To succeed at university, you need to stay on top of your work throughout the year. While to-do lists are a great tool for short-term or daily planning, other strategies will be more effective for keeping track of the big picture.
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In this Bite, we’ll explore two Long-Term planning strategies: Calendars, and SMART Goals.
To keep track of your work over the course of the semester, you need a diary or a calendar to write it all down. Keeping all your deadlines in your head uses valuable brain space that you could save for working on your assignments! Also, it’s important to keep track not just of deadlines, but of when you need to do the work. If you have an assignment due in Week 8, for instance, you might set a reminder to start working in Week 4.
There are many kinds of calendars, so find one that works for you. A wall calendar showing your whole semester at a glance can be helpful for visual learners, while a paper diary with space for each day’s appointments and to-do lists is good for going into more detail. If you’re particularly artistic, a bullet journal is a nice alternative, and can help you integrate your work and personal life.
If you prefer something more portable, try a calendar app for your phone. At university, you should use Microsoft Outlook’s calendar, which automatically includes all your classes and Teams appointments. There are also hundreds of other organisational apps out there, so try out a few and see what works for you.
There’s no right or wrong way to use a calendar. The important thing is to find a system that works for you. Using a diary or calendar to keep track of your deadlines and appointments will make sure you never miss an assignment, and will free up valuable brain space for getting your work done!
2. SMART Goals
The best way to get something done is to set goals. We all set goals every day, and sometimes others set goals for us. After all, if a lecturer assigns an essay due in two weeks, meeting that deadline becomes our goal!
The difficulty with many of our goals is that they’re too vague, or outside our control. We often set ourselves goals like ‘finish my degree’ or ‘get a good grade on this exam.’ The first goal is far too long-term to be motivating, while the second goal is outside our control (ie, you can control how much you study for the exam, but you can’t control what mark you end up with.)
To make our goals more motivational and achievable, turn them into SMART Goals. This means they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
- Specific: If your goal is vague, how will you know you’ve achieved it? A goal like, ‘be more fit,’ could mean anything, but ‘train for a 10K race’ is better.
- Measurable: How will you measure success? Instead of writing, ‘Get a good grade on this exam,’ try being more specific: ‘Get an B on this exam.’
- Achievable: Make sure your goals are realistic; it’s good to push yourself, but setting sky-high goals too soon can be discouraging. Instead of, ‘Get the lead in OpSoc’s musical,’ try, ‘get involved in OpSoc’s production.’
- Relevant: Sometimes, we set goals we think we should set, rather than ones we actually care about. For example, around New Year, many of us resolve to exercise more, when, really, we would be better off doing something meaningful to us personally, like spending time with family, or working on a creative project.
- Time-Bound: Make sure your goal has an end-date. Instead of, ‘find my dream job,’ try, ‘apply for two jobs every weekday for a month.’
What does this look like at university? Here are a few quick examples:
|Vague Goal||SMART Goal|
|‘Do better on my exams.’||‘Revise for each of my exams for two focussed hours every day, with a break on Sundays.’|
|‘Keep on top of my workload.’||‘Do all my assigned readings this semester before the lecture date.’|
|‘Get a good mark on my essay.’||‘Spend one focussed hour on my essay every day, and make an appointment to discuss structure with a Royal Literary Fund Fellow one week before the deadline.’|
What goals will you set this semester? If you’d like to learn more about Goal Setting, check out the top tips in our LIVE SMART resource.