"Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week."
— Spanish proverb
Do you tend to put assignments or research off till the last minute?
Do you always end up cramming for exams at 2 a.m.?
Do you wonder how it is that other people manage to get to class on time, with all reading and homework done, and still look like they've managed to sleep?
If any of these sound familiar... you may be suffering from
It's a common student disorder affecting up to 37% of students which, if left to run unchecked, may result in missed assignments, low grades, stress and the feeling that you'll never make it.
Don't suffer in silence! Speak out! (Or at least continue reading!)
So, let's start thinking.
Why do you procrastinate?
- Is it because you don't like the subject?
- You wanted to get more sleep/time with your friends?
- The subject overwhelms you?
- There's nowhere suitable to study?
- You don't feel like studying?
- You don't know how to study?
- You just have problems getting started?
So what's the cure?
- Let's start with the basics. To work effectively, you need a good study area. The actual area varies for most people - some people can only concentrate at a desk, other people work better sitting on their bed, in the library, or using a quiet corner in the local café.
- What's your study area? You should have somewhere you use consistently. Don't keep switching around, because you'll never get used to the idea that Place X is for Work.
- Now you've found your study area, have a look at it. Is it organized? Do you have access to everything you need (books, dictionary, internet, highlighters, note paper, etc.)?
- Are there any problems? Do you have a roommate who talks to you or plays music? Is the TV always on and distracting you? Is it too warm or cool? Is the lighting too bright or too dim? Are you too comfortable? (This sounds odd, but chairs that are *too* comfy encourage resting rather than working. You don't need to perch on a hard barstool, but don't kid yourself that you can work just as well lying on your bed in dim light.)
- Do you have a routine? Do you always put aside Thursday afternoons for studying? Have you told your friends this, so they know not to bother you?
"You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Look at what needs to be done. Have you started it at all? Is there anything you've already covered? The first step is often the hardest. Even writing the title on a piece of paper and jotting down some random thoughts about the topic may be enough to break the barrier.
- If you don't like the topic, and it's an elective - drop it. (If it's a required course you're stuck with it.) Transfer to something else that holds your interest. If you've procrastinated too long, and you can't drop or transfer, you'll have to take that course. And rather than failing through lack of work, you might as well do the best you can. So start a session working on something you like. Do something that's a fun course for you for a little while, then switch to your less-preferred work once you're in the swing of things. Then reward yourself with a treat afterwards - make some cookies, meet your friends, go to Starbucks... whatever you want.
- Admit that you won't always feel like studying. You probably don't often feel like cleaning your room, doing the laundry or taking out the garbage... but some things just have to be done regardless. It's usually not as bad as you think.
- If you're REALLY not in the mood to study - too easily distracted, feeling very stressed, can't concentrate - then take a break. No more than an hour, but do something fun or relaxing. Then go back and try to study.
Don't expect perfection the first time. Accept that there are some subjects you're better at, and acknowledge that in others you might not get an A. Don't feel too disappointed if your first term paper gets handed back with lots of
corrections suggestions from the instructor. No-one expects you to get it right first time around. (Yes, there's always ONE person in each class who manages it. If that's you, you don't really need this page.) Read the comments carefully, make sure you understand them - and the reason why - and incorporate the suggestions in your next paper. If you're not sure about something, or you genuinely disagree with the mark you got, speak to the instructor.
If you're not sure how to start studying, your academic advisor can help you. We also have some online resources for you which cover the major areas of memory techniques, how to take notes, and tips for successful test-taking.
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
— Douglas Adams
|Recognize the problem||I'm procrastinating again!|
|Figure out why you're putting it off||The library's too quiet/my dorm room's too noisy||There's too much to do, I'll never manage it|
|Think about those reasons - is there something there you can change?||I can study somewhere else||Actually, when I look at it, I can break this task down into smaller section|
|Change something||I'll move to the coffee shop/the library||If I do one bit a day, it won't take too long and I'll still get it done in plenty of time|
Don't beat yourself up if you find it hard to break this habit. It probably took a long time developing, and won't vanish overnight.
And no-one else can make you do this - university is about adult independence. You have to learn to be self-reliant and self-disciplined. Sometimes (and this is hard) you'll have to miss a party to finish a paper or do some research.
