Phew. Christmas is over, all my assignments are handed in and a new term lies ahead of us. As I’m preparing for Spring term, I’m constantly trying to perfect my time management. I’m a bit of an organisation junkie and I love finding new ways to boost my productivity, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences and tips with you.
Planning is key
Whether it’s a diary, a planning app or just a random post-it note, planning your day in advance can increase your productivity by a ton. Committing to a planning system can be hard and it took me years to find one that works for me, but now I use a Bullet Journal. I’m the type of person who has to write stuff down on pen and paper, so this system is perfect for me. The bullet journal is basically a notebook of your choosing which you then turn into your own planner, with a future log, a monthly log and a daily log. I encourage you to check out Ryder Carroll’s website, who is the inventor of this ingenious planner. The beauty of this system is that you can make it as simple or complex as you want it to be. There is an amazingly creative community around the bullet journal, check out #bulletjournal on Instagram or Facebook to learn more.
I primarily use the bullet journal to plan assessments and keep track of my deadlines. At the heart of my bullet journal are my daily logs, which is basically a to-do list. Lists make my world go round, they really do. If it’s not written down somewhere, odds are, it’s not going to get done, and there’s nothing more satisfying than crossing all the tasks off at the end of the day.
In conjunction with my journal, I also rely on Google Calendar for events and my contact hours. You can sync your University of York timetable to it and it updates automatically.
At the beginning of each term, I write up an assessment overview, which tells me all of my work, how many credits it is worth, and when it’s due. When an assignment brief is released, the first thing I do is create a schedule, beginning from the day I intend to start the project and ending on the day of the deadline. The most important factor here is that you set aside what I call cushion time. These are days that I leave blank on the schedule near the deadline, in case anything happens that stops you from completing your daily goal on a particular day, like illness or your favourite show being released on Netflix…oops. Having extra time in case of emergencies has saved me from pulling all-nighters countless times. Even if you don’t stick to it completely, setting these goals will hold you accountable for your work.
Establish a Routine
One of the biggest challenges at university is balancing your workload. You have contact hours to attend, private study, assessments and maybe even a part-time job. It can be tough to come home after a long day of lectures and realise that you have assigned reading, a practical write-up and an essay to do.
In order to stop myself getting overwhelmed, I look at my timetable on Sundays and then plan my week accordingly in my bullet journal. For example, I know I won’t get a lot of private study done on Mondays as it’s my busiest day at uni, so I don’t assign a lot of tasks to those days. After more than a year at uni, I’ve also learned to take advantage of small time pockets such as one-hour breaks. It’s astonishing how much you can actually get done in 60 minutes if you set your mind to it.
After a while, these habits become almost second nature. By having designated time slots and work spaces to complete different tasks, you prime your brain to be more productive during those periods and you’re less likely to procrastinate and get distracted.
Take Regular Breaks
Personally, I’m a big fan of the pomodoro method, which makes you work in 25 minute bursts with a scheduled 5 minute break afterwards. After you’ve done 3 or 4 of these sessions, you take a longer break. This works wonders for my productivity as I don’t have a long attention span. There’s lots of different apps that use this method, I use Tomato timer on my laptop and clockwork tomato on my phone, but you just as easily use the stopwatch on your phone.
When I absolutely can’t concentrate anymore, I find that it helps to change locations. Sometimes, it’s enough to just move from my desk to the kitchen or lounge, but I also love going to the library. It’s open 24/7 and you have all the material you need right at your fingertips.
Ask for help
If you’re really stuck with a particular assessment or revision topic, speak to your supervisor or module convener. The staff here are amazing and they will help you come up with a solution to tackle your work. Additionally, the University of York runs the Writing Centre, where you can book an appointment or attend a drop-in session. They can help you plan and structure your assignments, as well as improve your academic writing skills. The Maths Skills Centre, on the other hand, can advise you on how to approach mathematical projects.
Take care of yourself
If you take anything away from this blog post, it want it to be this. No matter how important an assignment or exam is, your mental and physical health should have priority. I always beat myself up about not being more productive, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do. If I’m in a rut, I like to take a walk, cook my favourite meal or talk to a friend. Coming back to my work after that always has me feeling more confident and capable of accomplishing my goals.