Some of us were behind in our work, and were finding it difficult to even get started. The trouble is: the more you procrastinate, the further behind you get. Then it doesn't feel good to get to work, so you procrastinate some more. There are always lots of fun things to do here that'll take your thoughts away from work for a while.
We found, too, that when we did go out, unless we got very involved in something like a movie, or got hopelessly drunk, we'd feel guilty: we knew the work was piling up on us, and that we really should be doing it instead of goofing off. Needless to say, that made whatever we were doing a lot less fun.
Anyway, we decided we'd do something about it; we got together to figure out a way of organizing our time so we'd get our work done, and not feel guilty when we were trying to enjoy ourselves later on.
How to Make the Timetable
First step: you make a big sheet of paper or bristolboard with a timetable on it, showing all your classes. It looks this, except bigger of course. Big is good – it lets everyone know whether you're doing what you should be. Including you.
The trouble with writing your work down on this kind of timetable is that it's hard to stick to it. Too often, people come along and want you to go out, and it's too tempting to resist. So you get behind, and because you've betrayed your plan, you feel even worse. You need something more flexible, and we fixed on the solution: sticky notes. They're expensive, so buy the smallest size, and cut them in half if you're feeling really cheap. But you'll need various colors. First, choose one color to put deadlines on. Suppose, for example, you have an English essay and a chemistry lab due. Make two stickers:
Now set them in the appropriate places on your timetable, as shown by the arrows. The essay is due by the English lecture, and the lab is due on the next day at the Chem Lab.
Next step: figure out how many half-hour time segments are needed to get the essay or the lab done, and make some different-colored stickers to put on your timetable.
Actually, looking at the work enough to figure out how long it's going to take is useful: it gets the assignment into some kind of focus. That in itself seems helpful: it's always easier to get going on something when you have some idea of what it involves. It can take an hour or two, but you can usually find this time between classes, and that's easy time to waste as well.
|Here are three half-hour English essay sessions ready to be placed:
||Of course, you'll have some recreational activities planned in advance, like going to the movies with friends. Use another color sticker for these:
As commitments come up, put them up on your timetable. Perhaps things get canceled or rescheduled, in which case you can move the stickers or take them down. If, say, an essay gets finished in less time than you expected, down come some stickers. (This almost never happens; we often found ourselves making new stickers or re-using ones from last week, then trying to find a place to put them up on the timetable)
Here's how the timetable ends up looking. We had to cut it down to make it fit, but it does give you the idea of what we had:
Two of us used one-hour segments instead of half-hour ones. However, we came to a consensus that half-hour ones were best: they're more flexible. And sometimes you have an hour between one class and the next; you can't really get an hour's work done then, but it's really easy to waste the whole hour socializing. It is possible, though, to get half an hour's work done – if you're organized.
There are lots of advantages to having a plan like this:
It lets you take advantage of opportunities, and doesn't try to tie you down like some kinds of calendars do. If that great person you've been wanting to go out with comes by at a time you were planning to use for your English essay, you can tear off the stickers and do whatever you like – as long as you put the stickers somewhere else. You'll look kind of dumb going on that great date with stickers all over you. Also, if you've nowhere on your timetable to put the stickers before the deadline, you're in trouble. It's best to know that before it's too late.
When you do go out to relax and enjoy yourself, you don't feel guilty. It's all part of your plan! And you do need these times to for yourself. There are people at university who are workaholics. A lot of them go crazy.
It lets you know when it's time to get down to work. If you make the stickers as soon as possible after you get the assignment, then you can see how much free time you have. Most of us have had assignments pile up on us. We complained to each other about the unfairness of it all, but really, if we'd have started some of them as soon as they were given, there would have been time. This plan helped us a lot.
