To get the most out of our days, planning is essential. When we don’t plan, we waste valuable brain power deciding what we should work on next. To move seamlessly from one task to another, it’s worth investing some time in creating a daily plan or to-do list.
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1. Structure Your Day
There’s no right or wrong way to structure your day. Everyone works differently, so the important thing is to find what works for you. As you consider how to get the most out of your time, it’s worth thinking about these strategies:
- Chunking vs. Interspersing. Some people like to ‘chunk’ their days, putting similar activities together. They might attend classes in the morning, write in the afternoon, and revise in the evening. Others prefer to ‘intersperse’ tasks throughout the day, perhaps spending an hour writing, an hour in class, an hour revising, and then heading back to writing again. Which approach would work best for you?
- Night Owl vs. Morning Dove. All of us have a time of day where we do our best work. For many of us, this will be first thing in the morning. For others, it may be the middle of the night. Find your prime time and use this to get your most important tasks done. For example, if you’re a morning person, you should start your day by working on that important essay, rather than re-watching a lecture recording. Then, use your less productive times for rest and relaxation!
- Planning and Reflection. Put some time in your diary to plan your day, and then some to reflect on how it went. Some people plan in the morning and reflect in the evening, while others take a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on one day and plan for the next. Still others might do all their planning and reflection at the beginning or end of the full week. Whatever strategy you use, it’s important both to plan and to reflect on how that plan went. Congratulate yourself on all you did and consider how you might solve any snags that arose.
2. To-Do Lists
To-do lists are an essential part of planning, and your to-do list can make or break your day’s productivity. Often, our to-do lists are just a brain dump of things we need to do at some point, rather than a targeted plan for exactly what we need to accomplish in a set time period.
Just like structuring your day, there’s no one right way to organise your to-do list. Here are several things to keep in mind as you find a system that works for you:
- Simplify your tasks. Often, our to-do lists are crowded with tasks like ‘write essay’ that are too big and difficult to get done on any one day. Make sure everything on your list can be accomplished in a single block of time. Instead of ‘revise for exam,’ for instance, you could write, ‘create a mindmap of Chapter 1 concepts.’ If you’ve got a task you don’t know how to do— for example, creating a bibliography for your assignment— you can simply add ‘research how to reference’ to your to-do list.
- Avoid the ‘rolling’ to-do list. Ideally, a to-do list should be a list of tasks for a defined period of time, such as a day or a week. Constantly adding new items to the list means that you’ll never reach the end, which can be demotivating. Instead, keep a separate list for each day (or week) and when you think of a new task, consider adding it to tomorrow’s list instead.
- Keep your lists short. When we’re busy, we think we need to put everything on our to-do lists. The trouble is that having a long list often means we get less done. Why? If our list looks so long that we can’t finish it, we lose our motivation and start procrastinating. It sounds counterintuitive, but a shorter list actually gets more done!