With the smell of mince pies, mulled wine, and roast dinners still lingering in the air, it can be difficult to get back into your academic routine after the Christmas break. But the new year is the perfect time to get into good habits! Follow our top tips to avoid the dreaded all-nighter before deadline day, and learn how to effectively manage your workload.
Planning is the key to success in most situations, and managing your academic workload is no different. Remember that handbook you were given at the start of the year, that’s now forever lost in a sea of papers in your room? Now is the time to dig it out, because it will have all your deadlines listed in there. Alternatively, if you have access to a course management system like Blackboard or Moodle, you should be able to find a list of key dates and deadlines.
When you have made a note of these dates, make an entry for them in your calendar – ideally use one that you can sync to your phone, because that way you can set a reminder a couple of days before things are due, and you’ll always have an overview of what work is due when.
Being realistic goes hand-in-hand with planning ahead. It’s all well and good saying that you’ll go to the library every day or that you’ll write your next essay over the weekend, but think about how realistic those goals are. If your timetable finishes late in the afternoon, will you have the motivation to then go to the library?
Once you have a good overview of your workload for the next view months, be realistic about how long it will take you to complete your assignments and revise for your exams. If you know that an essay will require a lot of preparation and research, you need to be pragmatic about how much time that will take, rather than just blocking out a few hours to write everything.
Give yourself a break
Breaks might sound counterproductive to keeping on top of your workload, but bear with us – there is method to our madness. By giving yourself regular breathers, you’ll keep yourself from losing concentration and you’ll help yourself to stay on track with deadlines.
The Pomodoro Technique is the perfect tool to get you in the habit of taking regular breaks. The idea of the technique is simple: you break down large tasks into more manageable chunks and then do them in timed sessions with regular breaks.
Over time, the technique trains you to stay focused for set periods of time, whilst rewarding yourself with some relaxation in between (when you can do the things that you would normally spend time procrastinating with!).
Prioritising your workload is a key habit to get into, especially if you have a lot of different assignments on the go at the same time. It can be daunting to look at everything that you need to get done, but in reality, if you assess each task separately, you’ll realise that not everything requires the same level of urgency.
If you’re not sure about how to start prioritising your workload, start with the ABC method to help you out. Write out a list of your work for the week, and then label each task with either ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’, depending on how high of a priority it is. To give you a rough idea of how to use the labels, here’s a definition for each one:
- A – Tasks that need to be done by a certain day this week and are of the highest priority
- B – Tasks that you aim to finish this week, but can wait another day or two if you can’t complete them straight away
- C – Tasks that don’t have a specific deadline or sense of urgency, but you want to complete them at some point in the near future
Make the most of your phone
Forget diaries and Filofaxes; we all know that they’ve been in the corner of shame, along with your reading list, where they drifted off to once you’d settled into the academic year. No, your best friend for managing your workload is your phone. You’re far less likely to leave it at home or neglect it, so you might as well use it.
From to-do lists to academic calendars, there are apps to cover all your needs – so have a look around to find the ones that will be the most useful to you. You can even find apps for the Pomodoro Technique!