Use A Diary
I know it sounds obvious, but a diary is an absolutely necessary tool for effective planning. It doesn’t matter if you use an electronic version or a traditional book-based option, but, get one you must. I actually use both types as I like to be able to set alerts on my phone for important tasks that I absolutely can’t forget, but I also use a paper version that I can write physical To-Do List in.
Plan For The Week
At the beginning of each week, preferably a Sunday evening, sit down with your diary (electronic or otherwise) and start to think about what lies ahead for the next 7 days. You cannot possibly be effective if you don’t know what is in your schedule, taking each day as it comes is not an option for success, only failure. Create your To-Do Lists from here, prioritising what needs to be done by when. Once you’ve pulled together your plan for the week, you simply break it further down into daily tasks.
In addition, I set myself monthly and 90-day plans, which are also vital tools but if you start with a weekly/daily plan then evolving to longer term strategies will come naturally.
To-Do or Action Lists
It’s important to break down your To-Do List into sections, I generally have 3 lists:
This way you will have complete clarity and the lists won’t overwhelm you. Even though I am a student of Digital Marketing, I am traditional in my list making and prefer to use a good old fashioned A4 desk diary into which I add my daily lists. This proves to be effective as it keeps my lists to one page and avoids them becoming too daunting.
I also add a note, usually in capital letters, at the top of each page if there is something that is absolutely vital for that day, this could be a deadline or even a birthday you want to remember. I generally highlight this in a different colour to ensure I don’t miss it.
I start by making headline action points for everything I need to achieve by the end of the week and then split that up across the relevant days, bearing in mind exactly what actions must be completed by when. For example, if I have a tutorial on Thursday that requires advance reading, there is no point in me scheduling this into my plan for Friday – common sense. Always look ahead to when your deadlines are when creating To-Do lists.
Make a list for each day of the week – the only way to complete tasks is by breaking them down into smaller actions.
I use a highlighter to signify the most important/urgent tasks for each day or week and concentrate on those first. It’s very easy to look at an action list and hit the tasks you enjoy or find easy first, but you must prioritise and not procrastinate. The highlighted tasks will catch your attention and make you allocate your time accordingly.
When given an assignment or piece of work I always plan backwards. I start with the deadline date and plot the tasks I need to complete in order to reach that deadline on schedule, working back each day to the present date. For example, if I have an essay that is due in 30 days I start by creating my essay plan, you can read more about this in later articles (subscribe here so you don’t miss out on future information). I then allocate each part of that plan to the 30 days prior to deadline in priority order. This way there are no last-minute panics or shocks that I’ve missed something because every step has been plotted in reverse order with the aim of reaching the deadline with room to manoeuvre if I hit any bumps along the way.
Always give yourself a few extra days when planning just in case you encounter issues during the schedule.
Strike Through Completed Tasks
Completing a task on a list is incredibly satisfying, physically striking through that action gives me utter joy. I think that is the main reason I mostly write lists on paper rather than electronically. Take pride in every strike through you carry out – use a different coloured pen if it helps, the more you cross off your list the better you will feel and the closer you will come to realising your goals.
Give yourself a little reward when you’ve completed certain tasks. If, by the end of the week all your To-Do lists have been actioned, reward yourself with something special, it could be a glass of wine or a trip to the cinema – whatever makes you happy. Set your rewards so you have something to look forward to and are able to celebrate your success. When you start the planning process reward yourself often with small things and as you become a planning expert perhaps make the rewards less often but more significant.
Your mind may be buzzing with thousands of great ideas and plans but you absolutely must be realistic with yourself about what is achievable. If you only have a short amount of time available don’t allocate too many tasks to that day as you’ll just be frustrated and disappointed when you don’t achieve everything you hoped. Work out at the beginning of the week how much time you can spend on each area of your life and plan accordingly to avoid failure and stress. Spread your tasks sensibly over your days depending on the time available, adding more work to days where you don’t have lectures is a good idea.
