Deadlines: the scariest word in the English language if you’re a procrastinator, like me. I’ve seen tons of “How-To” guides on how to get organized and how to prioritize tasks, but most of them end up being more work than what you’re trying to get done in the first place! In this blog post, I’m going to show you some really easy ways to stay on schedule, meet your deadlines and prioritize your tasks.
Use a Notebook for Short-Term/Small Tasks
In most blogs of this type, you’ll usually see someone with an elaborate agenda or calendar on their computer, with every part of their day booked down to the last 5 minutes. Not only is this a nightmare to set up, but it’s nearly impossible to follow it to a T, which defeats the purpose (I wouldn’t end up following it, that’s for sure…). Plans change, things come up, and the next thing you know, the schedule is useless.
The best strategy I’ve found acts as a priority list and an agenda for those short-term tasks. Just get a notebook and write down each thing you need to do for the day or the week. It can be anything — school, work, errands, you name it. Cross them off as you go, and if something’s really important, just highlight it so it stands out. It’s as easy as that. All your tasks will be in one central location, you can see which ones are more urgent, and the best part is that you get to see all the ones you crossed off to see how much hard work you got done! :)
Here’s an image of my notebook — it’s not pretty, but it’s easy to use. Simply write down what you need to do for the day and the coming days, take note of the date, and cross things off as you go. No fancy agenda or crazy Google Calendar required! Good luck reading my handwriting by the way.
Write the Big Stuff on a Calendar
For all those small day-to-day tasks (like “do econ homework”, “study for calc assignment”, etc.), you’ll be fine just keeping those in your notebook and adding to that list as new tasks come up. Those short-term items don’t exactly have a “due date”, but you’ll know when you need to get them done so you stay on track because you can see a list of all the other stuff you need to do. But for bigger dates, like project due dates and test dates especially, a printable calendar works best. I used print-a-calendar.com for mine, and you simply print the month out and write down your important dates. You can use whatever website you like to print your calendar. A whiteboard would work great too. On my calendar, I would put test dates down and highlight them pink, due dates highlighted in yellow, and exam dates in bright red ink so they stood out. I also put holidays in green ink to give me some hope during midterms… 😭 This simple colour-coding system makes it really easy to get a glance at any week and look at the colours. It’ll instantly tell you how busy you’ll be over the next few days/weeks without overwhelming you with details, and lets you know if you need to clear your schedule in advance to prepare. It’s also a great way to guide you to the syllabus if you need more clarification on what the deadline entails (ex. “What chapters do I need to study for that math test and how long will it take me?”.)
Here’s what my calendar looked like in October 2020. It looks a lot messier now that I crossed the days out, but being able to glance at the different colours lets you know how busy you’ll be for the upcoming week.
Use Your Syllabus!
No, the syllabus is not some useless piece of paper that your professor just makes for fun. The trick to staying organized without much effort is to have all your key dates in one spot. Make a folder, either a paper or digital, of all your course syllabi. Highlight the due dates, and keep it up to date with new syllabi if your professor makes adjustments. By checking these consistently, not only do you see how to prioritize (since it gives you the grade weightings of each test/assignment), but it also serves as a much more reliable way of finding out when things are due instead of texting some group chat “uhh when is this assignment due guys?” the day before it is. Write these dates down on your calendar, but keep the syllabi around since they’re good to reference if you need to double-check any dates or clarify any expectations for assignments and tests.
Knowing How to Prioritize
The two key ways you’ll need to prioritize are by difficulty and grade weight. The syllabus is the best place to look to prioritize school tasks. Should you be spending the same amount of time and effort on a 2.5% check-in assignment when you have a 25% test in a couple of days? Absolutely not. While it’s important in university to always put in your best effort, a skill you’ll hone in over the course of your degree is how much time actually needs to be spent on something. Learning to know when something is good enough allows you to save your energy and focus on more important tasks.
The other way you need to prioritize is by difficulty. If you know you have a harder time in calculus than economics, then dedicate some more time to that. Again, this is where the “good/ready enough” principle comes into play. If you have a calc and econ test back to back, and you know you have a tougher time with calculus, then spend more time studying on it. It’s not bad to do this. You’ve studied “well enough” for your stronger subject, and it’s a wise decision to dedicate more time to your weakness. Giving different tasks different time and priority allocations will allow you to complete them more efficiently, both in time and effort spent.
All in all, to prioritize your tasks and meet your deadlines, you need to follow some form of organization. It doesn’t need to be crazy complicated, but if you use the simple techniques I suggested above, you’ll be able to stay more focused, get your work done faster, and most importantly, not miss anything or leave it till the last minute! If you want more productivity tips or any advice, feel free to reach out!
Economics and Ivey AEO @ Western University
Vice President of Operations and Mentor @ LEAP Canada
About the Author
Alex has been with LEAP since 2020, starting off as a Mentee. He then became a Campus Ambassador and is now working as the Vice President of Operations, where he leads LEAP’s programs and events. He is also a mentor with LEAP. After the help he got from LEAP as a Grade 12 student transitioning to university during the pandemic, it’s his mission to give back to new students and to make their academic journey as smooth as possible.