It’s that time of the semester again – time to stop thinking about how amazing reading week was and how great it’s going to be to have time off at Christmas and to start thinking about our old nemesis Deadlines.
It’s time to hit the books and up your productivity to the max. However, I don’t think that upping your productivity should do away with all the other things you have in your normal life to stay sane and to stay happy, so today I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for having a productive (but not panic attack inducing) deadline season.
I’m sure you all have lots to do, so let’s just keep this short and sweet!
Write it all down.
As an avid bullet journaler, I’m sure nobody is surprised to hear me say this, but it’s true. Once you’ve gotten everything you have to worry about out of your head and down on paper, your life becomes so much simpler. You’re no longer fighting all the little things you need to remember and can actually focus on the task at hand.
There are a number of ways you can do this, my personal favourite being the brain dump (the activity is my favourite, not the phrase – I’m really trying to find a better phrase). Getting everything into a clear concise list is the easiest way to work through things and to turn your brain clutter into actionable steps.
If your mind is so crammed full of not only things you have to do but also things you’ve been thinking or worrying about, you might want to consider some good old-fashioned stream of consciousness journaling. It can really help you see what your issues are, what you’re fixating on, and can free up space in your head you didn’t even know you were using, it’s the equivalent of emptying the recycling bin on your computer, it helps everything run more smoothly.
Plan everything out first.
I know this sounds like the same point, but I promise it’s totally different.
Before you even start to write one of your essays, make sure you have them all planned out. Plan them out as soon as possible after you get the question.
Not only does this reduce the chance that you’re going to leave it until the last minute, but it also means your brain can be working in the background while you cook, clean or drive thinking up new arguments or points to improve your essay. Plus, once the planning is done, you’ve got the hard bit out of the way and it becomes so much easier to schedule in a couple of days to actually sit down and write the blighter.
Set your own premature deadlines.
Personally, I always set my own personal deadline a full week before I’m due to submit the essay. That way, I know I’m not going to be penalised for late submission (I need every mark I can lay my hands on) and it gives me an extra 7 days to tweak, adjust and refine my work until I feel it’s my absolute best.
Getting your essay done sooner rather than later also allows you the luxury of stepping away from it for a few days, clearing your head, and then looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing what you find after you’ve taken a step back.
Write in shifts.
There are two different ways I do this, depending on my mood and the closeness of the deadline.
The first is by paragraph. I’ll sit down at my desk and say to myself ‘I am not moving from this desk until I’ve written an introduction and one additional paragraph’ and that’s exactly what I do.
Some days, I prefer to work with time restraints. I’ll sit down at my desk (de ja vu?), set a 30-minute timer on my phone and I’ll say ‘I’m not moving from this chair until the duck quacks’… my timer alert is a duck quacking.
There is a third way you can do this, and that’s by word count (E.g. ‘I’m going to sit here until I’ve written 500 words’) but I find that I always end up writing absolute rubbish when I do that, so I tend to avoid it, but if it works for you go for it!
Working in these smaller increments make it easy to pound out an essay in just a couple of days, and it means you’re coming at the piece with a fresh perspective more frequently, always a good thing.
Rewrite it at least twice.
I have a friend who claims not to rewrite, and I really don’t understand how that can be. This point sort of goes hand in hand with ‘set your own deadlines’ but the crux of the matter is that you must leave yourself loads of time to rewrite and edit your work.
I know, once you’ve finished an essay, it’s tempting to submit it and never look back. However, rewriting can be the difference between a third and a first, so it’s well worth it.
Personally, when I rewrite, I go through two distinct phases.
The first is highlighting. I come up with a code (pink for context, blue for quotes from the text, orange for argument, for example) and I colour my entire essay according to that code. Note: note every word or sentence in the essay gets coloured, that’s how you know if you’re rambling or going off topic.
Once everything of use is coloured, I go back to the very beginning and look at each paragraph in isolation, making sure that I have a good ratio of context to quotes to argument. If there are sentences that aren’t coloured, I either cut them or reword them so they serve my argument and make my prose more succinct.
Once I feel like I have the balance right, I move on to phase two, and that’s to read the essay aloud – it’s the only true way to proofread yourself. By saying and hearing it, you can check that your grammar is correct, your sentences aren’t too long and your language isn’t overblown. Reading it to someone else, or having someone else read it to you can also be really useful in the proofreading stage.
So, there you have it, my top 5 tips for getting through deadline season without losing your mind or failing your course.
If you guys have any tips of your own, let me know in the comments, I need all the help I can get!