Last week I began classes, but I already feel like I’m overwhelmed with homework. I spent the bulk of the weekend doing the work, and I still have more to do. I know I need to work on managing my time better. Do you have any advice for me? What do you do?
This is an excellent question and one that I am so happy you are asking at the beginning of the semester. Juggling different classes and all of the coursework that comes with them can be very daunting, especially if you don’t plan ahead. This is something I learned the first week of my freshman year, when I spent that entire first weekend drinking pots of coffee while sitting for countless hours in front of my computer answering multiple discussion posts, taking three quizzes, writing a reflection paper, and reviewing an assigned article. I’ll never forget that weekend. I cried. I literally broke down and cried! I wondered why in the world I would have signed up to subject myself to that much stress. I kept saying, “What was I thinking?” No, I take that back. I kept yelling, “WHAT WAS I THINKING WHEN I DECIDED TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL?”
That weekend taught me something: To make sure I made the most of the time I had available. I remember sitting and talking with my husband, Garrick, and saying, “I wish I would’ve started on this work earlier. I could have even done some of the homework on days that I had class.” I had to be honest with myself. There was plenty of time during the week that I could have focused on homework, but since it was just blocks of time, I kept seeing the weekend as a more viable option. I didn’t realize how that would lead to an enormous amount of stress because I had so much to complete in just those two days.
I made the conscious decision to never paint myself into that corner again. I decided I had to get organized, and the very first thing that needed to happen was I needed to buy a calendar. I went to the store and purchased a large, wall-mounted, dry erase calendar, and I hung it in my office. Before I began, I decided on my “homework time.” This was the time each day that I knew I could devote to homework. Immediately, I began recording my class schedule on the calendar, along with some assignments and their due dates, but something didn’t seem right. It still looked jumbled to me. You see, I was writing everything down with the same colored pen, nothing stood out.
I went back to the store and bought a pack of different colored dry erase markers. When I came home, I assigned each class a different color, and then I began writing things down. I chose the color blue for the first class. I wrote down all of the nights I had class and underlined those to show that those were class nights, not assignments. Then, using the syllabus from that class, I began to place my assignments onto the calendar on their due dates.
That’s when I stopped and reflected on the past weekend.
The problem I had wasn’t making sure assignments were turned in on time. It was giving myself plenty of time to get the assignments completed, without causing unneeded stress. So I began to plot the assignments not based on due dates but based on the time it took to complete them. I also made sure I had flex time to make any edits or adjustments to the assignments before I turned them in. I added study time onto the calendar to prepare for quizzes. For large assignments, like research papers, I wrote down the date that I wanted to have my research collected by, the date I wanted to have the outline written, the date that I wanted to write my rough draft, and so on. I broke things apart, so I would have time to complete each assignment or quiz and still have time for myself and my family.
I repeated this process for recording my other classes and coursework onto the calendar, as well, using different colors for each class. As assignments were completed, I would cross through them with a black marker. When I turned in the assignment, I would erase it off the board. Each and every day was scheduled, and I knew what I was working on each day. Yes, there were times when I had to make adjustments, but with the calendar and the way I had scheduled everything, it was easy to do.
This one simple task of writing everything down on the calendar completely changed the ballgame. My stress lifted. I knew what I had to do and when. I could plan events with friends and family and still have time for me. I knew my availability each and every day, and that was wonderful! If, for some reason, I finished an assignment early, I would use the extra time to get a jumpstart on a different assignment. I was always ahead of the game, and it felt amazing!
Now, I am in my senior year. The calendar has gone digital, since I did eventually wear out the one on the wall. I still color-code each of my classes, even going so far as to change the color-coding of the course in Canvas (do this by clicking on the three dots at the top of the course box on your dashboard).
Getting organized is one of the reasons why I believe I have been able to maintain a 4.0 GPA, even when I was juggling three jobs and a full load of classes.
I promise, if you make the conscious effort to organize your time, you will reap the benefits of not only completing all of your assignments before they are due but also doing so while maintaining your sanity.
As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.
Do you have a question about Mercer or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.