Time management tips for top grades

By Ashleigh Viveiros

As the homework starts to pile up, two simple words separate the freaked-out, stressed-out students from the (slightly) less-stressed ones: time management. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Get (and use) a planner
Don't let the deadlines for assignments, readings, or - heaven forbid - essays sneak up on you unawares. Read through every course outline at the start of each term and jot down important deadlines and early reminders for all your coursework so you'll always know when a busy week is looming.

Make to-do lists
To keep even more on top of things, compile your upcoming assignments into daily, weekly, and even monthly to-do lists and put them up somewhere you can't miss them so you always know what you should be working on or preparing for. And enjoy the satisfaction that comes from crossing things off your ongoing lists!

Get an early start
Just because a paper isn't due until the end of the month, that doesn't mean you have to wait until crunch time (read: the night before) to get it done. If you find yourself in the midst of a relatively slow homework week, get a jump on the stuff that's due in the weeks to come (consult your long-term to-do list).

By getting into the habit of working just a week or two ahead of the deadlines, you'll always have a buffer zone should the unexpected happen (an illness, family emergency, or even just a major delay in getting research materials from the library).

Starting early on some essays, by the way, will also mean you'll get the jump on your classmates when it comes to taking all the good books/journals out of the library. And, in some cases, you may even be able to hand in an early draft of your thesis (or your entire paper) to your professor for suggestions on how to make it better.

Have a plan
Just knowing what's due when isn't really good enough - you also need to know how you're going to get all this stuff done in the first place. Using your calendars and to-do lists, prioritize your work based on its overall importance (a mid-term essay versus reading a chapter in your textbook, say) and its deadline (an assignment due tomorrow versus one due later in the week), and then figure out exactly when (and maybe where) you're going to work on each assignment.

Remember to work in time for regular breaks (not to mention eating, sleeping, and other commitments), and try to be realistic about how long various assignments are going to take to complete. If you can, it's often best to break larger assignments up into smaller, more manageable chunks that can be tackled over the course of a day or week.

Depending on your own study preferences, you also might want to either mix things up - plan to work for a couple of hours on your philosophy paper, than take an hour to polish off that novel for English, and then review the dates for your history test - or to solely focus on each task for however long it takes to get it finished (just be sure to tackle the work you're least looking forward to first, so you have the "fun" stuff to work towards). Only you know what works best for you.

A good study plan will go a long ways towards staving off procrastination, by the way, since you'll always know what your supposed to be doing at any given time/day, rather than wasting time freaking out about how much you have to do, and wondering how you're going to get it all done.

Make it count
There's really no point in making and sticking to a study plan if you're just going to have to do it all over again. Sometimes, the best time management is simply ensuring you're able to do your best work the first time around. To that end, make sure your study area is free of distractions, that you have everything you need to do the work, and that you're mentally prepared to give it your all. Take a good look at when you're most alert - are you a night owl or an early bird? - and schedule your most difficult studying/assignments for that time.

Don't do too much
Never take on more courses than your can reasonably expect to handle - avoid taking much more than a full-course load in any given semester, and, if necessary, consider scaling back to slightly less than a full load if you're struggling. Ideally, you should also try to balance out your semesters so you don't have all your most challenging courses at the same time.

And while non-academic pursuits are integral to your overall well-being, it's often your social/work/volunteer life that will need to take a hit in order for you to better focus on your schoolwork. Maybe you can't go to a movie Friday night because you have a paper due Monday morning - but, if you get your paper written on the weekend, you can use a Sunday night outing to reward yourself for your hard work. It's all about priorities, balance, and common sense.

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