Know your workload. The best way to get organized in college | Shovel

Know and Organize Your Workload

Student Getting Organized in College with a neat pile of homework

What Do You Have To Get Done?

The first part of your study plan is done. You know how much time you have have available for studying. Is that going to be enough to get everything done?

Before you can figure out how much time you’ll need to get things done, you first have to know WHAT you need to get done. That is, what are all of the specific tasks that will determine your grade

Lucky you, you’ve been handed a syllabus for each class.

Before I cover specific tasks below, I want to talk about the syllabus in general.

The syllabus lists everything you need to do, but it is way more than that. It’s a roadmap of how to get an A in that class.

Most students don’t give a syllabus the attention it deserves. They treat the syllabus as a simple checklist of stuff they need to do next. They look at it only when they need to, which is often the day before something is due.

As soon as you get access to a syllabus, print it off and grab a pen or a highlighter. You are going to slowly and methodically analyze every single word of every sentence of your syllabus and know exactly what it says.

The syllabus tells you what to do and gives you hints and warnings about the pitfalls that can totally derail you if you aren’t paying attention.

While the format of any class syllabus may differ most will contain some variation of the following:

  • Office hours for the professor and teaching assistants.
  • Recommended methods and times to contact the professor.
  • Class days, times, and locations, including lectures, sections, labs, etc.
  • Textbooks, workbooks, PDFs, and any other course materials you’ll be using.
  • When and how assignments, class notes or slides are available.
  • Chapters and specific pages you’ll cover.
  • Objectives of the class—what you’ll be learning.
  • Papers, projects, and other large assignments.
  • Due dates for turning things in.
  • Penalties for not turning things in, or turning things in late.
  • Number and dates of quizzes and exams.
  • Special instructions regarding how things should be done.
  • How your grade is determined.

It’s important that you clearly understand every requirement. If anything is not completely clear make a note next to it and go talk to the professor. It’s a perfect opportunity for a first introduction.

Are you clear about the test format? Are there papers and projects that you need to ask questions about?

Put test dates on your calendar. Same for due dates for papers, projects or other large assignments.

Put contact information and office hours for every professor and teaching assistant into your contacts.

One of the most important things in the syllabus is the grade scale.

Is most of your grade exams? Reports? Papers? Is participation a part of your grade? What determines that? If you screw up on the midterm, can you come back by acing the final?

Here is a quick video of how to go through your syllabus:

Your Tasks

For creating a study plan, the most important thing to focus on in your syllabus is usually found at the end. It will have a list of everything that you have to do and the date when it is due.

This is the heart of what you have to get done and shows everything that will determine your grade.

Every class is different in terms of the material used and the mix of things that will ultimately determine your grade. It may be as simple as reading your textbook, going to class lectures, and taking a few exams.

However, some classes include all kinds of other tasks like lab reports, problem sets, workbooks, other reading materials, research, weekly quizzes, writing papers, attending events, and several exams.

It’s important that you know EXACTLY what is required of you for each and every class.

Make Piles

Before you start, make sure you have everything in front of you. Make a pile of all your materials for each class you’re taking.

Have your marked up syllabus ready for every class.

Your textbooks, workbooks, and any other assigned materials for each class. Buy your books as soon as you know what they are. Buy used or online—even if they’re expensive.

Printouts of all your PDFs. Students waste a ton of time printing PDFs right before the deadline. Print out every single PDF on day one. Trust me on this. It will save you hours of time later.

You should now have 4 or 5 separate piles on the table, one for each class. It’s a good visual of the work that is ahead of you and it’s probably a lot.

For each syllabus you are going to determine these:

  • How many of each specific type of task that you have to do.
  • How many pages you have to read, each day and week.
  • When it’s due.

Three Categories of Tasks

When you look in any syllabus, you’ll see a lot of different tasks. To help keep it simple when building your plan, it’s best to break your workload down into three main categories. Pretty much every class in college will have all of these tasks in one form or another.

1. Readings

This can be textbooks, workbooks, novels, PDFs, online readings. Basically any and all materials that the professor expects you to read before class each day.

Readings usually make up the majority of your study time. They are the foundation for every class lecture and will be a major source for the questions on all of your exams.

2. Tests

These can be daily or periodic quizzes, midterms, or final exams. Tasks that you study for and then take at a given time.

3. Assignments

We define assignments as the things that aren’t readings and that you have to work on outside of class. They may be one time things like papers, projects, and research. They may also be periodic things like problem sets which might be due in every class.

In each class, you may have dozens or even hundreds of individual tasks for each class.

The first thing I do is find the specific tasks and add up how many of each of type of task there is in each syllabus. I just want to get the big picture of what exactly I have to do.

How MUCH do you have to do?

You are probably going to have a LOT to read. If you look at a typical reading in a syllabus reading, it will usually just say something like “Chapters 2 and 3” So how much is that? Twenty pages? Fifty? One hundred?

I don’t know about you, but I like to know how big the task is going to be so I can plan accordingly.

For readings I always want to know how many pages there are for each of them.

As you saw in the video at the top of the page, it is fast and easy to just look in the table of contents of your textbooks and write down the page ranges.  If you have PDFs assigned, print those off and know how many pages each of those are as well.

I’m going to show you how to use those page ranges to help estimate how long things are going to take.

Do this for each syllabus you have. Know the tasks, the page ranges of your readings, and clear up any questions you may have. It is simple to do. It should only take about 20 to 30 minutes and it will save you countless hours of time and stress. Again, I don’t like surprises and neither should you. Do it day one.

When you are done, you’ll know exactly WHAT you have to do, but that still isn’t enough. To make a truly accurate study plan, you have to know HOW LONG it’s going to take. 

Again, all of these things can be put into a planning app like Shovel so you can manage it all in one place.

The takeaway here is to make sure you print off each syllabus and slowly and carefully read each and every line. Make sure you understand everything it contains.

Most importantly, you will be making a plan out of each syllabus. We’ll talk about how to do that next.

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