For the most of us, this is the first week back to class but for some, it is your very first time in university. In fact, it might be your first year in Australia! First of all, welcome to Brisbane and I hope you find home at QUT. Also, congratulation for getting this far!
University is a great place to discover your passion and potential as well as your weak spot. Being at university is a testing ground and a safe place to explore what you can accomplish. With this newfound sense of freedom comes responsibility and it can get overwhelming. Hence, I want to dive into some of the challenges that I and many other students face all the time so you don’t feel out of place if you find yourself in the same rut.
One thing I realised straight away was that my uni schedule was the polar opposite to typical high school hours. In high school (well at least in Brisbane), we start at 9am and go home by 3pm. However, a typical week schedule at university is like the one below. At times we get long breaks in-between or none at all and sometimes we may get awkward one hour classes (and we contemplate whether to go to it!). If you are working part time or if you are a mum/dad who decided to continue your studies- the gaps can be a little tricky too. The gaps can be dangerous because that is a space where we can easily waste time especially if we are a full time student with no other commitments and it is definitely not ideal when the semester starts to pick up its pace.
An example of a class schedule.
(TIP: I do not recommend cramming but sometimes timetabling does it for you and you have no choice)
For some reason, time flies very quickly when we start university which means we need to learn to maximise our time and maintain productivity. Some important skills I knew I needed to foster in order to stay ahead was task allocation, time management and endurance. I still struggle and mess up even till today but I can tell that I am building up these skills and it is serving me well not only as a student but also as an employee. I feel the need to emphasise the word “building” because we have to be consistent and practise these skills until it becomes a habit. Don’t freak out if you wake up late one day or miss the bus to uni or slack off on a Saturday morning. Time management is neither a superpower nor magic, it is not usually an innate ability but we can definitely train ourselves.
My essentials for time management:
A general planner: This is the most important item for me. In this planner, I write down meetings, appointments, hang outs, family affairs, classes, events, workshops and the like. The main role for this planner is for me to see where I need to be for the week so I don’t double book a meeting or miss a class or forget to attend a seminar etc. This planner is small, light, compact and easy to carry around.
General planner a.k.a the WHERE book.
As you can see, I write down the time first followed by the event and the venue. I also include a tick box just so I can mark it when I am done. This will give a sense of accomplishment and would encourage me to keep going about my day.
To- Do List a.k.a the WHAT book.
To- Do List: The best time to sort out a to-do list is at night before bed or the first thing in the morning. In this notebook, I write down everything I need to do. What I used to do after that was to simply choose one and do it but that doesn’t equal productivity. The second step after writing the tasks down should be sorting it out between high and low priority. After allocating the tasks, I would further review the high priority section and make an asterisk on maximum three things I need to get done on that day. This step will narrow things down to the smallest job as possible and before you know it, you have accomplish your daily goals! If you are up for it, then put three more asterisk and complete the task.
Sometimes I would add an action section, a shopping list or a reminder for things that are not urgent. I apply this method to my work and placement to-do list as well. I have a total of three to-do list because compartmentalising works for me. I don’t like mixing work with uni and my personal life just because it can get very overwhelming. Why don’t I just use an app? Well, I like writing things down so if you find a good app then go for it – I am just more old school.
Assignment planner: This is specifically for assignments and I would usually do this from Week 1. First, I will write down all the assignments in the first two pages so that I can have easy access to view what assignments I have without needing to search each subject individually. This can be very tedious in the beginning but it is worth it! Then, I will arrange the due date of assignments chronologically on the next page. So that gives me a timeline that is easy to follow.
Example of a semester overview.
Because my general planner is always with me, I make sure to write or make a note for each due date on the monthly and weekly pages. I have a yearly overview as well but instead of writing it down because of lack of space, I will either highlight or decorate with a small sticker just so I know an assignment is due.
An example of a visual reminder for my assignments.
As you can see, I have two assignments due on the 24th of April and having a visual reminder will assist my progress over the weeks. I can adjust how much work I need to get done on other assignments, if I can spare some free time or whether I need to gather all my focus and cut down on leisure depending on the workload.
Hopefully when you adopt some of these tools, it will help you learn how to fill the gaps between classes wisely or how to organise huge projects into small daily tasks and realistic goals. These methods have really helped me to get all my work done and I really mean it! Yes! You don’t have to worry about sacrificing sleep, in fact, you can even afford a nap. I have not pull an all-nighter since high school and I don’t intend to do any in the future.
We have discussed task allocation (to-do lists, high and low priorities etc) and we have talked about time management (having planner, creating weekly and monthly timelines etc). Writing tasks down and making our planner look pretty is super easy – anyone can do it. The deal breaker is our attitude and character towards completing what we say we will and what is given to us. A way to keep ourselves accountable it to treat university like being at work and what do we need to do to keep a job? We turn up, we show up on time, we meet deadlines, we find our way to be organised, we keep our word, we push ourselves a little bit over the usual and we contribute. It does take awhile to master it all, but if we start now I can guarantee it will pay off in the long run.
Here’s to Semester 1, 2017! For those who have just started, enjoy the ride! For those who are graduating soon, thank you for making uni great – we hope you share your knowledge with the rest of the world!