How To Plan Your Time So That You Can Get Your Homework Done

Study Tip #12

Outline on time planning.

  • Put a high priority on doing schoolwork.
  • The three basic lists to make and follow.
  • Make a daily "To-Do" list.
  • Plan an overall schedule and keep a daily planner.
  • Make a list of undone tasks.
  • Divide large assignments into parts.
  • When you get short periods of time, work on short parts of longer assignments.
  • Learn to say "No" to people who try to interrupt you.
  • Do your most difficult school work during your best time of day.
  • Start big projects by doing "foot-wetter" tasks.
  • Follow the "Work First" rule. For people who hate time planning.
  • Ask for some help in managing your time.

Put a high priority on doing schoolwork.

Most people's problems with "not enough time" are really decision problems. Is your time problem really caused by your choices? Many people don't like to study, so they put a low priority on doing their homework. When they get free time, they choose to do non-school activities that feel important.

Yet they cannot get their schoolwork done and they have to work hard at the last minute. They complain they don't have enough time! Wrong! They had rated school work as low in importance. They treat schoolwork as lightly as any sensible person would treat an unimportant activity.

Suggestion: Decide that you feel it is very important to do your school work. Then you will automatically begin to have more time for it.

The three basic lists to make and follow.

Organized people keep three kinds of lists: (1) a daily to-do list with a priority marked on each item, (2) a calendar with a list of tasks and appointments (often with hour by hour listings), and (3) an overall list of big projects and major tasks that are not finished. Each kind of list has its strengths and weaknesses.

Make a daily prioritized "To-Do" list.

  • Write down everything you need (or want) to do today. Put both school work and other activities on it. Then rate each item's importance.
  • Put "A" beside activities that are highly important.
  • Put "B" beside activities that are somewhat important, but are secondary in comparison to "A" activities.
  • Put "C" beside activities that would be nice to do, but are not as important as the "A's" and "B's".
  • Then throughout the day, work on only the "A" activities until they are done.
  • Rate most schoolwork as an "A".
  • Rate assignments due in the future as "B" or "A" priority.
  • Put relaxing time on your "to-do" list. It is important to give yourself time off to lead a balanced life, except possibly for doing brief periods of intense work. If you do not schedule times to relax, you may end up hating your work, rejecting it and plunging into fun activities.
  •  You will often start this list the day before and add to it as the day goes on.

Plan a time schedule at the start of each term and plan a daily schedule.

Plan a schedule. Include the times each day that you read and do homework. Students who carry a course load of 12 credits will often schedule 10 to 30 hours of homework outside of class each week. A week has 168 hours.

If your life has some variation day to day and if you get appointments, buy and use a daily planner, a pocket scheduler, or some such schedule reminder.

Make a list of projects and undone tasks.

Make a list of tasks that you have not finished yet, especially big tasks that require more than one day to finish. The purpose is to get a list that is not tied to specific days. People often put these lists on charts on bulletin boards. Sometimes they put them into daily planners in a special section.

Why? One danger is procrastination.  When people rely only on their to-do lists and daily schedules, they sometimes get through a day without doing a major task, and then later they forget that they didn't do it. Another danger happens when people put a note on a far future date in their date book saying that a task is due, and then they don't look ahead at that date until it comes up. By then, it's too late to finish it. Instead, by making a separate list of undone tasks, they protect themselves from forgetting.

Divide large assignments into parts.

Analyze the tasks involved in such large assignments as papers and big study projects. Break them into several small parts. Schedule time for each part.

The purpose of this advice is to help you guarantee that you plan enough time to finish a big task.  If you do not plan, you may believe that the task is shorter than it really is. Then you will put it off, start it late, and have trouble.

You need three kinds of information to plan this way:

  • What are all the sub-tasks you need to go through to finish the assignment?
  • How long will each sub-task take?
  • What day and time do you need to do each early sub-task in order to make enough time to do the sub-tasks that come afterward?

Example: Suppose you are writing a short paper. The steps are: read the assignment, take notes, think about it, write an outline, write a first draft, edit it, and write a final draft.

If your paper is due Monday, ask yourself when you need to start writing the final draft in order to have time. Next ask yourself when you should edit the first draft in order to allow time to write the final draft. Next ask about writing the first draft. And so on. Work backwards from later steps until you schedule the first step of reading.

As you analyze big assignments, also keep in mind other blocks of time that you need to save for doing other assignments and other non-school activities.

When you get short periods of time, work on short parts of longer assignments.

Read three pages while waiting for the bus. Write one paragraph for an English paper while waiting for a TV program to start. And so on.

Do not wait for long blocks of time to come open before you study. The penalty for waiting for long time periods is that you waste lots of short time periods that you could use for studying.

You may wonder whether people's minds can handle broken-up periods of work. Yes they can. You will need to remind yourself where you were in the task. Just give yourself a 1-minute review to warm up your memory for the task.

Learn to say "No" to people who try to interrupt you.
When people suggest that you do something with them, they do not usually realize how important it is for you to do homework. So as you say "No," explain it to them.  If you promise them some time later, they will usually accept it.

You will have to pay a price in order to manage your time successfully. Some people will feel dissatisfied with you, and you will feel frustrated when you give up doing certain things you like. Are you willing to pay that price in order to get your education? Only you can decide.

Do your most difficult school work during your best time of day.
Many people know that during a certain time of day they can work faster and think more clearly than at other times. Also they know that they are slow or sleepy or grumpy at other times. You should notice what times are good and bad for you.

If you are a "night person", then night is when to write your papers and to read the deep books. Do easier work at another time. If you are a "morning person", use morning for creative work and hard work. You will accomplish more.

Do not do ordinary, routine homework during the time that you are most alert. Save the best time for the hardest work.

Start big projects by doing "foot-wetter" tasks.

  • Some projects look so huge that people find it hard to start them and keep putting them off.
  • You can often get started by picking out an easy part of it to do, the "foot-wetter." Once you start, you can continue easily.
  • Schedule a short work-session.  The purpose is to make it seem easy, not hard.
  • Do easy things like these: get the books together; take out the typing paper; and read the class notes.
  • You can also find something in the middle of the project to do. You don't need to start at the logical beginning. Many good writers say that they start in the middle and later write the first paragraphs.

Follow the "Work First" rule. For people who hate time planning.

Some successful students do not schedule their time at all. How do they do it? They put schoolwork ahead of everything else almost all the time. So they usually get it done.

The rule: When you have school work waiting, always do it ahead of anything else that is less necessary.

Don't be silly about this rule.  Of course, you can eat, sleep, and mow the lawn on Saturday.

People who follow this rule never put things off. They don't procrastinate. They start new assignments immediately. Frequently, they get their work all done early and they have free time for play that they can use without feeling guilty.  Some people say that the biggest benefit of using the "work first" rule is that you don't feel guilty when you do something else.

Ask for some help in managing your time. Visit our Academic learning Skills Department. Take part or all of their course, "Effective Learning," because it teaches good time-planning methods.

Ask a counselor.

Read a book on the subject. Two good older ones are available in paperback editions. They are:

Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life
R. Alec Mackenzie, The Time Trap: How to Get More Done in Less Time.