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Time Management: Conquering Long Assignments

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Time management is a struggle for students of all levels. Long assignments can make this issue worse because procrastination can compound over time, especially when the assignment has several components. Rushing to finish at the last second may be impossible. Even if it's not, opting for this strategy can drastically decrease the quality of your work and increase the likelihood of making an embarassing error (like misinterpreting your teacher's directions).

Thus, when dealing with a long assigment, time management becomes crucial. Working at a manageable pace over a long stretch of time minimizes stress and maximizes the quality of your work. Below, we've provided some tips that can help you stay on-task over the long haul.

Make a realistic plan of action...

  • When you receive your assignment, make sure to highlight when any due dates your instructor has specified. Some longer assignments will have specific sections due throughout the semester, so be sure to mark these in your calendar.
  • No matter the type of assignment, make an appointment with your instructor to ask questions. The answers you receive may give you ideas for how to prioritize your time. You might want to ask some of the following questions:
    • Is there a rubric (and if so, can you see it/have a copy)?
    • What will your instructor pay most attention to when grading? What elements are weighted the highest?
    • What can you do to succeed on the assignment?
    • Does your instructor have any tips for specific practices you can implement to do well on the various components?
    • What does your instructor most want you to learn from this assignment?
  • Shortly after receiving the assignment, visit your writing center (or tutoring center, teaching assistant, or teacher as applicable) to work with a tutor and go over exactly what the assignment is asking you to do. This way, you can draft a detailed plan of action that specifies precisely what you need to do for each stage of the project.
    • You may even consider making checklists to help you out. If your teacher hasn’t given specific due dates for different chunks of the assignment or doesn’t require a draft, when does it make most sense for you to have a draft completed, given your upcoming schedule? Put some deadlines in place for yourself now so you’re not scrambling later.

Take advantage of every resource at your disposal…

  • Clarify any questions you have with your teacher as they come up; don’t assume you know the answer if you aren’t sure. Some mistakes, like using the wrong kinds of sources, can compound over time and create more problems for you later on in the assignment.
  • Talk to research librarians about your work, if you’re doing a research project. Explore the different resources available through your library, and learn about how to use your library’s search tools; you will need more than just the first few sources that show up, and talking to another person who has expertise in the area you’re looking at will help you not only find the appropriate sources, but learn how to search later when you’re working alone.
  • If your university has a writing center, it doesn’t hurt to make an appointment to speak with someone there as well. It’s a good idea to book an appointment for the longest time slot they have available so that you can have all your questions answered and concerns met. Don’t be afraid to use the writing center no matter what part of the writing process you’re on (drafting, citing sources, proofreading, editing, etc.).

Pace yourself, make a schedule, and follow it…

  • Many writers of all kinds (creative, journalistic, academic, etc.) recommend a daily writing practice. Writing just a little every day will help continue to move you toward your goal. Not everyone can accomplish that, though — whatever works for you is great. The most important thing is to be consistent (e.g., "I will write half an hour every day;" "I will write an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday;" etc.).
  • It’s often helpful to work with a buddy. This can be either someone who is working on the same assignment as you or someone who is working on another long project. Having a friend who will check in with you (and vice versa) about how you’re keeping up with your writing plan can help keep you accountable to yourself in a different way than teachers’ deadlines or a tutor.
    • Make a point to mention your goals (e.g., deadlines you've set for yourself) to your buddy early on. This will help keep you accountable, as you'll feel compelled to accomplish your goals in order to avoid embarassing yourself.
  • Reserve time to think about, talk about, and work on your project at least once per week. Don't schedule anything else during this time. If needed, turn off your phone or your computer's wifi to eliminate distractions. Giving your work your undivided attention on a regular basis (even if only for an hour or so) will keep it in the active part of your consciousness.
    • This will also help you make progress, since the sense of accomplishment you'll get from meeting minor milestones (like completing a page) will make larger ones seem less daunting.