Post-its help you study, go buy your favorite colors. If you like writing in colored pens to take notes, invest in some. You’ll be more motivated to study when you feel connected to the task. However, motivation is not everything; practicing discipline to get the work done even when your favorite purple glitter pen runs out of ink is what will ultimately help you succeed.  

Go ahead and tell your friends you can make that late night Taco Bell run — you’ve already turned in the assignment. 

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