Add Uncompleted Tasks To the Next Day’s To-Do List
Don’t be too hard on yourself if there are some tasks that you haven’t completed by the end of the day. Hopefully, you will have achieved the important ones that you have highlighted but, just make sure any uncompleted actions are added to the next day’s task list. Keep an eye on this though – you don’t want it to become a habit, it can be dangerous and will have a significant impact on achieving your goals.
Divide Larger Tasks
There is nothing more off-putting than viewing an action plan with several huge tasks on it – this can be so intimidating that you simply switch off altogether. Take each larger task and break it down into smaller chunks, splitting them up over several days if necessary and time allowing. It may take you a little longer to make your lists, but you’ll reap the benefits when you can achieve lots of small successes that added together create the completed target.
Allocate Time Effectively
For me, this is the most difficult part of planning, allocating time to each task can be tricky. Think about how long similar tasks have taken you in the past and use that as a template for the future actions you need to achieve. Make sure you give each task enough time to complete and that you’re sensible in how many jobs you can do in the hours you have available.
Don’t Become Distracted
When creating your plans and carrying out your actions, avoid all distractions. The only way to do this, for me, is to turn off my phone. We all know how our time can get sucked away by social media, emails and messages. You will be far more effective is you switch off and concentrate on the task, absorb yourself in your action plan and you’ll get it done far more quickly than if you let your phone win.
I love Post-It notes. There is nothing more effective in making sure you stick to a plan than having a key task written on a Post-It note on your wall. I also use them to remind me of things I must complete the next day or items I have to remember to take to University. I write the reminder on the Post-It and stick it on the inside of my front door so it’s the last thing I see before I leave the house. This works for all sorts of events, even holidays – I’ve often placed a Post-It on the front door saying “Passports”. A guaranteed failure prevention – without Post-It notes and lists I don’t know where I would be.
Alexa – or other Virtual Assistant
Alexa is my friend! I didn’t think I’d ever say something so ridiculous but it’s true, she really is because she helps me plan – or rather helps me not forget, which is very much part of the planning process too. I create lists with Alexa, then when I remember something I want to add I simply ask her to add the task to that specific list. She efficiently sends my request to my phone, so I have it with me all the time. If you don’t already have a Virtual Assistant, I seriously recommend you buying one. They aren’t too costly and with Amazon you can buy an Echo Dot and spread the cost interest free over 5 months.
As I have mentioned above, I prefer my lists to be on paper, so I always transfer what I have told Alexa to my paper list as soon as possible – this way I get the satisfaction of the physical strike through when the task is complete too.
Alexa works great with shopping lists as well – I have one in my kitchen so when I run out of groceries I just tell her to add it to my shopping list and then when I’m in the supermarket I don’t forget what I need because my clever little friend has added my list to my phone. Genius!
Plan your Outfit And Pack Your Bag
There is nothing worse than rushing around in the morning with a 9am lecture ahead of you without a clue of what you are going to wear. Or, worse still, what you want to wear is in the laundry basket. Plan your outfit the night before to avoid the last-minute rush or multiple indecisive clothes changes. It’s also important to pack your back the night before with everything you need for the next day. You will definitely forget something vital, like your laptop charger if you leave it until the morning, although as mentioned before Post-It notes do certainly act as great reminders!
In Summary –
- Use a diary
- Plan a week ahead
- Make To-Do Lists
- Plan backwards
- Strike through completed tasks
- Reward yourself
- Be realistic
- Add uncompleted tasks to the next day’s list
- Split larger tasks down
- Allocate time effectively
- Don’t get distracted
- Post-it notes
- Virtual Assistant
- Plan your outfit in advance
- Pack your bag the night before
The fact that you’ve chosen to read this article is great advancement towards becoming a more effective planner. Every little step you take towards organising yourself will increase your productivity and effect your grades significantly.
Good luck with making the changes in the way you study to accommodate the above and let me know your results. Please feel free to get in touch either by commenting below or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to hear your planning tips.
If you know anybody who could benefit from this information please share with them, the more planners out there, the more successful we will all become.
Thanks for reading.
The Voice of The Mature Student Tribe