In my recent blog post, about how I achieved great grades without working all that much, I mentioned that being organised is one of the biggest keys to my success. That post was actually incredibly well received (so far, it’s been read over 200 times!), so thank you very much, guys! Due to its popularity, I decided to get a bit deeper into the topic. Telling you that you should get organised is all fine and dandy, but if you’ve been everything but organised your whole life, you’re not going to magically change at the snap of the fingers. Hence this post – a first step to getting your life a bit more in order.
I’m not sure I would have gotten where I am with being organised if it wasn’t for Mr Arguably Honest. It was him who sat me down and made me plan my week. I owe my sanity to him – the winter term was absolutely crazy for me, and if I didn’t get organised very early on, I’d be crying very sad tears around the exam time.
Today, it will be the absolute basic human skill that I will bring you – planning your week so that you get the maximum out of your time and don’t end up waking up tired after 8h of sleep, because you didn’t give yourself enough time to rest in the evening (true story, it happened to me). What we will work on today is your regular schedule – so something you prepare for a longer period of time, not every week. I used mine for the whole term.
The first step is to take a piece of paper, leave the fancy weekly planners or your iCal for later (I love iCal cause OMG colour coding). For now you just need an outline. You will now make 3 lists – they can be in columns, one by one in one column, you can draw them, you can make a mind map. It really doesn’t matter as long as the end result is 3 lists.
The first list is things that you absolutely must do no matter what. This will be work, lectures, extra piano lessons, daily training sessions for the Olympics. Write down the times and dates when they take place.
The second list is things you need to do or really want to do. E.g. there’s no set number of study periods in a week that you must do, but you do need to put some time aside for university work. It can also be gym sessions (exercising is really important for keeping your brain going), writing a blog. Basically things you want to prioritise and you feel you really need to find time for every week. Next to those write down how many times a week or how many hours a week you’d like to do them e.g. my plan included exercising twice a week.
The third list is all the things you would like to do if only you have spare time. It can be anything that is not essential to your happiness and success, but that will bring you joy if you do get to do it.
So now you have all the activities that you want to perform during the week. If you have a complicated schedule of things from the first list (e.g. you’re a student with classes all over the place), below your lists write those out. And I mean every class you have, every shift you work. All has to be there in writing or you’ll miss something out.
Now it’s time to decide some of the other important bits. You need to decide what will be your ‘finish line‘ i.e. the time you stop working. It’s a very important decision, because I really do recommend actually sticking to it very religiously. Of course, you can adjust it over time if you really have to, but I didn’t see a need to do it. Having a finish line helps you stay on track during the day, and is also a little bit of a saviour – if you know that after a certain hour there no longer will be work to do, no task seems impossible to achieve. It gives you a feeling of the hard task being temporary and the rest time being permanent. Lovely peace of mind, I tell you.
I personally went for a 7pm finish. To give you a bit of a background, I wake up round 9am (or earlier, if I’ve a morning class) and go to bed around 12-1am. So I get around 5 hours of me time every day. Sounds pretty good, right? And all that while working, studying, a bit of socialising and cooking real meals (not heating up microwave dinners). You need to decide what time will be perfect for you. If you’re an early riser, 5pm might be a better choice for you, or if you wake up at noon, you might want to finish closer to 9pm. All depends on your circumstances.
The important thing is, this time is sacred. 95% of the time you’re meant to actually finish by the finish line time. So unless the ground is burning, there’s an emergency at work or someone is sending you their part of group coursework in the middle of the night instead of by the pre-agreed deadline (happened to me…), there are no excuses to finishing late. If you consistently can’t manage to finish by then, you need to reconsider your working habits, or possibly moving the finish line ever so slightly later.
You should also have a day off during the week. I don’t know what it is with parents that they think as students we should study 7 days a week. My mom is always surprised when she calls me on Sunday, asking if I have a lot to do today, and I tell her I intend to do precisely no work all day. Full time workers (at least in office jobs, service and stuff like that is of course different) do not work on weekends. And those who do, have other days off. There is no working effectively if you do not get to rest. If you don’t think it’s true, write this sentence down somewhere and look at it till you believe it. So one day off a week. For me it’s Sunday, but it can be any day that works for you. It’s also good to establish a nice ritual that will make you look forward to that day and make you less tempted to do any work. It could be a nice brunch, a trip to cinema, a walk in the park, afternoon tea with friends. It could simply be anything from your third list.
Now we get to the fun part! Actually putting it all together into a coherent weekly schedule. Just keep in mind it’s ok not to get it perfectly right at the first go. You might need to tweak it a bit in the first few weeks. It’s ok. The most important thing is you get some sort of a frame that you can work with.
Now write down all the days of the week, however is comfortable – in columns, or in lines, leaving 2-3 lines between each day.
First, put in the stuff from the first list. That’s not movable so it needs to be there before other stuff.
Now input lunch breaks around those activities. It should at the similar time every day, at least that’s what the diet people say. If you’re at work all day, you can skip scheduling in lunch at all, it’s obvious you will have it at some point.
Now time for your second list. This will be the most tricky as these things are fairly flexible but still need to be there. If you go to fitness classes, check your gym’s timetable and see what times suit you best. Schedule those in. See where you can input your study periods, so that they’re not piled on, too short, too long or many of them on days when you have tiring classes (e.g. I found French lessons more tiring than Maths lectures, it might be the other way round for you). It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – it can take time, but it’s so satisfying when you get it right.
You’re almost done. The only thing left is your third list. I’d recommend that instead of scheduling in particular activities, you schedule in ‘free periods’, where you can do any of them. Or don’t schedule those in at all, just leave them for past your finish line.
And now your weekly schedule is ready. Awesome! Give yourself time to tweak it and make it perfect, but you will soon see that even an imperfect plan is going to make your life much less stressful, frantic and you’ll suddenly discover that you can afford to have soooooo much free time.
When you’re ready, you can make your schedule supper pretty. Draw it, put it in a calendar, or make a weekly plan on your computer. Here’s mine.
I hope you found this little guide helpful. If you do, maybe you could share it with your disorganised flatmate or forever tired mum? Just a thought ;)
Cover photo by Sanwal Deen.