IT DOES PAY OFF IN THE LONG RUN.
- Enlist a friend to motivate you/act as study buddy
- Promise yourself a treat if you get it done in time
- Keep your study area tidy so you don't get distracted with cleaning/looking for a pen/finding your desk
- PLAN to do it
- Just start... Work for 15 minutes. Then give yourself a break
See? It's not that hard! Good luck!
Time management. One of those jargon phrases you keep hearing and it just sounds so... boring. And time management lectures sound like another oxymoron, just another way to waste time without learning something new, right?
Well, they can be. But there are a few tips that you may be able to use, and it doesn't take days or years to master them. Most just require a little bit of thinking on your part to see how you can change your habits to make the best use of your time.
For instance - if you find that you can only study during daylight hours, it's not generally a good idea to stay up each night till 4am gaming/chatting with friends and then sleeping till midday, giving you just an hour or two before class to get everything else (like taking a shower, eating, etc.) done. On the other hand, if you study best when everyone's asleep and your classes aren't first thing in the morning, you may want to adjust your sleeping pattern to stay up later so you can take advantage of the quiet times.
Before you start reading further, try this easy time management calculator to see where your time goes and how much spare time you have. You might be surprised!
I’ve done that - what now?
Think about how you normally study.
- How long can you concentrate without a break?
30 minutes? 50? 10? Take note, and arrange your study time accordingly. If you need a break every 15 minutes, take a short break. Walk around your dorm, or watch a cartoon. (This doesn't mean watch your favorite TV show and study during the commercials!)
- Do you take the bus or end up waiting for your ride home?
Take a book with you, and use those few minutes to read another chapter. Even 5 minutes twice a day can make a difference - that's almost an hour per week!
- Do you review the lecture material immediately after class?
This gives you the greatest chance of remembering the important details, and will make sure you really do understand it.
Creating a schedule
University is a very different experience from high school. No-one's going to make you do your assignments or turn them in on time. No-one's going to makeyou study or nag you if you don't. You will probably have 8-12 hours of classes, plus any labs or recitations, each week. And that's not everything. Each class will require at least 1-2 hours of self-managed reading or homework for the next class. Some classes will need more preparation than others - allow around 2 hours of individual study for each hour in the classroom.
One of the best ways to make sure you do everything, and don't waste time (so you can keep your social life!) is to prepare and use a time schedule. The purpose of the schedule is not to make you a slave to your desk or your planner, but to save you from last-minute cramming, missing class or homework, and having to repeat classes to get the grades you need.
How do I create a schedule?
Creating a schedule for yourself is easier than you think.
Most students find that they use a combination of long- and short-range planning.
For example, you can make a general plan for the semester marking out dates when classes start, last days for add/drop, dates for examinations and quizzes, and when grades are posted. This will help you get a general picture of when you need to complete certain tasks, and make sure you don't miss any academic deadlines. (There are even calculators to help you plan papers, such as this one from the University of Minnesota. It will even email you with reminders!)
Then prepare a more specific plan for either each week, or a general plan per week. This is really a short list of events that week and work that needs to be done. (This can include non-study activities too!)
If you want, you can then go on to make a short daily list (either the previous evening or first thing in the morning).
This has a number of benefits.
Mapping out your day means you're less likely to waste time running errands and forgetting items (and trying to remember them!), and also gives you a real sense of accomplishment.
It's easy to forget how much you do day-to-day, and to think you've not done anything at all. But when you write it down you might be surprised how much you cram into each day.
I want a more detailed schedule - how do I start?
- If you prefer having more detail in your plan, you can create a timetable for yourself similar to the one you probably had in high school.
- To start, try mapping out your week in hourly intervals (between, for example, 6am and 10pm - we'll assume you sleep between 10pm and 6am).
- Now write in the activities which have fixed hours each week and cannot be changed. Classes, recitations, labs; campus dining hours; your job; church; on-campus activities.
- Next, schedule your flexible commitments. This includes study sessions. Pick times when you won't be too tired, or when you're not likely to miss them for any reason. Make sure you schedule time for your meals!
- Lastly, schedule recreation, time with friends, TV shows and sports. The Rec Center is open from 5.30am till late during the week, so you've got plenty of time to get some exercise!
