Secret time, I never read or paid much attention to syllabuses. I would spend most of my time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. The other half of the time, I would be reworking assignments that I had done incorrectly. It was the truest form of learning through failure.
When I started my doctorate program, I saw the light. Having a family and full-time job, my time was limited; errors and mistakes could derail me quickly. I broke down and finally read the syllabi for my next semester’s classes. It was the blueprint—the code on how to pass the class with ease. I kick myself for not doing this sooner.
Now, the syllabus represents the base document for a project. They list all the actions needed to take and the assignments given. Typically, it tells you what to read and by when. Good syllabi even tell you the quality standards to adhere to and reference a grading rubric for how written papers are graded.
The first step is to build your timeline. Many times, the syllabus has already completed 80% of this. You then get to add in the details of what else needs to be completed. This consists of planning the study time, research, and quality checks. This prevents you from being in the portion of the class that must turn into a 20-page paper tomorrow, when they haven’t even begun the research.
You have a life outside of school; even the most studious of students do. This brings an impact or constraint to your semester plan. These are the external items that will overlap with going to school, ranging from work and athletics to family commitments, and trips. These are all good things to do, and you shouldn’t have to set them aside because you’re too buried in coursework; instead, you must deconflict.
Once you have identified your semester plan of schoolwork, you will look outside the classroom, where you will identify all the major things that will happen over a semester. These could be Labor Day and Thanksgiving, football games, and working part-time. These are all additional commitments that could impact your semester project plan, so you include them in your semester requirements.
At this point, you have a large list of things to do. It can be overwhelming, but you can also look at the amount of available time to do it, and that stress goes away. The goal is not to wait until the last minute to do everything nor to do everything right away. The goal is to level load your schedule, which evenly balances the work across a longer period of time. This additionally creates the opportunity to work ahead at the beginning to build in buffer in case something happens mid-semester.
You will now have an outlook on everything that has to be accomplished over the next four months. In a calendar, you will want to annotate when all milestones will occur. Next, you will schedule all the smaller tasks that need to be completed. For example, you will know beforehand that you will need to complete six papers and take two final exams. So that all these commitments don’t coincide at the same time at the end of the semester, you level load your schedule and work on each paper during the semester and you can complete them earlier, providing more focus for your two final exams.
With the four-month calendar built, you will be able to view it month by month to determine what needs to be done each month. Keeping the above example, you want to keep December clear so that you can dedicate the month to your final exams. That then gives you roughly three months to write six papers, and you decide to write two papers per month.
Weekly goals follow monthly goals. You will want to plan each week just prior to the week’s beginning, where you look at the monthly goal calendar and determine what can be accomplished this week. You continue this step for each day.
This process provides time horizons, which lets you just focus on the little steps, one at a time. If you look at everything you need to do over the semester every day, it will get overwhelming. However, if you just look at what you must do today, and that’s it, it becomes very manageable. These little steps are daily bricks of building toward your desired goals.
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