Tackling Your To-Do List at the End of the Semester

by | Nov 28, 2017

No matter how organized you are, things tend to pile up at the end of the semester. There are final projects to grade, conference abstracts to submit, papers to be written, and travel plans to be made. Trying to do everything on your list, not to mention keep a coherent list, can start to feel impossible. In the era of bullet journals, Google calendars, spreadsheets and phone apps, here are some simple organization suggestions for how to stay on top of your to-do list.

Turn to a tried-and-true classic

The to-do list is a classic for a reason! The trick here is to take the time to jot tasks down and assign them a day; that way, you set up accountability. Whether your list takes digital or analog form is up to you.

Purchasing a small notebook that you carry with you at all times might be the best way for you to check in on—and check things off—your to-do list.

Using your phone notes apps or a simple Word document that maps out your tasks and goals each day for the upcoming week might give you the flexibility you’re looking for.

What matters is that you have one centralized location for your list and that you actually look at it and update it regularly.

Believe that no task is too small

Your daily to-do list doesn’t have to only include the big things; in fact, most effective to-do lists don’t. You know that feeling of satisfaction you get from checking things off of your list? That’s what will motivate you to keep going.

Huge tasks, however, take time to tackle, and it can be a challenge to keep up your energy. It’s not effective to merely put “write dissertation” at the top of your organization list (unless seeing that goal each day excites you, in which case go for it!). Rather, break down large tasks into manageable chunks and spread those across your days.

Be sure to also include the small things you already do every day, from walking your dog to scanning your inbox. When you pepper your list with simple tasks, you always feel like you’re getting something done.

Back it up

Mapping out your days and weeks involves both identifying what needs to be done and assessing how long those tasks will take you. This is a matter of scope and motivation.

As you schedule your day and review what needs to be done, try setting a back-up time to complete the tasks you identify.

This approach gives you both a realistic sense of your workload for the day ahead and the motivation to finish what you’ve laid out. If you know you’ll have to spend Saturday afternoon completing the writing project you’re stalling on, that’s all the more reason to dive in now.

Use a timer

Even with a perfect, streamlined, and well planned to-do list, your focus can wane. Even the best-laid plans can need a little prompting.

As you work through an individual task, try setting a timer for the length of time you want to dedicate to it. Tell yourself that while that timer is ticking, you will give that task your complete attention. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the work at hand.

The trick here is not to block out super long periods of time, as it’s hard to concentrate for more than an hour or two. This is an exercise in both mindfulness and productivity so try and approach it as such, without judgment and with intention.

Know yourself

An important part of organization is self-reflection. Knowing yourself and how and where you like to work can help you determine a system that is uniquely effective for you.

Does seeing your work laid out visually, in an aesthetically appealing way, excite you? Bullet journaling might be the way to go in that case.

Does having a months-long, macro-view of what needs to be done help you stay grounded? A multi-month desk calendar could do the trick.

Do you work better when you have a clean and organized computer desktop? Sometimes small things like that can make the bigger stuff easier.

Is it overwhelming for you to plan beyond the next few weeks? That’s okay too; a quick and steady weekly list might be just the right fit for the end of term crunch.

Whatever you do, make sure it works for you.

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Alexandra Sastre is the associate director of campus communications at Swarthmore College.

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