It lets you take advantage of assignments that don't take as long as you'd thought. Just rip off the extra stickers and throw them out. Feels great. Obviously, this works the opposite way around as well. Some things take longer than you'd estimated, and you have to make more stickers and find somewhere to stick them. (!). You might have to take off some stickers of the other color, which is too bad, but sometimes it has to be done. Or you might need to reorganize quite a few of the stickers for the following week. That's one of the reasons why you should make your timetable run as far ahead as you can. One further trick that worked for some people is this: have your roommate or girl/boyfriend help you stick to your plan, and nag you if you don't.
Face it: it's hard for almost everyone to pace themselves and avoid procrastination. You need all the help you can get, and this fairly flexible, self-imposed discipline can give you some of that help.
What we came up with isn't for everyone. It didn't work for all of us. A good number of people wouldn't find my written plan particularly useful; it’s true that they impose themselves on your spontaneity. And there are people with enough self-discipline not to need any artificial aid like this at all. But our way did work for many, either exactly as we have it set out here, or with some modifications. Some people seem to be able to do in their heads what most of us need lots of paper for. No one way suits all, but everyone's method has to deal with the big three problems we found ourselves with.
- Finding enough time to do all the work.
- Avoiding the last-minute rush by getting down to the work soon enough.
- Not feeling guilty while doing other things than work.
Everyone really does need to find some way of resolving all these problems. We hope our way is of use to some.
The Holidays Are Here
Now that I'm back home again, "out West" as my fellow-students on the right coast would say, it's good to recap the last three weeks, which I'm happy to say I can do with a bit more satisfaction than some others.
When December 1st hit, exam mode began. Although this stresses a lot of students out, I try to not let it get to me. I'm not saying that exams aren't stressful or annoying, but I think if one stays positive and looks at the good side of it, one can make it a far less painful experience (and by painful I mean sleepless).
You see, when exams start there are no classes. This makes it different from midterms, and means you have the entire day to yourself. So you get up and study, then you watch The Simpsons on your computer, then you study, then you go for lunch, then you study, then you get into a big snowball fight in the quad, then you study, and then if you're lucky you get to watch more shows and play more games on your computer, depending on your preferences. Not too bad, right? I mean if you actually commit to sitting down and studying and giving yourself breaks, then you can get a lot done because there are no classes and no extra-curricular activities. Better yet, sometimes you have several days between two exams.
I know some people don't write a lot of exams in their high schools, so when they get to university the exam period is a shock. This is totally understandable. I went to a high school where exams were a very big deal, so I am used to it. But overall, it is really all about planning ahead, which is easy to do – you just have to actually know to do it. Make sure to take steady notes throughout the semester and don't fall too far behind, because you want study time to be study time, not catch-up time. And then be sure to spend the first no-classes day getting your study time organized.
The trick is to make a timetable for these days that, sure, has party time on it, and TV/game time, and time just throwing a basketball around in the gym. But most of it should probably be study time. I found it useful to have every hour spoken for, with a specific task to be attached to it. I mean "attached" literally; it's a sticky note that says "re-do diff eqns p141 & 154," or "work with Pat on Hamlet review". These are then stuck into a time slot on my wall-size diary/calendar.
The exams themselves are never too bad either. Since this is a small university, you don't have to sit in a huge hall with thousands of other exam writers. Also, the professors are really nice about helping with exams; in the time leading up to one, most profs will set-up numerous review and help sessions. My advice is to go to all of them. You often find out what will be on the exam, or at least what the prof thinks are the most important things you should be able to do. It's only an hour out of your day and it goes a long way. I put all of these sessions onto my timetable.
Now I am back home. It's rainy and gray, as usual here in December. Luckily I got my flight two days before the huge snowstorm. I have been sitting around just reading, catching up with friends, going to indie rock shows, and of course shopping! I have also been hanging out at the piano a bit, which is extremely relaxing. No matter what you do though, just being able to sleep in and then not having to think about a test or project is very comforting.
But what makes me feel even better is thinking back to the beginning of the month. I know I've used my first University December as well as I've ever used any other month in my life so far.