How to structure your time without a formal timetable

It’s term three, and for many of us that means that lectures and seminars are over, replaced instead by essay deadlines and exam revision. It can be difficult to stay motivated and find a way to structure your own time without the help of the weekly timetables of the past two terms. Difficult, but not impossible! Here are some tips on how to organise your time and stay on top of your work.

By Lucy Carter

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of the time and tasks ahead of you. To break down what you need to do into more manageable chunks, try separating your to do list. How you do this is up to you. Some people prefer to make a daily, weekly and monthly list, so they can see the time frames that they need to get things done in; others like to colour code things by level of urgency. Once you’ve got these smaller lists, you can work out, roughly, how long each item will take to complete. From that, you can fit them into your days in a way that’s less overwhelming and more achievable.

When you’ve got your to do lists, the next step is actually sitting down to work. There are a ridiculous number of techniques that go in and out of fashion for staying focussed. One that’s been popular for a while now is the Pomodoro Technique, where you work for 25 minutes and follow it with a 5 minute break before starting again. Lots of people swear by it, but I have to admit that it’s never worked for me. 25 minutes just isn’t enough time for me to get settled into my workflow, and I always find the 5 minute break stretching out far longer than it should. Everyone’s ways of working and staying focussed are different, and it’s worth trying out different techniques. Just because something works for your housemate doesn’t mean it’ll work for you – don’t get disheartened, just try something new! Since we’ve returned to in-person teaching, it’s easier to remain focussed in lectures and seminars. You can’t turn your camera off and start online shopping, you’ve got to be present in the room. Working under your own steam on essays and revision, it’s hard to forget that Twitter or Netflix are just a click away. To avoid slipping into mindless scrolling or binge watching, try blocking websites that you know will be a distraction. Alternatively, set them as rewards for the work you’re doing; try giving yourself a 10 minute social media break after you’ve completed one of your goals for the day.

An aerial view of revision notes with an arm across using a pink highlighter. A phone is resting on top of the papers and there are pens and pencils scattered around
Find a revision plan that works for you. Image credit: firmbee

Something that’s useful to do when you don’t have anything externally timetabling your days is to try and create routines yourself. Maybe every afternoon you go for a walk, or you watch an hour of TV every evening. Placing benchmarks throughout your day prevents it from becoming one long stretch of nothingness, and can remind you to stay on track. Giving yourself tasks to complete before you go out every day at 3, for example, provides you with a mini deadline that can help to stop procrastination.

Another thing to take into consideration is when in the day you work best. Once you’ve figured that out, you can structure your time around it. If you’re most productive in the mornings, then work then and spend the afternoon doing other, non-academic tasks and giving yourself breaks. If you’re a night owl, then flip that around. Again, it might take a while to figure out what’s best for you, but once you do it should help you to find a rhythm to your days that keeps you on track and feeling your best.

As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, taking breaks is important. There’s no way you can keep up working 24/7 for any sustained amount of time. It’ll undoubtedly have a negative impact on your wellbeing, and might even make your grades suffer too. Make sure to factor in down time when you’re making your schedules. Reward yourself for your work by going out with friends, or watching a film. Your brain and body will thank you for it!

Hopefully some of these tips and ideas work for you in this final stretch of the year. Good luck, and if you’ve got your own suggestions, share them with us on social media or comment below!


To help you with some of the suggestions above, take a look at our post of study apps, or check out ways to manage your time.

What’s your top tip for structuring revision in term three? Leave us a comment below, tweet us @warwicklibrary or email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

Header image: StartUpStockPhotos

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