Time management and managing conflicting priorities in your final semester

Time management! After you graduate from university it will still be a big buzzword, with a large amount of relevance to your academic and professional success and development.

When I struggled with a large project my instinct was to persist and eventually I would break it down to the point where I was satisfied and could concentrate on other projects. However, this led to severe neglect of smaller tasks and the loss of a large number of marks.

What I have learned from my final year, as well as my postgraduate degree and job applications to large organisations, is that there are 4 steps which have to be taken when organising your priorities.

  1. What is the scale of what is being done?

List the tasks which you are undertaking in order of the scale of the workload. By workload, I mean the size of the final submission, the amount of research involved, and the percentage of marks allocated to the particular task out of your final degree or module grade. This will allow you to prioritize the tasks that you will have to do if you are planning ahead.

The weekly planner (shown above) is based on the plan that I had in my final semester. You can all see that I have committed some time every week in order to maintain progression in my dissertation, while splitting other tasks depending on which week it was due.

It is important to consider what you are aiming for when you undertake a task. For example, as a history student I wanted to locate some useful primary resources to reinforce my argument, but if I already had evidence that could reinforce a particular point, then I would only commit considerable time or resources to find evidence for a different point.

Also, if you are looking through a large source of secondary or primary evidence to be aware before of what you are looking to find out, because that will help you decide how much time you should spend looking at that source. For example, when I read through election results in Glasgow parliamentary constituencies between 1918 and 1945 I kept and eye out for 3 things:

  • Each year, how many constituencies did the Independent Labour Party contest without Labour Party endorsement?
  • Each year, how many constituencies did the Independent Labour Party win?
  • Each year, of the constituencies that the Independent Labour Party won, how many where against a Labour Party and/or a Communist Party candidate?

By following the advice above it will be possible for you to measure the scale of what you need to do, and assign your time appropriately, so that you will get the most out of your work, and hopefully boost your grade.

 

  1. Who is it being done for?

The person or group that the tasks is being completed for is important, because it gives you an alternative form of setting precedence for tasks in case, for example, you have multiple tasks with a similar scale and scope. You can consider exactly what the person or group that you are delivering the task for want and how they will grade you on it. How much extra time will you need to familiarize yourself with the equipment or techniques that will be necessary to complete the task to the highest possible standard.

For example, in my dissertation I had to complete other parts to the physical paper that was submitted then I would for an ordinary essay. So I assigned extra time to add each of these in, so that I would not lose marks.

For example, if you are not comfortable with giving presentations then it would be very beneficial for you to schedule some time giving practice presentations so that you become more comfortable with your speaking and the practical issues which you will face when using PowerPoint.

 

  1. What do I need to get in order to complete the task?

Do any of your tasks require you wait in order to get something from another person? If so, schedule when you have to contact them, when you expect to receive the thing, and when you will do if it does not arrive on time.

For example, when I was in my final year I was also sports editor of the student newspaper “Brig”. More than other sections, sport had to be focused on stories from the previous week. This meant that our coverage and writing would be based primarily in one week of the month, and so during the rest of the month I could focus on other tasks.

Also, this is very important if you are working as part of a group. When you are assigned team members for a group assignment you must be very clear about the steps that you have to take in order to complete the assignment and the number and scope of the sections of work which you will have to complete for the final assignment.

For group work, the first step is to develop a work plan based on the following factors:

  • Agree on meeting times for initial discussion, joint study sessions, and for putting the final assignment together;
  • Agree who will complete the different parts of the final assignment;
  • Make sure that each team member is completely aware of their responsibilities;
  • Make sure that you all understand the thread of argument which you have put together. This is especially important for presentations.

 

  1. If the schedule doesn’t go to plan?

Even the best plans can come undone, and being productive can mean combining strict organisation with some necessary flexibility. So always be prepared to do other pieces of work during the time which you have set aside for a particular task just in case you cannot work on it.

For example, in April 2016 I had to finish my final essay, my final presentation, and the final draft of my dissertation. So I scheduled my time according to steps 1 and 3. One morning when I was supposed to be working with my partner on the final presentation, after 20 minutes of waiting for him at the library, he texted me to say that he could not make it until the afternoon. Thankfully I brought another small folder containing my most essential dissertation notes so that I would not waste hours doing nothing.

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