This is my seventeenth year of schooling, and I like to think that at this point I have learned some tools of the trade. 🙂 Over the years I have experimented with a few different ways of managing my schedule, which I have outlined in order that my experience might help people who are struggling with their own turbulent schedules.
1. Bullet Journal
The only thing that kept my sophomore year of college in any sort of order was my bullet journal. This particular strategy is most effective for those that function better with analog methods than any sort of technology. The website hyperlinked above can explain with more detail, but a bullet journal is essentially a notebook that helps you keep track of both long term and short term goals. One can buy the fancy and tailored notebooks that the creators of the bullet journal sell, but I personally used a simple purple moleskin from my college bookstore. A bullet journal is catered to the needs of the user. I personally used mine to keep track of my homework, my paid work, commitments for clubs and organizations that I participated in, as well as fitness and food tracking. With my bullet journal I was able to keep up with my daily and monthly goals, and in addition to its practice uses in my behavior tracking, I could use it to take notes in class when I forgot my normal notebook, or even just personal writing that came to me in a given moment.
“Talia, wait” I can hear you asking “If you liked using this bullet journal system so much, why did you stop?”
My sophomore year of college ended abruptly, as mono, combined with multiple concussions, meant that I could not participate in my classes properly, and had to end the semester early. Stuck in an incoherent haze, there were a few months of my life where I couldn’t do much more than sleep and listen to audio books. Once I finally recovered it was summer, and while I was taking one class, as well as finishing up the courses I had to take an incomplete on before I could start my junior year, I simply didn’t have the energy to restart my bullet journal again. That summer was one in which I was particularly worn out, still recovering from my concussion, and while I muddled through, I haven’t used the same method of bullet journaling since.
2. Digital Note-taking (OneNote, Evernote, or Similar)
When I stopped using my bullet journal, I didn’t stop using physical notebooks (see section four) But I did up my digital note-taking game. My favorite application for digital note-taking is Microsoft’s OneNote. Using OneNote without the Office 365 subscription, limits its functionality, though I am not sure how much since I do have a subscription and didn’t start using it until I added the student discounted plan to my computer. If one can afford to get the Office suite, I recommend it, and if not, that’s OK, because there are other digital note-taking services out there. Before I got a Office subscription I used Evernote, which has a tiered system, but Evernote Basic is free of charge and usable. I used Evernote before I got the Office Subscription for OneNote, and I never had any serious problems with it. Evernote has similar features to OneNote,, but the basic (free) account limits how many devices you can install Evernote on to two, which wouldn’t work for me since I use OneNote on both of my computers, my tablet, and my phone. Evernote basic also limits offline access to desktop only, which is not ideal since it means that if one was in a dead zone without Wi-Fi the application wouldn’t work.
The great thing about OneNote (and Evernote) is that you can divide the app in to separate notebooks, which are individually stored on the cloud, so while they are all completely accessible online, some can be removed from the computer, tablet, or phone to save space, but still within reach with Wi-Fi. I typically create a new notebook each semester to keep track of classwork and current projects, with a separate section for each class and each short-term personal project. I also keep a master to-do list, bullet journal style. OneNote is the application that I use to save draft emails, keep track of long-term assignments, as well as writing projects. In fact, Word-for-Sense even has a whole notebook dedicated to it. That said, one thing that I don’t use OneNote for is daily, weekly, and monthly agenda tracking for which I use…
3. Google Calendar (Or Similar)
Free with a Google account, Google calendar is my go-to for when I want to keep track of a doctor’s appointment, track when I’ve made lunch or meeting plans, and especially when I block out time for studying. Just as important as putting in what time I have to be in the classroom is scheduling what time I need to be in the library. An important part of making sure that my time is used wisely is knowing when and where I am going to be and what I am going to be doing there. For example, I do my best to schedule at least an hour of Latin practice every day, because with languages, especially in the beginning, memorizing and internalizing the basics is crucial. At the same time, I know that in addition to my school and professional work, I need to have a creative outlet and so a minimum of 15 minutes a day is spent on a creative writing project, even if it is just adding a paragraph or two to a blog post like this one. All that said, leaving wiggle room is also important, and while planning is crucial, setting aside a couple hours a week where one has time to themselves is also essential.
4. Physical Agenda
While I no longer bullet journal, I do make sure that I have a physical journal, because there are some places in life that a computer or phone is either impractical or prohibited. For example, over the eight semesters I spent in undergrad, I can count on one hand with fingers left over how many professors did not appear somewhere on the spectrum between snarky comments about texting during class and outright banning the use of electronic devices in their classrooms. A physical agenda is the easiest way to keep track of what homework assignments are due when, and marking one days of the month I have an exam, presentation, or paper due. Keeping track of those is very important. There was one semester where on a particular day I had a test, an essay due, and a short story due all on the same day. Since I knew ahead of time, I was able to negotiate with my professors to shift the due date of my essay and short story, and thus I gave myself more breathing room in terms of what I was focusing on each day.
5. Not Sleeping
This is a bad idea. Even though it worked when I was younger, ever since my concussion I need seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and I have to say that I’m more productive when I do get my rest. That said, if one does insist on not sleeping a full night, I recommend the following:
6. In Bed Early, Out of Bed Early
Some people are night owls, and I respect that. I used to be one too. That said, I was astonished when I realized how much I can get done in the wee hours, not by staying up into them, but by going to bed as early as nine, and waking up as early as one or two. Staying up for an extra two hours, I could maybe get fifty, sixty pages of reading done and perhaps a two or three paragraphs of an essay. Waking up two hours early, that would be more like a hundred pages of reading and at least five more paragraphs.
I hope that my listing some of these key strategies that I employ will be helpful, and if anyone would like further advice or assistance, as I noted before, helping people with their problems helps me with mine, so feel free to comment or send me a message through the contact form.
P.S. For those who may want tutorials on study skills in general, I suggest watching and internalizing the Crash Course Study Skills videos, and especially as it pertains to this post, their episode about Planning & Organization, which I watched about a year ago and while most of what I have talked about here was stuff I already knew, the video undoubtedly shaped some of the ideas in this post, for all that I had not watched it again until after I finished writing this.