The Time Management Strategy that Finally Helped Me Manage My Workload

Embracing spreadsheets helped me stay on top of my deadlines.

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Do you know how to perfectly manage your time while in school? Do you finish all of your assignments way before the deadline? Are you caught up with all your classes? Do you have time to accommodate relaxing and hanging out with friends? 

For most of my first two years of university, the answer to all of the above questions was a big “NO.” Managing my time became so tricky for me that I thought I would just struggle my way through university. However, heading into my fourth year of university I decided I wanted to have a smooth university journey and not a difficult one. I used my experience from the first two years of university, paired with my experience of studying and interning during the pandemic, and I finally came up with some useful time management strategies. For most of us the answer to the above questions can never be "yes" all of the time, but we can try to work towards feeling better about how we manage our workload.

Step 1: Prepare a detailed plan using Google Sheets 

Yes, that’s right, spreadsheets are indeed a powerful tool! At the start of every term, I make a document that consists of several spreadsheets. I populate these sheets as I proceed over the term. 

The first sheet (important dates and outline) consists of all the important dates with the course outline for different courses that I am taking in the semester. (Note: It’s never too late to make this sheet!)

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Based on the first sheet, I prepare another sheet (deadlines) which consists of all the deadlines— including assignments, lab reports, tests, and midterms— for a single month. Finally, I prepare a third sheet (plan) which is my actual, solid approach for the month. The third sheet is mostly based on the deadlines sheet, my class schedule, and time for social interactions and studying. 

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So, in my third sheet (plan), I plan out each day. I use my Excel sheet as a calendar where each day, I leave four empty cells to fill them with four (or less) tasks that I want to accomplish apart from attending all my classes and labs. These tasks are based on the deadlines that I have in the month, based on the deadlines sheet. I plan every day of my month— every hour, to be precise, including weekends! This way, I know what my month will look like and this reduces any uncertainties and helps me avoid rushing through assignments or tasks at the last moment near the deadline. These sheets keep me informed about the important dates for the month, and plan out how I will go about finishing everything on time. 

Step 2: Import your plan to Google Calendar

This step adds efficiency to your plan! By adding your plan to Google Calendar, you don’t have to refer to your spreadsheet every day. You can just add every task to your Google Calendar and leave the reminders to technology! Your Google Calendar will remind you when to do what during the day! Google Calendar has proven to be a great time management tool for me. Ever since the pandemic started, my whole life has been governed by my Google Calendar. This way I know what I am supposed to do and when, and I end up utilizing most of my time rather than wasting it!

Step 3: Stick to your plan

This step is the most important step! Now that you’ve planned everything out, you still have to execute what you’ve planned. I found it difficult to stick to the plan in the beginning, but the following things made it easier:

Set realistic goals

It is important to plan whatever you think you can appropriately accomplish in a day. Planning too much for a single day will only overwhelm you, and planning too little may make you feel that you aren’t doing enough. Start by planning fewer tasks and as you successfully accomplish them, start adding more to your day. This way, you would know how much you can accomplish in a day, along with attending classes.

Treat yourself for your accomplishments

Sticking to your Google Calendar can become apathetic. You can easily start to feel unmotivated on some days. To avoid such days, it is important to reward yourself for your accomplishments. When you successfully follow your calendar for a few days, it’s time to have that ice-cream as a treat! 

It’s okay to cheat!

No one is perfect and we aren’t robots. We cannot unfailingly do what our calendar is instructing us to do 24/7 and that is totally okay! We don’t have to be perfect. It is okay to feel unmotivated on some days, and it is important to take care of yourself on those days. Knowing that you have a plan in place, it is okay to relax on some days as you can always modify your plans to add one or two tasks that you missed on certain days!  

Overall it is important to take good care of yourself, and give your best! Happy time managing!


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About Gurbani

Gurbani is a fourth-year software engineering student at the U of A and has been writing for YouAlberta for the past two years. As an international student she tries to communicate her experiences and learnings through her passion for writing. She is also the Vice President External of the International Students' Association (ISA). When she's not studying or writing, she works on strategies to manage her time appropriately. She also spends time programming, learning Zumba, and reading "not-cliche" young adult fiction, if she ever finds that time to do so.