If you need to vary your schedule occasionally, remember to switch times rather than just take time away from study for something else. If you find yourself switching more often than not, change your schedule so it reflects your activities. You might need to rework it a couple of times before you find a schedule that works for you.
4 more suggestions
- You might find a To-Do list helpful, so keep a list of assignments, and prioritize them. Some will be shorter or easier so plan when you can do the others. Reading can be done almost anywhere, but some types of studying need more concentration.
- Try using a weekly/monthly planner. Write down all your classes, and include your study time for each class. Check your schedule each evening to make sure you're not surprised the next day!
- You can also use month/year planners for long term planning. If you know your instructor always sets a paper every 8th class, write it down so you can prepare!
- Invest in an organizer. This can be paper-based or electronic - the choice is yours. Whichever you pick, use it!
Time management tips
Here we have some quick tips for you.
- Schedule enough time for study (a little every day is better than a long session once a week).
- Be task oriented. Don't think "I'm going to study for 2 hours each night". Assign some time to each class, and use that time to review notes, do homework or complete preparation for the next class.
- Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to sleep! It's easy to cut into your sleep schedule when time is tight, but it's important to get enough rest.
- Plan study periods to fall immediately after the class when possible.
- Prioritize your assignments. Do the important ones first (those which are worth more marks, or are due earlier).
- Be realistic. Don't schedule yourself for 3 hours of study at 9am if you're barely awake in the mornings. If you find it easier to study in the afternoon, schedule your time accordingly.
- Don't turn on the TV unless there's something specific you really want to watch.
- Set aside specific time for studying. If you decide Mondays and Thursdays between 3-6 is study time, tell your friends that you don't want to be disturbed and ask them not to arrange anything for these times.
- Plan a weekly review session to go over what you've learned and make sure you understand it.
- Stick to your study schedule. Occasionally something will come up, like a family visit, which means you need to reschedule. Make sure you study at a different time instead, don't just ignore it that week!
Additional study tips
- Don't over schedule yourself! Leave some unscheduled time for flexibility.
- Break large tasks - like writing papers - into smaller chunks, and aim to complete at least one "chunk" every day or two.
- Make sure your study area is uncluttered and is a good place for you to concentrate.
- Make sure you know how to take notes properly.
- Use your free time between classes to review notes, or study the reading for the next class.
- Turn your phone off when you're studying, and resist the urge to leave yourself signed into IM or your email.
- Combine tasks. Borrow audiobooks from the library and listen to them in the car. Or record lectures on a digital recorder and use time walking to class to listen to key sections again on your MP3 player.
- Learn to compromise: postpone some events or activities if necessary, and share a task with a friend (for example, alternate taking notes and actively listening in class).
Tips for taking notes in the digital age
Now that we live in the digital age, you can make full use of the technology available!
Below are some suggestions for how it can help you.
- Record each lecture on digital recorder, and then burn them to a CD for repeated listening (or transfer them in MP3 format to your preferred MP3 player)
- Type an outline as you do the reading (or download lecture notes which are available online), and fill it in during class
- If you can't type well, handwrite notes and type them up later - this improves your knowledge retention AND typing skills!
- Take paper to class anyway - you might need to quickly sketch a diagram
- Use wireless internet to look up information you don't understand; resist the temptation to IM at the same time!
- Use a flash drive to download slides/Powerpoint presentations provided by the instructor before you leave the class
- Don't try to organize your notes as you go - save that for after the class
- Use a Wiki to create outlines, fill them in - and it will make links to other classes/articles for you
- Make use of online resources like Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia), Encyclopedia Britannica and Project Gutenberg (free books out of copyright, both fiction and non-fiction) - these are all good starting places for further research
Laptops don't have to cost a fortune. It's possible to get a fully-functional laptop which is ideal for writing papers and doing research for under $600. Ask the IT staff for specific recommendations to suit your needs.
Advantages of an electronic vs paper organizer
There are a few advantages if you choose to use an electronic organizer. This can be a PDA (such as a PalmPilot), a cell phone or something more exotic like a BlackBerry. Whichever you prefer, you should find that with regular use it can make organizing your life so much easier.
(price from $25 for basic options)
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