Do you find yourself 3 or 4 weeks into a semester feeling overwhelmed, disorganised and falling behind? Does it take you this long to start to get into a groove and then spend the rest of semester trying to catch up on the time you’ve lost?
When you start architecture or any university course you need to be organised. There is not going to be anyone holding your hand, looking over your shoulder or making sure that you are doing what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it.
You have to figure this out yourself. Unfortunately, productivity and time management seems to be one of those essential topics that often get overlooked in the school system.
Being organised and productive requires a complete system of planning and management that considers a number of different aspects of being organised and productive, including:
- Task Management | Identifying all the things you have to do at a high level, such as “complete a subject” as well as the smaller tasks to get there such as choose a topic, research, write an outline, create a bibliography, write a first, second, third draft, edit, format, and submits
- Time Management | Knowing when you have to do your tasks. This includes identifying deadlines, milestones, informal submissions and due dates, as well as estimating and managing the time it takes to complete a task.
- Effectiveness | The degree to which your work and your task meet the expected outcomes.
- Efficiency | How well you use your time to produce a result with minimum waste, expense or unnecessary effort.
It is important to understand where each element in your productivity system fits in.
A semester plan is like a birds-eye view or a complete overview of when things are due. It is identifying your big tasks and the time they are due.
This is not concerned with the detail of what you have to do for each assessment. It is not concerned with when exactly you are going to do the work.
A semester plan allows you to see everything that needs to be done and when it needs to be done…in one place.
Creating A Simple, Analogue Semester Plan
An analogue version is a physical, hard copy that you print out and carry around with you.
A one-page semester plan can be as simple as a list with each week numbered as a heading, and each major task included as a bullet point or line item underneath the relevant week. You can either type this up or print it out and write it out by hand.
Each task should include information about:
- The due date and time
- The subject
- The assignment
- (option) The format of the submission.
A more visual version includes a table with each week down the side and each day of the week across the top.
There is a link below to a template I created for you, or you can make your own. At the start of each semester, you can print this out or set it up for yourself.
Once you have your template created or printed out, you can:
- Create a legend or key and use a different colour or highlighter or code for each subject, including personal.
- For each subject you are taking, start to add the details for due dates of exams, assessments or presentations in each class.
- You might also want to come up with some kind of a code for repeating activities or tasks – such as an asterisk in your subject colour for a weekly lecture, or a circle for tutorials, which will always require some kind of work. This way you can quickly see at a glance all the tasks and activities that are occurring on a single day or a week.
- Include major personal activities and events during the semester that will take up large amounts of your time such as weddings or weekends away. This will show you the time that you do not have for your studies.
You can start to prepare this the week before classes if you have access to your subject outlines and assessment dates. Otherwise, after each class, you can fill it out. By the end of the first week, you should have a really clear summary and overall semester plan of what is due when.
Creating A Digital Semester Plan
You may already have some kind of digital task or time management system in place. A common one is Google Calendar or other digital calendar systems which I will talk about in more detail elsewhere. There are also here are plenty of free tutorial videos to help you get started.
Even if you are using a digital system like Google Calendar, while you are getting started, I highly recommend creating a simple page semester plan that summarises your overall tasks and major activities. It just gives you a different perspective that can get lost within other more complex task and time management tools.
Using And Managing Your Plan
Once you have your semester plan completed, I suggest you make multiple copies of it and put them where you are going to see them and need to use them. You can stick into the front of a hard-copy diary, or subject notebooks, pin-up above your computer, scan it into your phone, create a direct link to it on your desktop or even use it as a desktop background!!
Remember to update your plan if any changes occur which could happen. On rare occasions, a deadline may be changed or a class cancelled. Or, additional tasks or activities may come up which you can add to one place.
Psychologically, having this information organised is going to relieve a lot of potential stress and overwhelm. It will relieve your brain from trying to understand the big picture and the full extent of upcoming deadlines and submissions. It gives your brain a very quick understanding without having to repeatedly trawl through calendars and make sense of disconnected and disorganised information.
The benefits of having an overall semester plan are:
- You will very quickly be reminded of where you are in the semester and what you are currently working on.
- You can use this semester plan as a guide when you sit down to plan each week and even each day.
- It helps you see where you might have multiple submissions in a particular week or even day and reminds you that you will need to allow for this in the weeks beforehand.
- It helps you decide if you are available at certain times for other activities and events that might come up and impact your workload.
Creating a semester plan is one of the simplest and most effective activities you can do to start to improve your organisation and productivity. If you only make one change in your next semester, this is a good tool to implement.
As you make this more of a habit, you can start to add other organisation and productivity tools to your workflow. Remember, you’re not going to be perfect straight away. Productivity, task and time management are just more skills that you can learn and develop over your studies and career.
Taking the time to do a little bit of planning at the start of the semester will make a big difference over time.
Liz at ArchiMash
PS… If you have any specific questions or comments about planning your semester or productivity in general, I would love to know. You can ask me here at archimash.com/askliz.