One of the biggest changes students will find once they begin University is that they now have a new level of freedom in their day to day lives. While in sixth-form and college you may potentially have had a few hours/a day without classes, your University course may have two, three and perhaps even more days off as you enter your final years at university. Alongside this, you’ll typically find yourself having a couple of ‘reading weeks’ (no lectures) per term, and you’ll most certainly be breaking up for the year earlier than you ever have done. It’s tempting to use your free time to relax, but unlike school where you have teachers chasing you, at university it’s completely up to you to keep up with the work and manage your time efficiently.
Recent graduate Matthew Healey shares his four top tips on how to stay on track and manage your workload at university.
1. Strategise and Priortise
Your workload will vary depending on your course, but typically, you’re going to be taking 4-8 modules each year, some over both semesters, and some for only one semester. Unlike your lessons at college and sixth-form, the way you’ll be assessed will differ for each module, each having it’s own set of challenges. If you’re taking a module over both semesters assignments may not be a 50/50 split between autumn and summer. You might have a you may find the first term is geared towards learning, and you have a final exam in summer that’s worth 100% of your grade so it’s important to stay on top of your work.
Plan your weeks in advance in the lead up to the submission dates. Applications such as Google Calendar and Apple Calendar are free ways to easily stay on top of things and ensure that you know what you need to study and work on each day. If you don’t plan your work out, and wake up in the morning unsure what to do, you’ll find yourself scrambling around, wasting time working out what needs to be done today. By setting a schedule out ahead of time, you are ensuing that your day has a structure, and even if you don’t manage to get a lot of work done, you are making sure that the work isn’t being neglected entirely.
2. Keep Up With Your Reading
It can be often be an overlooked aspect of the course, but if your teacher requests you read a text or a book - make sure you do it! Just as writing an essay requires set-time, so does your research. Your lecturer has set you this text for a reason, and even if it’s might not pertain to what you want to talk about in your essay, it may contain a passage or phrase that might inspire you later on down the line.
Keeping on top off, and properly documenting, your research and reading will ensure that when it comes time to write your essay, you’re not desperately searching for sources. A lecturer will be able to tell the difference between a source that has been properly researched against a quote that has been grabbed from google and impaled into a paragraph to meet a bibliography quota. Alongside this, get your library books out early and scan those relevant passages! When it comes closer to crunch time, everyone on your course will be attempting to loan out the same books - don’t think it’ll be there waiting for you on the shelf.
3. Keep Your Room & Desktop Clean
Other than the library and cafe, your room is where you’ll most likely where you’ll be doing most of your studying, so it’s important that you make sure that your ‘work-place’ is clean and tidy. As Marie Kurie says, "Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.” When you have a messy room or desk, you’ll be constantly distracted, but with a clean room, you can focus on work and the real problem at hand. Even though it’s tempting to keep books out from the library just in case you need them, having them piled up on your desk isn’t just messy and distracting - it’s daunting. Pull out the relevant passages and quotes you need, store them on a computer or somewhere safe, and then take the book back to the library, you want to be able to easily access your notes, not be flicking through pages to find the relevant information.
It’s also been noted that those with cluttered room were also more likely to have sleeping problems, and in turn be more prone to suffering from depression. As Dr Pamela Thacher, a psychologist at St Lawrence University, New York notes, “'Hoarders typically have problems with decision making and executive function; poor sleep is known to compromise cognition generally.’ So if hoarders have cluttered or unusable bedrooms, and less comfortable, functional beds, any existing risk for cognitive dysfunction, depression and stress may increase as sleep quality worsens.”
As well as this, it’s important to keep stay organised digitally. If your desktop its cluttered with files, photos and videos, it’s going to be harder to find what is actually relevant to your work. Make use of the folders, and try to keep your work files and social files separate from another. Delete or tuck away programmes that you don’t use at least weekly, and consolidate applications that use similar functions.
4. Make Time For Your Social Life (But Learn To Say No)
While it’s true that you are there to get a degree, it’s highly important that you take care of yourself mentally and physically. When you’re planning ahead those weeks, make sure to put in some time to meet up with friends, make a call to your family, or try to get an hour of exercise in. University can be incredibly stressful, so it’s important to step away from the computer every now and then. It’s also important to learn how to say no, whether it’s your lecturer asking for help with an extra curricular activity, a boss asking you to do an extra shift at work, or friends pressing you to go out with them, sometimes you have to be able to say no - give yourself time alone away from studying to ensure that you’re in the best shape mentally you possibly can be.
By Matthew Healey, freelance writer, and recent masters graduate from the University of Arts London.