Building a workable routine

Zikra Rahman


The clock strikes 3 am… 5 hours left until your physics test. On your desk splatters papers and post-its. The words in your textbook don’t even look like letters anymore. Staying awake won’t be an issue though; the second hand ticks. You never wanted to cram your semester into one night… it’s just the math test yesterday, the english essay and the spanish presentation tomorrow. As a student, it gets difficult to balance your school work, social life and well-being through the deadlines and stress. Here are Prep excellence’s tips to building a workable routine. 


Plan ahead


Go get yourself a cute agenda, make a bullet journal or use Google calendar. When you keep all your tasks in your head, a 500 word essay feels like a 48 part presentation. Writing your tasks down puts the workload into perspective, especially when you’re not constantly trying to remember them. After you’ve listed your assignments, you can break the tasks into smaller proportions. 


To do so, determine your working pace, deadline and workload. Divide your work into smaller parts: research, first draft of script, second draft of script, good copy of script, choose pictures for the infographic, make outline for infographic and final copy of infographic. Then distribute a bit of your work throughout your time slot, keeping in mind your limitations and abilities. Then, you should determine and write down what you want to accomplish each day. So, instead of reading 15 chapters in 2 days, read two every day for 7 days. 


Listing things down gives you a greater control of your life, as well as clearing your mind. Now, you can focus on other aspects of you: better sleep because you don’t stay up cramming for your next test and exercising more because you’re not anxiously sitting around anymore. Ideally, you should have four lists. However, people are different and too many lists can have the opposite effect and stress out many. But you should aim for at least a monthly and weekly schedule. And even if you don’t always use a daily schedule, you should opt for one during the exam season and big projects. 


Yearly: for your big projects, goals and personal ambitions. For example, learning a programming language. 

Monthly: to divide your big goals, as well as events, exams and monthly ambitions. You should set out deadlines and big goals here, so, finish learning a specific course by the first week of march. 

Weekly: for your obligations, exams and events. Your weekly schedule will probably be the most pressing. You can divide your monthly goals into here. 

Daily: You divide your weekly goals into here. You list specific tasks you wish to accomplish. Can be used to balance aspects of life other than school or work. For example, try including a 30 minute walk, hanging out with a friend, cutting out on social-media etc. It is also the most effective list to build good habits and routine. Crossing-out every-time you abstain from bad habits and accomplish a routine can “send you on a roll”. 


Set a time to sleep and a time to wake up


The saying: “early to sleep, early to rise, keeps you healthy, wealthy and wise” has its merits. If you’re a night owl, you work better at night and can’t do anything in the morning. However, when you’re sleeping at four am and waking up at 3 pm, it crosses the line. We’re not saying sleep at eight and wake up at four, however, a healthy sleep schedule reduces stress and increases concentration. Setting a target time based on your individual circumstances to sleep will encourage you to start and finish your work before said time. To build a sleep-schedule, keep into account which times you’re the most and least productive, when you have to be awake, your workload, etc. 

Divide your work into light – heavy – medium


The hardest part of working is getting started. So, start with your easiest task to help “break the ice”. Then, finish up your hardest assignments while you’re still “in the zone”. Finally, finishing up with the moderately demanding tasks allows you to take a breath and better adjust to your recreation period.


Define and prioritize clear goals


Although obvious, when working, divide your work according to importance, which can be defined through deadlines and workload. Once you define clear objectives, it becomes easier to divide your work. Some people work better setting up a big ambition at the end of the tunnel: studying will help me graduate and get a job. Others are better off setting smaller, more concrete, ambitions: studying will help me get an A on the exam. 


Don’t overwork yourself


While working hard is important, beware of overworking. Committing yourself to too much can cause burn out, which is often mistaken for laziness. Overworking, often caused by procrastination and stress, is detrimental in the long run: working too much now affects your productivity, ability to accomplish future tasks, mental and physical health. To avoid overworking, instead of immediately moving onto the next assignment, take breaks every time you finish a task. Devote time for recreation and to yourself: meet up with a friend, go on a walk or watch a movie. Setting up recreational events into your time-table can encourage you to finish your work before said time. Whenever you feel the pressure overwhelming you, it’s an indicator you should take time to relax. It’s more effective and refreshing to take small breaks everyday rather than working relentlessly throughout the week and taking one entire day off. 


Drink water, sleep, eat balanced, breathe and exercise


Not taking care of yourself largely contributes to student stress. When the basic needs aren’t paid attention to, things start to slip out of your control. Start by placing a water bottle near/on your desk. Building good habits is tough, so despite the temptation, start small and progressively increase intensity. A 10 minute walk is better than 0 minutes. And slowly, you can increase that 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Consider starting some yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to relieve stress. 


Sneak in revision time


Use seemingly meaning-less time to get work done. If you take the bus home, pull out your textbook pdf and get some reading done or review your chemistry notes. If you’re studying on the go make sure to prepare your material and study goals beforehand: download pdfs of documents if you don’t have internet access and determine how many pages you want to get done. For your next test, take the key ideas of the material and put them into jot-notes on your phone, which you can review while waiting for the subway. You could also play a youtube video or a recording of yourself while you do house-hold chores. Enjoy your schedule clearing up and going-out with friends!


Make friends


Whether your peers are in or out of your academic life, they can help you keep track of your study and life habits. Sprinkling out obligations to them throughout your schedule can help you organize your work around that. Healthy friendships make mundane life more fun; hence help you avoid losing control. A positive influence provides someone to talk and relate to when you’re stressed. Forming a study group or working on an assignment together can make otherwise dreadful studying fun and help you understand the material better. 


Make studying fun and change the pace


When studying is made fun, it exhausts less of your energy. It also decreases the likelihood of procrastination and falling back into old bad habits. Rather than giving yourself a reward at the end, make the actual experience more pleasant. Some tips would be: buy cute stationary, listen to your favorite soundtrack and form a study group. Try out different study methods, like note re-taking (take your scrambled messy class notes and retake them in an aesthetic fashion when you come home/before the test) and the box study method (Make 3 boxes with post-its of your information: check the first one every day, the second every other day and box 3 every week. When you get a question right, promote the post-it to the next box. When you get one wrong, demote it back to the first box). When multiple things are due the next day, a change of pace can help you be more efficient and productive. So, divide your assignments in chunks: 10 math problems, alternate to 30 pages of reading, alternate to writing a paragraph of that essay, take a break then repeat. 


To conclude, the key to maintaining a workable routine is balance. You want to list down your personal, recreational, professional and educational needs, then divide them throughout your time-table accordingly. It’s a method of trial and error as you get to know yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, study habits, pressure limit, attention span, individual circumstances etc. A workable routine must take all these aspects into account in order to be effective and productive. A tip is to replace negative habits with a productive passion you enjoy more, so instead of mindlessly scrolling on your phone, write a new story. Balance also gives you a greater control of your life, which reduces stress, which in turn increases balance. However, getting rid of bad habits can be extremely demanding and overwhelming, so it’s important to break the ice by starting slow and small. For example, to fix a sleep schedule start off with going to bed 20 minutes earlier, then go on from that. Instead of trying to change yourself overnight and giving up after a week, implement little bits of these tips day by day into your life.