Student Success Resources

Creating Personal Schedules

Now it’s time to create your own personal schedule for the next few months. Consider the courses you’re taking, even if it’s just this one. Consider your personal time commitments that are non-negotiable, and those that are negotiable. It is important to be realistic about the time required from everything from personal hygiene (bathing, shaving, putting on make-up, doing hair, etc.) to eating (including meal preparation), to working on courses. As you work on your time management, you will become much more aware of how much time you actually spend on these things.

Be realistic about the amount of time you’ll need to devote to your studies. Remember that for every hour spent in class, you should plan an average of two additional hours studying outside of class. Make sure to schedule these time periods in your planner! These times change from week to week, with one course requiring more time in one week because of a paper due at the end of the week and a different course requiring more the next week because of a major exam. Make sure you block out enough hours in the week to accomplish what you need to do. As you choose your study times, consider what times of day you are at your best and what times you prefer to use for social or other activities.

Don’t try to micro-manage your schedule. Don’t try to estimate exactly how many minutes you’ll need two weeks from today to read a given chapter in a given textbook. Instead, just choose the blocks of time you will use for your studies. Don’t yet write in the exact study activity—just reserve the block. Next, look at the major deadlines for projects and exams that you wrote in earlier. Estimate how much time you may need for each and work backward on the schedule from the due date.

As you put together your schedule, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Studying is often most effective immediately after a class meeting. If your schedule allows, block out appropriate study time after class periods.
  • Be realistic about time when you make your schedule. If your class runs to four o’clock and it takes you twenty minutes to wrap things up and reach your study location, don’t figure you’ll have a full hour of study between four o’clock and five o’clock.
  • Don’t overdo it. Few people can study four or five hours nonstop, and scheduling extended time periods like that may just set you up for failure.
  • Schedule social events that occur at set times, but just leave holes in the schedule for other activities. Enjoy those open times and recharge your energies!
  • Try to schedule some time for exercise at least three days a week.
  • Plan to use your time between classes wisely. If three days a week you have the same hour free between two classes, what should you do with those three hours? Maybe you need to eat, walk across campus, or run an errand. But say you have an average forty minutes free at that time on each day. Instead of just frittering the time away, use it to review your notes from the previous class or for the coming class or to read a short assignment. Over the whole term, that forty minutes three times a week adds up to a lot of study time.
  • If a study activity is taking longer than you had scheduled, look ahead and adjust your weekly planner to prevent the stress of feeling behind.
  • If you maintain your schedule on your computer or smartphone, it’s still a good idea to print and carry it with you. Don’t risk losing valuable study time if you’re away from the device.
  • If you’re not paying close attention to everything in your planner, use a coloured highlighter to mark the times blocked out for really important things.
  • When following your schedule, pay attention to starting and stopping times. If you planned to start your test review at four o’clock after an hour of reading for a different class, don’t let the reading run long and take time away from studying for the test.

Semester Schedules

A paper calendar agenda
Some prefer using paper for their semester at a glance.

Create a semester schedule if you haven’t already. Remember to include all important dates such as mid-term and final exams, assignment and project deadlines, practicum time periods if applicable, and application and course registration deadlines for next semester. Also include important personal events such as a wedding you are attending, or your mom visiting town. The semester schedule offers a visual picture of how your semester looks overall. You can see your particularly busy times. If you are taking several courses, you can merge all the big course events onto one schedule so you can see when you have two big assignments due on the same week. You may wish to use colour to indicate different classes, or to distinguish between your academic events and personal events.

This semester-at-a-glance schedule should be either one page or a month per page. A single page is useful if there aren’t very many important dates to note, or if you are only doing one course. A single page can be posted on the fridge or permanently displayed on your study work space. A month per page is useful if you have several courses with varying deadlines. The semester schedule is the easiest and quickest to set up.

Weekly Schedules

Put together a weekly schedule for the upcoming week or two using the tool you chose in  Evaluating Scheduling Tools. Start by recognizing the difference between fixed-time and flexible-time. Fixed-time includes things that have predetermined schedules such as face-to-face classes, labs, doctor’s appointments, soccer games, and assignment deadlines. Mark these on your weekly schedule first. Next put in your flexible-time commitments. These include things such as outside-of-class study times, pre-reading before class, review time after class, completion of assignments, and working out. Make sure to put in your high priority items first. Once you have these things scheduled in, reasonably put in any other lower priority items that you think you can manage. Remember to leave room for meals, personal hygiene, sleep, and (limited) social time. Once you start using weekly schedules regularly, you’ll notice you can schedule some things well in advance, and others the week prior. This way your weekly schedules are always a work in progress.

Daily To Do Lists

Put together your daily to do list for today or tomorrow. Review and use the strategies listed in Evaluating Scheduling Tools as you put it together.

Here are some more tips for effectively using your daily to do list:

  • Be specific: “Read history chapter 2 (30 pages)”—not “History homework.”
  • Put important things high on your list where you’ll see them every time you check the list.
  • Make your list at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit.
  • Don’t make your list overwhelming. If you added everything you eventually need to do, you could end up with so many things on the list that you’d never read through them all. If you worry you might forget something, write it in the margin of your planner’s page a week or two away.
  • Use your list. Lists often include little things that may take only a few minutes to do, so check your list any time during the day you have a moment free.
  • Cross out or check off things after you’ve done them—doing this becomes rewarding.
  • Don’t use your to-do list to procrastinate. Don’t pull it out to find something else you just “have” to do instead of studying!

Notice that your long-term goals should drive your mid-term goals, and your mid-term goals should drive your short-term goals. Your daily to-do list will have many more things on it that are life necessities, such as bill payment deadlines and grocery shopping, but the daily list will also have those things that will help you achieve your short-term goals; and these will move you closer to achieving your long-term goals. For example, a long-term goal may be to become a registered nurse. Then a mid-term goal could be to complete the prerequisite courses for the program and achieve higher scores than the grade cut-offs from last year’s admissions. Then a short-term goal may be to study for the final exams coming up next week. The daily to do list may schedule in study time for each course you are currently taking.  This is essentially breaking up goals into small steps by dividing them among your semester schedule, your weekly planner, and your daily to do lists.

Exercise: Creating Personal Schedules

Create three personal schedules as referred to above using the tools you chose in Section 7.2 They can be handwritten on paper or saved on digital software, or all three can be different formats. Set them up so they will work for you.

  1. Semester at a glance
  2. Weekly planner
  3. Daily to-do list

Once you have established a system of scheduling, it is a good idea to review how well it is working for you and if any changes need to be made. Try answering these questions after using your weekly planner for a few weeks.

Exercise: Reviewing Schedule Plans

At the end of each day or week, spend a few minutes reviewing your planned schedule and writing answers to the following questions. What do you notice about your study tendencies?

  1. Did you usually get as much, more, or less schoolwork done as you had scheduled for the day? If you got less done, was the problem due to scheduling more time than you actually had, or not making effective use of the scheduled blocks of time?
  2. List the steps you will follow to make your scheduling process work better next week.
  3. What other things did you do repeatedly during the week when you should have been studying?
  4. What were the most common distractions (people or other interruptions) during the week when you were studying?
  5. List ways you can control your study space to avoid these activities and prevent these distractions next week.
  6. Do you see a pattern in the activities you least enjoyed and had difficulty getting started on?

Use your information to help you adapt your scheduling and study times.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Organizing Your Time” in University Success by N. Mahoney, B. Klassen, and M. D’Eon. Adapted by Mary Shier. CC BY-NC-SA.


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Creating Personal Schedules Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Malo and Maggie Convey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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