Rachel from the Student Wellbeing Team shares tips on how to stay on track with your studies whilst also enjoying the winter break.
There are always a million and one things to be done over the festive period – whether it’s making sure you’ve bought gifts for everyone, arranging to meet up with friends or catching up with family… And it doesn’t help that it’s dark by the end of the working day!
It requires a great deal of discipline and organisation to study or revise when there are so many distractions. Good planning skills can make these difficult times much easier to handle and help you keep on top of your workload in the lead up to exam and deadlines.
Here are some tips that may help…
1. Organise your work
Spending a couple of hours planning out your work in detail might seem like a waste of time, but in fact it will make your studying much more effective. You’ll be more productive, your work will be of a higher quality, you can keep track of what you’ve done and how much you have left to do, so that you’re less likely to worry about ‘falling behind’ or leaving things until the last minute.
The point of planning is to help you take control of your work – organising means you have to make things happen instead of waiting for things to happen to you. It helps you decide how to prioritise your workload, rather than letting yourself be carried along by deadlines. Because you’ve planned ahead you’ll be able to choose what to do and when. You may even find that you’ll enjoy your work more, it will build your confidence and give you more leisure time to enjoy.
2. Plan your time
The key to effective time management is imposing structure on your working time by breaking it up. This works all the way from dividing up the structure of an academic year down to planning how to organise your day off or even just a free hour.
- Work out how much time you have available and when
- List the tasks you need to complete
- Work out which of these tasks are the highest priorities
- Decide how long to spend on each task and set yourself targets
- Organise larger pieces of work (such as essays or revision) into smaller, less daunting chunks.
- Try to do everything all at once
- Neglect any of your modules, even if you find them easy and especially if you find them difficult!
- Drift along from deadline to deadline. Carry on working on other modules while you write each essay and consider preparing for future essays or revision
- Let yourself be distracted at times you’ve decided to do work.
3. Get into a routine
This is by far the most difficult thing to do over Christmas when there is so much going on! It might be best to allocate times during the week for study or revision when you completely remove yourself from the festive activities – whether this is by going to your room to study, a quiet coffee shop or your nearest library. You can utilise local libraries in your area or your closest university library. Find out about accessing other university libraries here.
You should choose an optimum time based on your own habits – you know when you’re most awake, when you’re least likely to be disturbed and how long you need to study for in order to actually get anything done.
At the start of the week, the weekend might seem forever away, but after all the things that take up your time there can be frustratingly little left. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most of the remaining hours:
- Use a diary to work out EXACTLY how much time you have available.
- Write a ‘to-do list’ of tasks that need to be accomplished during the week. Some of these (such as going over lecture notes) can be done in odd hours here and there, whereas others (like essays) will need longer blocks of time devoted to them.
- Once you’ve decided on your tasks, allocate each to a day and time, based on how big and how urgent it is.
- Be flexible. If your schedule isn’t working, change it. If you don’t like where you’re studying, move somewhere else. Break up long study sessions into different tasks if you start to burn out.
- If the larger tasks are too daunting, start with something smaller.
- If you’re struggling for inspiration, skim through your lecture notes or textbooks.
- Draft your essays even if you don’t like what you’re writing – you can always change it later.
- You don’t have to write essays in order. If it’s easier, start with the main body and come back to the introduction and the title.
- Take responsibility for your work. Set yourself deadlines and stick to them.
4. Optimise your study
There aren’t golden time-saving rules that work for everyone as we all study in different ways, but these general ideas might help you work out a system for organising your time:
- Don’t overdo it. It’s not sensible to plan to work until you drop, and working in irregular patterns or infrequent binges will lead to underperformance.
- Pace yourself and work out how long you can concentrate for before the effort starts to outweigh the benefits. Don’t push past this upper limit.
- Find strategies to help you deal with the times when you know that your concentration won’t be up to scratch. If you’re struggling to follow a particular piece of work make a note of it so you remember to come back to it later.
- Keep a good work / life balance. Work out your weekly planner as far as possible and set goals (and rewards!) to keep yourself motivated.
The moral of the story is that being on top of things, although hard in the short term, reduces stress and increases your academic performance in the longer term. Planning and doing the work now is better than playing catch up, in terms of your studies and also your wellbeing. Keep a watchful eye on how you use your time and this can be enough to tip the balance the right way.
Want more guidance?
Check out our winter survival guide
Whether you’re heading home for the holidays or remaining in Cardiff, our guide provides tips on study, staying safe, things to do and more practical advice for the holidays.
Staying in Cardiff over the winter break?
All are welcome at the Cardiff Chaplaincy for Christmas Lunch, which will be held on Monday 25 December at 13:00. Please email email@example.com if you would like to attend.
Some Cardiff University study spaces will be open for the entire winter recess. Find out more here.
Rachel, Wellbeing Team.
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The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus. For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.