Getting Organized

In college as in life, you will quickly learn that managing time is important to success. Almost all successful people use some sort of calendar or planner, either paper or electronic, to help them keep up with their appointments, assignments or tasks, and other important activities and commitments.

Use A Planner

Your college might design and sell a calendar in the campus bookstore designed specifically for your school, with important dates and deadlines already provided. Or, you might prefer to use an online calendar or the calendar that comes on your computer or cell phone. Regardless of the format you prefer (electronic or hard copy), it’s a good idea to begin the term by completing a term assignment preview which is a template you can use to map your schedule for an entire term.

To create a term assignment preview, begin by entering all your commitments for each week: classes, assignment due dates, work hours, family commitments, and so on. Examine your toughest weeks during the term. If paper deadlines and test dates fall during the same week, find time to finish some assignments early to free up study and writing time. Note this time on your calendar. If you use an electronic calendar, set a reminder for these important deadlines and dates. Consult with tutors or more experienced students to help you break down large assignments (e.g., term papers) into smaller steps. Add deadlines in your term assignment preview for each of the smaller portions of the project.

After you complete your term assignment preview, enter important dates and notes from the preview sheets into your calendar or planner and continue to enter all due dates as soon as you know them. Write down meeting times and locations, scheduled social events (including phone numbers in case you need to cancel), study time for each class you’re taking, and so forth. It’s best not to rely solely on one calendar. If you are using an electronic device for your calendar, take time to sync that device with others so that you will have an updated calendar in multiple places. Another option is to keep a backup copy on paper in case you lose your phone, you can’t access the Internet, or your computer crashes. If you use a print planner, keep it with you in a place where you’re not likely to lose it. Your first term of college is the time to get into the habit of using a planner to help you keep track of commitments and maintain control of your schedule. This practice will become invaluable to you in your career. Review your calendar daily at the same time of day for the current week as well as the coming week. It takes just a moment to be certain you aren’t forgetting something important, and it helps relieve stress.

Chart A Weekly Timetable

Now that you have created a term preview, a weekly timetable can help you tentatively plan how to spend your hours in a typical week. Here are some tips for creating a weekly schedule:

  • As you create your schedule, try to reserve at least two hours of study time for each hour spent in class. This universally accepted “two-for-one” rule reflects faculty members’ expectations for how much work you should be doing to earn a good grade in their classes. So, if you take a typical full-time class load of fifteen credits, for example, you should plan to study an additional thirty hours per week. Think of this forty-five-hour-per-week commitment as comparable to a full-time job. If you are also working, reconsider how many hours per week it will be reasonable for you to be employed above and beyond this commitment or consider reducing your credit load.

  • Depending on your biorhythms, obligations, and potential distractions, decide whether you study more effectively in the day, in the evening, or with a combination of both. Determine whether you are capable of getting up very early in the morning to study or how late you can stay up at night and still wake up for morning classes.

  • Not all assignments are equal. Work with tutors, other students, and instructors to estimate how much time you will need for each one and begin your work early. A good time manager frequently finishes assignments before actual due dates to allow for emergencies.

  • Each term is different. As you progress through your college experience, the tasks and demands on your time will continue to change. From one term to the next, you will take different (and, typically, more demanding) classes. Throughout each class, you will be required to read a great deal of material, but the work may shift from tests and quizzes to research papers, presentations, and group projects. Be prepared for the additional time and project management these types of assignments involve.

Keep track of how much time it takes you to complete different kinds of tasks. For example, depending on your skills and interests, it might take longer to read a chapter in a biology text than to read one in a literature text. Keeping track of your time will help you estimate how much time to allocate for similar tasks in the future. How long does it really take you to solve a set of twenty math problems or write up a chemistry lab? Use your weekly time-table to track how you actually spend your time for an entire week.

Maintain A To-Do List

Once you have plotted your future commitments with a term planner and decided how your time will be spent each week, you can stay on top of your obligations with a to-do list, which is especially handy for last-minute reminders. It can help you keep track of errands you need to run, appointments you need to make, e-mail messages you need to send, or anything you’re prone to forget. You can keep this list on your cell phone or in your notebook, or you can post it on your bulletin board. Some people start a new list every day or once a week. Others keep a running list and throw a page away only when everything on the list is done. Whichever method you prefer, use your to-do list to keep track of all the tasks you need to remember, not just academics. You might want to develop a system for prioritizing the items on your list: highlight; different colors of ink; one, two, or three stars; or lettered tasks with A, B, C. As you complete a task, cross it off your list. You might be surprised by how much you have accomplished—and how good you feel about it.

biorhythms The internal mechanisms that drive our daily patterns of physical, emotional, and mental activity.