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Using Your Time Wisely: How to Manage Your Personal and Educational Priorities During the School Week

Posted on Friday October 26, 2012 by Staff Writers

Winner of Best Colleges Online’s 2012 Online College Professor of the Year contest LeAnne Prenovost will be blogging for Edventure Calling throughout the school year on issues that new online students face.

As a new online student, I realized that time management was important. Armed with my calendar, I planned and penciled in my devoted “school times” each week. While this looked impressive on the calendar, I struggled with how to best use the times I set aside for studying. I tried different ways of attacking the weekly workload and eventually found a process that worked – a scheduling process based off something I’d learned in nursing.

Prior to the beginning of a new school week, I would spend a few minutes preparing for the upcoming week, which helped me lay the groundwork for my plan of attack that would enable me to complete my work for the week. My goal was to spend my limited time wisely and earn the most points possible on assignments, and here’s how I managed to do just that.

Assess:

Assess what school work is due that week, including readings, discussion questions, participation posts, and assignments. Also, make note of any personal and professional obligations you may have. This will give you a general idea of how busy you can expect your upcoming week to be. Now, list the days and times you have available to devote to school.

Determine:

Determine how you can best manage that time. Prepare a list of school requirements for the week, with the highest weighted assignments, the ones that will give you the most points, at the top of the list. This helps you to visualize where you should focus your time in order to earn the most points possible. Here is an example of a weekly priority list:

  • Paper due on day seven – 25 points
  • Participation posts due four days during the week – 4 points (one point per day)
  • Discussion question #1 due on day three – 1 point
  • Discussion question #2 due day five – 1 point
  • Required readings for the week – 0 points

Additionally, determine if any of your weekly obligations will interfere with assignment due dates. For example, if you know you have a function Wednesday night and a discussion question due, make sure your plan includes completing the discussion question by Tuesday night.

Plan:

Plan how to best fit your school obligations and personal life together for that particular week – I liked to have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

Plan A: I used this plan if it looked like I was facing a reasonable week without a lot of extra obligations. It involved proactively doing and completing all schoolwork for the week without skimping on any aspect.

Plan B: I put this plan into action if my week was going to be fairly busy with some extra obligations. It involved working to get all requirements done right on time. The plan also involved cutting down on the required readings, skimming trough them, and thoroughly reading only necessary information needed to complete assignments.

Plan C: This plan was implemented when I had a very busy week ahead. It involved doing my best to get the highest-scoring assignments completed on time and communicating with my instructor if I was running behind. I’d also cut out any unnecessary personal or professional obligations for the week and only read the materials needed to complete assignments. Since there are not technically points attached to reading, this is when I had to cut corners. Yet, I still made sure I knew where to find and review necessary information if needed in upcoming weeks.

Implement:

Implementation involves putting the plan into action through the following steps:

  1. Be proactive. Stay ahead of the game. As you plan your week’s schedule, build in some buffer time for “what if’s”. Build your schedule with the anticipation of completing and submitting assignments and discussion questions one day early. Plan to have discussion questions completed a day prior to the end of the week. Then if “life happens”, as it will, you are not stressed out. For example, I used to do one participation post each morning as my coffee was brewing. Taking advantage of some pockets of time can also maximize total study time and amount of work accomplished.
  2. Be organized. I’d also save my schedule, discussion questions, and the paper due that week to my desktop, so when I logged into my computer, everything for the week was right there in front of me. I did not have to go digging though my document folders on my computer. Something else I discovered is that my brain does not work well on demand; I need some time to consider topics. Therefore, I would email myself as well as print out the weekly discussion questions and assignments. This helped the material to marinate in my brain, so I could just jot down any thoughts or ideas that came to mind. When I did sit down to do my discussion questions or assignments, I had a good idea of the direction I wanted to take.
  3. Multitask when possible. Review all assignments and discussion questions for the week, because these questions are often based on information you will need for major assignments due later in the week. While you are reading material to answer discussion questions, you can also obtain content for your paper or presentation.
  4. Manage assignments or they will manage you. For the major weekly assignment, make sure to review all possible information sources. Check the syllabus, any specific weekly instructions, lecture materials, and grading rubric associated with the assignment(s). For example, if I had a paper due, I’d take this list of requirements and build a “skeleton” of my paper early in the week. I’d start my title and reference pages, and then list headings in the paper of the required content areas. I’d print out or email myself the skeleton so if I came across any ideas or information that I wanted to use for my paper, I could jot down notes or add ideas and work on the paper little by little during the week.

Evaluate:

Is the plan working or did the plan work? The nice thing about this type of planning process is that it is an ongoing process. You can (and should) evaluate and make changes in the middle of the week or as things come up. Remember to be flexible too, as your weekly plan is not “set in stone”. I’ve had many students go to great lengths to plan out their week on Sunday night and Monday morning the plan implodes as a situation or circumstance outside of their control occurs. At that point, all you can do is quickly revise and adjust the plan from A to B or B to C and do the best you can to ensure you have a productive week.

Hear more from Professor Prenovost!