At university or college, you may find that you have more responsibility for your own study than you have been used to. This can provide flexibility in how you structure your day and how you study, but getting used to planning your own schedule can be a challenge. This page covers:
I try to take a step back and assess my workload, write a list and take it one step at a time.
How can I get organised?
Planning your study schedule can help you feel less stressed and more in control of your workload. You may find it helpful to keep track of your commitments and plan ahead. You could use a written planner, an online calendar or an app.
- Find out when your deadlines and exams are and start planning your time and preparing for assessments in advance. You may be able to predict when you'll be busier and plan around this.
- Avoid last-minute work crises by working backwards from a deadline to think about what work needs to be completed when. Setting mini personal deadlines can help break down larger projects.
- Keep other responsibilities and commitments in mind. If you are part of a sports team or society, think about how you will balance these commitments. It helps to plan ahead and remind the team or society when your work deadlines are.
- Think about times when your mental health could be less good. For example, anxiety around an anniversary or another regular event, or you may need reflection or recovery time after therapy sessions or other appointments.
- Inform your tutor of times when it is likely that you will not be able to complete as much work. Tutors are likely to be able to be more flexible when informed in advance.
- Plan time for yourself. While both academic work and social occasions are an important part of the university/college experience, it's useful to plan for breaks to look after yourself.
If I have a significant amount of things I have to do, I can often feel overwhelmed. This can prevent me from getting anything done at all.
How do I stick to structure?
Having less structure can make it tricky to focus and get down to work. Building a daily routine that gives you focused time to work can make it easier to carry on when you feel low on motivation. Ask yourself:
- Do you find it easier to work at certain times of the day? Planning your daily schedule can help you avoid having to work at times that don't suit you.
- Do you find it easier to work in certain places? You might find it helpful to work in a library to separate your studies from your social life.
- How long can you concentrate for? Most of us need regular breaks. Scheduling these in can help you work more effectively.
It's essential to pace myself and do a little bit at a time.
How can I make the most of lectures?
Lectures can feel daunting, as a lot of information is covered in a short period of time and missing lectures can make it harder to study effectively. Here are some strategies you might use to make lectures easier to manage:
- If you need to miss a lecture, ask a friend or course mate to record the lecture.
- If you are finding it difficult to get to all your lectures, talk to your tutor or academic supervisor as soon as possible to find out if there's anything they can do to ensure you don't miss too much information.
- Recording lectures may be helpful, even if you are able to attend, as it can be helpful to know that you can listen to the lecture again if you need to. Make sure you ask your lecturer if it is okay to record the lecture!
- If you know the lecture topic, it can help to read up in advance.
Try out different strategies and don't be put off by everyone else. Some people take extensive notes, others listen and think. It may take you some time to work out what works for you.
Am I studying effectively?
Everyone has a different way of studying. Comparing yourself to others might leave you wondering whether you are going about things the right way – but different methods work for different people, so find out what works best for you.
- If you think you could be doing things differently, test this out and see if a change helps.
- More hours of work don't always equate to better grades – taking breaks can help you to concentrate better.
- Try to find out exactly what you do need to know and stay focused on this. As you cover more advanced subjects, you'll find that it's impossible to learn everything there is to know about a subject.
If you are not getting a lot of feedback on your work, it can be hard to know if you're working the right way or studying effectively. You can:
- talk to your academic tutor or supervisor about this
- use online resources to help you understand how you can study more effectively – try the Open University's Study Skills resources
- check if your university runs courses on how to study effectively
What if things don't go to plan?
Sometimes things don't go as you expected. This can be a challenge, but it happens to everyone. You might find it helpful to:
- have a plan B, an alternate work schedule if your day or week's routine is disrupted
- schedule in 'spare time' so that you catch up if necessary
- talk to your tutor about extensions or flexible arrangements in advance, so that you feel comfortable talking to them if things are not going to plan
The important thing for me is to remind myself that I can't necessarily compete with classmates who are mentally well – so there is no point in beating myself up if I take longer to do things.
This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.