Managing your workload at university

It’s easy for me as a third-year humanities student to look back at my first formative essays in an endearing light. With the afforded luxury of their length, I believe mine were only 1500 words, it’s hard not to long for those days again and find amusement in my undue worry.

However, I can fully empathise that at the time they are very daunting. It’s your very first impression to the lecturers who will then mark the summatives and exams for the rest of the year and the essays themselves are often different and intimidating to those at A Level. There’s a whole new mark scheme, format and style to the essays and now, the expectation to use academic work to seamlessly support your points.

Not only this, but the new routine that you’ve patched together to balance normal university work for lectures and seminars must now take on all the extra academic reading and research for these formatives. At first glance this seems very overwhelming.

Yet, for this very reason they are formatives. The idea is to give you a chance to make mistakes, try out writing styles and accidently reference incorrectly. Naturally you will want to do well, but approach the essays with a forgiving mind-set that they will not be your best work during all your time at Durham.

Thus, they aren’t only useful to gain a flood of feedback but also an opportunity to try out and adapt the best ways you can time manage academic work with personal organisation and other commitments around summative and exam seasons. These techniques and habits most definitely contribute to whether an essay is successful.

So, the best thing is to plan your time early. Look at deadlines. Although it’s blissful to indulge in ignorance, your future self will be so grateful for the advanced heads-up so make note of all due dates. Then make a to-do list and order tasks in highest priority. This helps to make the long list less formidable. I find it also useful to break up work into smaller tasks. For example, write targeted daily to-dos of a couple of readings towards a much larger plan and essay.

In the same vein, over my time I’ve found writing much fuller plans very useful and time-saving when writing up a longer essay or coursework piece. In particular, plan how you will link between paragraphs and points and don’t forget to make note of all the references (and page numbers!) to save yourself so much time when completing the work.

Getting the balance between work and breaks is overwhelmingly important. Take time out for yourself and spend time with friends even when deadlines feel tight. Taking breaks is very important and don’t always need to be justified. Clearing your mind by going for a walk or doing some exercise sharpens your focus and can boost your energy. It’s best to try to not blur these boundaries. Although easier said than done, when you set time to work, work and then in your downtime switch off your mind from those tasks. So, when you’ve set yourself a few hours to study, cast away your phone and turn off notifications from your laptop. Equally, when you have time off, don’t attempt to half-read a journal while Netflix is humming in the background. Sticking to how you planned to use your separate time slots can help you feel productive and work more efficiently for less time.

Use lecturers’ office hours. This is also a new system at university and something I need to myself make the most of, but dropping into your lecturer’s office hours, if only for ten minutes, allows you to ask any questions you might not bring up in a seminar, and they are often willing to help you plan and suggest readings to your chosen question.

So, it’s important to come into your first formative season with the correct mindset. The lessons you learn from trying to set up good, sustainable work techniques are just as useful as any academic feedback you’ll receive and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to achieve as high a grade as at the end of year 13 – it’s only up from here!

Featured image by cottonbro studio on Pexels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel