Managing your time means scheduling your time. Figuring out a schedule that works for you and keeps you moving forward involves planning ahead, creating a weekly schedule, and setting goals for the day.
At the start of a new semester or at the start of any significant marker of time (e.g., summer, winter break), take a moment to think about your goals and to take a broad view of the upcoming time.
Below are three steps you can take to get started on planning ahead.
Write down one or two goals in each area of your academic work. Some example specific semester goals are listed below.
- Dissertation – finish draft of chapter 2 and send out for comments.
- Publishing – draft lit review for paper with JR and PC.
- Professional Development – submit abstract for conference.
- Teaching – prepare new activity for math section.
- Connections – email scholar in my field with questions about their research.
With those goals in mind, determine when, how, and whether you can accomplish them during this time period.
- Use a physical bird’s eye view calendar or monthly calendar to map out deadlines and requirements for the semester (e.g., paper deadlines, exam dates, application deadlines, program requirement milestones, other major events). Here are instructions for creating a bird’s eye view plan.
- Or use an electronic color-coded calendar to map out the semester similarly or to map out one month.
- With the firm dates mapped out, take each goal you have identified, break it down into steps, and schedule those steps on your calendar. In this way, you can determine if your full set of goals is realistic.
- If they will not all fit into your calendar, then you know that you will need to prioritize the goals. Prioritizing your goals enables you to make a plan to accomplish the ones that matter most.
Recognize that there are things that you can and cannot control.
- Some of your work might depend on you staying healthy, on others completing their tasks, etc., so you need to be prepared to be flexible.
- Having a system to keep track of your long-term goals will help you not forget them and will help you reevaluate them and possibly reprioritize them, depending on what circumstances dictate.
- Be intentional in your assessment of your circumstances – some that seem beyond your control might not be as uncontrollable as you think.
- Be sure to enlist help from your adviser or your academic or social support network, if you do not think you can objectively assess the controllability of your situation. The Academic Resource Center is part of your academic support network; you can attend an ARC workshop on goal setting or time management or use the ARC Scheduler to make an appointment with an Academic Coach for individualized assistance with planning ahead.
In addition to taking a broad view of your time, it is also necessary to take narrower views of your time to keep moving ahead productively. Consider making a weekly schedule and setting daily goals.
Make a Weekly Schedule
Creating a plan for the week at the start of each week increases the odds that you will get your work done because a weekly schedule imposes structure on your time. It’s especially important when you are learning remotely and do not have the usual social and environmental cues (e.g., friends going to the library to study, showing up to lab every day) to provide that structure. A weekly schedule also helps you assess how much time you want or need to spend on various tasks and activities.
Below are four steps you can take to get started on making a weekly schedule.
Start with a blank Weekly Schedule that is broken into hour-long (or 30-minute) blocks.
Be sure to include all the things you need to do in a given day, not just your work.
- Wake up time.
- Focused work blocks scheduled for your hardest work when you are at your best.
- General work blocks for tasks that require less mental energy (e.g., responding to email).
- Classes, sections, lab, study group, meetings, etc.
- Free time.
- Buffer time.
Test your schedule out for a week and pay attention to how often you deviate.
- Identify when you deviate from your schedule.
- Try to assess why you deviated. For example, did you not allocate enough time for the task because a task was more time-consuming or harder than you thought it would be? Did you get distracted? Did you spend too much on an unimportant task?
Create a schedule for the next week that makes appropriate adjustments to support more reasonable expectations.
- To do this you might need to break tasks down further, use strategies to reduce distractions, divide your time differently, etc.
- If you would like help or an objective sounding board to make a weekly plan, attend an ARC workshop on scheduling your week or use the ARC Scheduler to make an appointment with an Academic Coach.
- As you near the end of the semeser, consider making a plan for all of Reading Period and Finals. You can use this Spring 2021 Final Exam Planning Calendar.
Set Daily Goals
Approaching each day with intention will enable you to get through the day without having to burden yourself with decisions throughout the day.
Using your Weekly Schedule, decide what you are going to do during the blocks of time you have mapped out.
- Decide in the morning (or the night before) what you are going to get done during the focused blocks of time that you have mapped out for that day in your weekly schedule. Put those specific tasks on your to-do list.
- Decide in the morning (or the night before) what you are going to get done during the general work blocks that you have mapped out for that day in your weekly schedule. Put those specific tasks on your to-do list.
Make the tasks on your to-do list achievable goals for the day.
- Failure to complete a planned task can decrease confidence and start a cycle of avoidance.
- Conversely, checking the boxes or crossing off achieved goals is hugely satisfying! Completing a task will motivate you to move on to the next one or even exceed your current goal.
Below are some specific strategies you can try out for staying on top your daily goals.
- Try using a daily block schedule.
- Make an actual to-do list – in a notebook, on an index card, on your computer.
- At the end of the work day, review your to-do list and enjoy looking at everything you got done.
If there are things that you did not get done, take a moment to reflect on why you did not get them done.
- Did you avoid a task for some reason?
- Did you underestimate how long other tasks would take?
- Did you have too many unexpected interruptions?
- Use these reflections to guide your plans for tomorrow.
If you are procrastinating on something important but not urgent, make one discrete task non-negotiable.
- Whether time-bound or task-bound, make sure the task is reasonable in time and difficulty.
- Examples include incorporating new comments into a draft, emailing a professor about a letter of recommendation, or spending one hour searching for sources for your research paper.
If you find it challenging to stick to your plan or to achieve your achievable goals, join an accountability group.
- Joining an accountability group will connect you with a community of peers, so together you can hold yourselves accountable for getting your work done.
- In addition to helping you stay on task, being part of an accountability group can help you practice setting achievable goals. That’s because most accountability sessions, including those at the ARC, start with stating your short-term goals, which gives you a chance to hear how others do this and to experiment with what works for you.
- To register for an accountability group, login to the ARC Scheduler with your HarvardKey.