Eight ways for you to actually stay on top of your studies from a Glasgow master’s student

So you can actually stay ahead of the game this semester instead of giving up a week in

It’s that time of year when we all say “I’m going to be better this semester” and “I’m actually going to go to all my classes and do all my reading”. If you’re anything like how I used to be, that’ll last two weeks.

After a dicey few months during my undergrad dissertation, I vowed to be ahead of the game in my new degree and I have (mostly) stuck to this. It’s been a labour of love to figure out what is genuinely useful for being organised.

I therefore wanted to share what I’ve learned about staying on top of my studies at the University of Glasgow after four and a half years here to maybe save you some trial and error.

It goes without saying that this isn’t guaranteed to get you straight A1s in classes, but these tips and tricks certainly helped me be a little bit less stressed constantly.

1. Do the longest bits first

When you have three hours and a long old to-do list, if you have a 40 page reading to do or an hour lecture to watch then do that first. Get it out of the way. When I switched to doing this, I immediately felt so much more satisfied and accomplished straight away, which then made the rest of my study time much more productive.

2. But if a random job is only going to take you five minutes, just do it there and then

I was told this over the summer in a passing comment and, genuinely, it has changed my whole mindset. These short tasks will stack up and if you have 10 five minute tasks to do at the end of the day, that’s the best part of an hour before you go to bed.

If I have an email to send to a tutor, or some articles to download before class the next day, I do it in the five minutes after I remembered about the task instead of putting it off. I can’t recommend this enough as a minor thing to do that will make a world of difference.

3. Actually plan out your days

If your timetable is pretty spread out and you have those godawful gaps in between classes, or on your day off that you dedicate to prep, make a list of things you need to do in that time and organise it into a schedule (longest first, remember).

This doesn’t necessarily mean 10am to 11am do your reading then 11am to 12pm work on your presentation, for example, but it does mean putting stuff into a list in order of priority, length, or whatever works for you and sticking to it.

This tiny wee task made my study days so much easier so when I get to the library or my desk and have an inevitable crisis about how much I have to do, it is immediately much more manageable after sorting it into my list. As a visual and scatterbrained person, having the list of jobs out in front of me in the order of what I need to do is extremely convenient.

4. Use text-to-speech tools to help you process information better

This was my secret weapon during my English literature degree. Using audiobooks alongside the novels I had to read or software like Speechify for my readings made a massive difference in my concentration and it does effectively keep my mind on the article or chapter instead of drifting onto “autopilot”. I also find I retain information a lot better when I pair up the reading with the listening.

5. Find ‘your study space’

I get it, not everyone is a library girl, myself included, and while I love a little change-up in study location sometimes, I invested time in finding a spot which suited my needs perfectly and I only use to study.

This immediately sets a habit and allows you to get into a study mindset as soon as you reenter your space. This could be level five in the library, a café on your street, or just a specific chair in your living room.

6. Get an organisation app for tasks

When I found Microsoft To Do, my life changed. I have it on my laptop and my phone, fully synced, and I have an assignments tab with their due dates attached, then individual module tabs, as well as “errands”, “The Tab”, and anything else I may need. I can set myself reminders and include notes in my to-do points.

The app is also genuinely easy to use and has a lovely interface. Plus, the sound it makes when I tick off a task is so satisfying that I immediately want to tick off more.

Hundreds of similar apps will do a variety of things depending on what you need, but I’ve found that just having the list on both my laptop and phone has been so helpful in keeping me organised and on top of my lists, so if you think that will make life easier, make sure the app has a sync feature.

7. Use productive procrastination to your advantage

I am a procrastinator. I would put off tasks for hours until it got “too late” to do it then I would save them for tomorrow when they may or may not have been finished, varied success on that one. Whilst I haven’t fully been able to kick that habit, I have learnt to “productively” procrastinate.

This means that when I’m putting off a job or a task, I will fill that space with a slightly more favourable thing off my to-do list, such as putting a wash on, ringing the doctor, or returning a parcel. There is nothing quite like still being able to tick a thing off my to-do list whilst still being able to procrastinate a little bit.

8. Reward yourself for doing the most boring jobs

Procrastination inevitably has to come to an end. I’ve been trying to train myself to hate it a little bit less by rewarding myself after it to trick my brain. I’ll save lunch for after a particularly horrible task, or buy a coffee, or watch an episode of my favourite show. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you stick to only that little treat and only after a particularly nasty task.

This has made me a lot more inclined to finish it in good time so I can get to the nice thing. I’m hoping that in the future, I’ll train myself not to procrastinate anymore, like teaching your pet a new trick. Hopefully.

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