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Master Time Management

Why Make a Task List?

More than just writing things down and crossing them off when done, making a task list – and using it effectively – can help you:

  • Procrastinate less
  • Have both a short- and long-range view of your upcoming work
  • Remember and keep track of even minor tasks
  • Make intelligent decisions about what to do and when to do it.

Step 1: Choose the right medium

Choose a medium that’s customizable and works for you. You may need to try a few to find the right fit. Popular ones are:

  • Phone or computer app
  • Planning calendar– paper or online
  • Note book
  • Dry-erase board
  • Sticky notes

Step 2: List your tasks

  • Once a week, list all your study-related tasks, including readings, lab preparations, studying for quizzes/tests, and working on major assignments
  • Be specific: “Read Psych pages 30-50” is much easier to accomplish than the task “Read Psych”

Step 3: Break Large Tasks Down

Break down large projects and assignments into smaller tasks that can be completed within two hours or less. Benefits include:

  • Improved time management skills
    • It’s easier to estimate the time needed for small tasks rather than big ones (see Step 4).
  • Decreased procrastination
    • You may procrastinate less because completing a small task is easier, faster, and less intimidating than tackling a large task
  • Increased motivation
    • Successfully completing small tasks can lead to a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum to keep you going.

Step 4: Estimate the Time Required to Complete Your Tasks

Estimating how long study tasks will take is one of the few ways of getting a realistic picture of how much work you really have to do.

  • For each task on the list, estimate the amount of time it will take to complete.
  • Add a safety margin of 50% since many people find that their initial estimations can be way off. Your accuracy will improve with practice.
  • For big projects:
    • Estimate the time needed for each step
    • Total the estimation
    • Add a “safety margin” of 25 – 50% of your estimate to the total
    • Divide the new total by the number of weeks you have to do the assignment
    • Add the assignment time to your weekly to-do list

Step 5: Prioritize Your Task List

Prioritizing helps you to weigh the importance of each item on the task list, and to make a conscious, thoughtful decision about what to do when.

This is particularly important when you have several deadlines in the same week. Decide which tasks are most important to do first and number them in rank order.

Factors to consider include:

  • Marks
  • Due dates
  • Required subjects
  • Percentage weight of the assignment, exam or project
  • Personal and academic goals

Use the Library’s Mark Calculator to help you weigh the importance of an assignment or test.

Step 6: Evaluate and Fine Tune Your Task List

Students have consistently reported that the task list is the single most effective time planning tool they have tried. Here are some ways to fine tune your task list:

1. Be flexible

  • If you forgot the materials for task #1 on your list, don’t give up – move on to the next item

2. Schedule time for scheduling

  • Add time to your list each week to review and complete your task list

3. Check off items as you accomplish them

4. Keep track of items that you repeatedly put off

  • These tasks may need to be broken down further or reprioritized

5. Include information needed to complete the task when you make the list, such as page or phone numbers

  • This prevents you from procrastinating because you’re missing necessary information

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