Step #1. Understand where your time goes: The first step is to download and complete the blank weekly schedule. This is called a storyboard. The goal is to find out how and when you spend your time. Block off all of your activities, classes and meetings, work shifts and travel time, meals and sleep, as well as socializing and exercise. These are all of the activities that you need to do in a day and in your day. The first thought that many people have when starting to storyboard their week is that it is not going to fit. That’s okay. Let’s get started and see how it goes. We’re going to show you how to move things around so that it can all fit. In fact, that’s the goal, namely, to find enough time to fit it all in.
Step #2. Find blocks of dedicated study time: The next step is to start looking for blocks of time in your week in which you can get some of your most important work done. Whether you are developing a storyboard for school or work, the goal of this step is to find lots of blocks of time for the work that you really need to get done during the day and then reserve that time. The size of the block can be as small as 15 to 20 minutes, but you may also have an entire afternoon or day in which you have hours and hours of time. In this second step, block off all of the times during the week when you could conceivably get some of your school work done (e.g., reading, preparing for tests, making flashcards, doing practice problems).
Tip: Try to find blocks of time, short and long, that together add up to at least 25 hours across the week. You should even consider trying to find a few blocks of time on the weekends, especially if you are a student. Getting a couple of hours in before you start work on the weekend or go hang out with friends can keep you on top of everything you need to get done. So, even if you don’t think you’ll need blocks of time on the weekend, the goal is to locate time in your week in which you can or could get a bit of work done.
This is the key difference between storyboarding your week and keeping an agenda. Both are important, but they are different. A storyboard helps you find and stick to the times when you are going to get your work done. An agenda keeps track of specific activities during the day, week, month or year. A storyboard fits on a single piece of paper — and that’s the beauty of it. Once you have a storyboard that works for you, it will serve as a guide to help you get everything done in a week (and still have time for friends, exercise and even sleep). The final step is to print off your storyboard and put it on your wall, fridge, laptop — wherever you can to remind you what you are doing each day.
Step #3. Troubleshoot and rework your storyboard: The third step is to troubleshoot and rework your storyboard. Try to find five hours in a day. That sounds like an enormous amount of time. And it is, if it is in a single block. But no one can focus for five hours straight. The science of learning has shown that people are more effective when they break up study time into smaller chunks of time that are between 30 minutes to 120 minutes in length and if they add in 5-minute micro-breaks in blocks of time that are more than 60 minutes. Let’s get started on finding lots of short and long blocks of time throughout the week.
Tip: Try to find a 30-minutes of time before your first class, before you go to school, and maybe even before you make breakfast. If you can find 30 minutes of time early in the day, that will add up fast. Of course, you may not be able to do that every day, but if you can find 5 blocks of time, each lasting 30 minutes, that is already 2.5 hours of time. The added benefit of finding an early block of time is that you will tend to be fresh and whatever you do next (e.g., go to school, make breakfast) serves as a natural break to recharge your brain. Get the idea? The smaller blocks of time you can find, the better.
Step #4. Decide what you will do in each block. The last step is to think about what you are going to do in each block. For example, you might review flashcards on the bus ride in, just before breakfast, between classes or just before meeting friends. Doing flashcards or three practice problems doesn’t take a lot of time, so they can fit in small blocks of time. In other, longer blocks of time, you may decide that you are going to do the biology readings for 30 minutes, then switch to making flashcards for psychology, then take a 5-minute micro-break, in which you get up and go for a walk before working on doing the research for the business project.
Tip: Make a to-do list each morning. When things start to get busy, it can get difficult to know where to start. Alongside your storyboard, start your day with a 5-item to-do list. Making a to-do list at breakfast is a good way to make sure that maximize your efficiency. Those five things need to be relatively small. Writing a 1000-word essay is way too big and stressful. The five items need to be small (e.g., read chapter 5, do five math problems, run through flashcards for biology, summarize two articles for the research section in sociology). Deciding on the five most important things to do, writing them down on a small piece of paper and crossing them off as you get them done is super motivating. It is going to feel great.
We know that you have more than 5 things to do. The complete list of everything that you need to get done is probably very, very long. The 5-item to-do list is to help get you started and make sure that every day counts. One week of 5-item to-do lists will clean up a lot of loose ends, get you back on track and keep you ahead of the curve.
Pitfalls and traps:
Lots of students postpone doing school work until the weekend. The plan sounds great. Head to the library early on Saturday or Sunday, spend the whole day and get caught up. What could go wrong? Well, the first trap with this plan is that nobody can be that focused and that productive for an eight-hour stretch. In fact, research shows that 8 hours of study spread out over a week is much, much more effective than 8 hours on a single day. That’s the principle of spaced learning which is one of the most effective study strategies. The other pitfall is the cost to your schedule if I get sick, something comes up, or you decide to blow it off. If you have all or most of your study time located in one day, and you miss it, then you have lost a huge amount of time. With all of your studying in a single day, losing that day is like losing an entire week.
Thinking outside the box:
Sometimes you may need to re-think your schedule in a radical way. Sometimes students need to work far more than they would like to and try to get all of their schoolwork done at the end of a long tiring day. That’s really hard and sometimes impossible. One solution might be to invert your day — move your work schedule to later on in the day, so you can do school work first. This is not always possible, but it is one way of making it all fit a little bit better
What do I do if it doesn’t fit?
Sometimes, no matter what you do, there may not be enough time in the week to get it all done. One other way of making it all fit is to get some help with it. That could mean sharing the workload with a classmate or, in some cases, dropping and postponing a class to later on in the year (if you can).
Here’s an example storyboard: Here is an example of a good storyboard. There is lots of time for sleep, and there is a good number of blocks of study time spread throughout the week. There’s enough study time outside of class to do well. There is time for work, seeing friends, working out and sleeping. It is busy, but it is a good plan. Still, there are a couple of things that could be improved. All of that study time after 6:00 pm is not going to be as effective as it could be. In fact, the student reported feeling burned out by 6:00 pm. Switching the workout on Tuesday to study time and working out a bit later would be better. Replacing the volunteer time on Friday morning with a bit of study and volunteering later on would help too. Getting a bit of study time in before class on Tuesday would mean that the study time after 8 pm is not as crucial.
Resources: Please download the worksheet before the seminar and complete the surveys after the seminar.