As the old saying goes, “failing to plan is simply planning to fail.” If there’s one lesson that you’ll keep learning long after you’ve popped the bubbles on graduation day, it’s that forward thinking is a vital skill you’ll never stop perfecting. But when it comes to planning your week and workload as a student, it can be tricky to balance a buzzing social life, essay deadlines, and that much-needed downtime.
Often, a blank page and an empty book can be a daunting prospect when thinking about how to plan a project. Our academic year diaries give you a helping hand with useful prompts and tips, as well as a designated space for organising your week or month.
We’ve pulled together some hints and tricks on how to get the most of your academic year diary to help you spend less time stressing about looming deadlines and exam timetables, and more time on what matters — enjoying your time as a student.
How future planning helps you navigate the present
Philosophy or physics, maths or music, it doesn’t matter what you study, academic years will always have ‘pinch points’. With coursework deadlines often inconveniently coinciding with exams and assessments (and well-earned end of term parties), there will inevitably be moments in your year when your commitments will be conflicting.
Alongside these busy periods of heightened activity however, there will also be a natural lull at points where your workload seems more manageable. If you can get ahead of the curve and fill your diary with what’s on the horizon, you can relish the quieter weeks and get a headstart on an essay or project with a deadline for next month.
Make your academic year diary work for you
The knowledge that all good diary keepers and organisational experts share is that flexibility is the secret to a healthy work/life balance. If you force yourself to exactly follow your schedule to the minute, it’s likely that you’ll fall out of love with your diary and end up in a quagmire of confused timelines.
Maintain a healthy distance from your diary and think of it as a suggestion of how you should spend your time, not a mandated workflow. Below are a few ideas to get you started on how to best use your academic diary, but perhaps it’s best to look at this as gentle guidelines rather than rigid rules.
Prioritise your tasks
When getting started on filling out your diary, start with evaluating what work is of most importance and urgency. If you feel as though you are constantly being reactive rather than proactive, and fighting fires to get work completed in time for a deadline, then this step is your most crucial.
Colour coding can work wonders, and a traffic light system indicating level of urgency is an easy way to help you identify what is most important. Find a system that suits you and get into the habit of regularly re-assessing what requires your attention.
Create a schedule
Cultivate a sense of calm by finding rhythm or routine to your week. If you know that you start in the afternoon on a Tuesday, plan in Tuesday morning study catch-ups where you focus on work from Monday’s lectures. Getting into the habit of building regular blocks of time for different classes or modules will help you to compartmentalise and give each project the focus it deserves.
Track your progress and your results
Never lose focus of why planning pays off. By keeping a record of how your grades are affected by your study plan, you’ll motivate yourself to keep on top of your schedule. If your results aren’t as you hoped, noting them down can be a handy tool when re-evaluating how you split your time across classes. If you notice you’re slipping in one class or course, you can then choose to shift your schedule and dedicate more time to the area that needs it.
Plan in your downtime
An all-nighter in the library or having too much fun meeting new pals and having a dance, there’s no denying that student life can be overwhelming. When it all gets a bit much, it’s important to allow yourself the time and space to rest. A relaxing bath, a good book or re-watching your favourite rom-com can be just what you need to get back into your groove and feel human again. Schedule in this time to recuperate and recover for the sake of your studies and your mental health.
What to do when plans go awry
Despite all best efforts, it’s natural that planning won’t always help you to achieve what you hope to. Consistency is key when it comes to diary keeping. If you dip in and out of noting down your plans, you run the risk of forgetting a plan that never made it onto the page. We’ve come up with solutions to two commonly-encountered planning problems to help you navigate your way through a crisis:
The forgotten plan:
There’s no worse feeling than when your stomach drops on finding out that you’ve forgotten about a deadline. You were sure that you’d heard the 17th not the 7th, but somehow things got lost in translation. How should you keep calm when tensions are high and you’re heading for panic mode? First and foremost, prioritise what you need to do immediately. Think in terms of urgency about what the most important parts of the project are and what you can start on right away. Next, identify what you can let fall to the wayside. Drinks with your housemates are off the cards, you’ll have to catch them another time. Excuse yourself from your prior commitments and get to work. Finally, don’t put yourself through the wringer. You are a human, and you can only do so much. Look after yourself and take the project one step at a time.
The surrealist thinker:
Perhaps you’ve underestimated how many words 10,000 actually is, or you were sure that you could read a whole academic journal in just one hour. Whatever you’ve over or underestimated, it’s time to be realistic, and change your expectations. Take comfort in the fact that university is a marathon and not a sprint — not every piece of work can be your chef d’oeuvre.
The planning fallacy and how to fight it
The planning fallacy is a common phenomenon where we become overly optimistic about how long a task might take to complete. It’s the gut-wrenching moment when you’re halfway into a book report you thought would take three days only to realise it’ll take two weeks. The problem is that we often disregard our previous experiences of completing similar tasks when planning new tasks.
This is where a well-maintained academic year diary comes in. If you’ve kept a record of your previous study efforts and results, you can head off any uncertainty about the size of the job ahead. You’ll remember whether four hours of revision for your french oral last term filled you with either an unrivalled confidence, or complete terror. Evaluate your time spent on similar tasks and plan accordingly as you approach new challenges.
Why planning now will help you in the long run
Planning is a great habit to get into while studying because you’ll probably be getting a headstart on your uni mates. With an eye on what’s coming up ahead, you’ll not only find that your work will benefit, but also that you’ll be able to enjoy the moments when you’re not working even more. Without the low-level anxiety of things you’ve half-remembered to complete, you can focus on being present in the moment when with friends and family during your time off.
As you move through life after uni, you’ll also realise that planning is an inevitability of adulthood. Whatever career path you end up in, planning and scheduling will no doubt play an integral role in how you do your job. Save yourself the hassle of learning how to do so later down the line and build a healthy habit that will help you lead a less stressful life.
Get a headstart on organising your year with our academic year diaries.