The midpoint of the semester is here. Our planners are full, we have iPhone reminders set for common tasks, and coffee is our cliche fuel. Is it possible to do all of this well? As we each find the answer for ourselves, here are some things that may help you tackle this beast with grace.

We combined some helpful info from folks at Stanford, UChicago, Cornell and Duke, and came up with a top-ten list of steps to take:

1. Write out your semester to plan ahead.

Have, maintain, and use a planner [paper or digital], and fill in all significant events and due dates from ALL your syllabi. This includes: papers, exams, presentations, organizational meetings, job or internship interviews, etc... Filling in this information will give you a sense of when the “crunch” times are likely to be, allowing you to plan ahead. It will also ensure that you know when papers and/or major projects are due, the dates of exams, etc. Break down major projects into stages and set dates for each: research, outline, 1st draft, etc.

2. Be Specific and write each week down

1.Determine the hours of the day that are not flexible or available for studying; write these down on the weekly calendar.

2. Determine how many hours each class takes in study/prep time (a standard rule of thumb is to allow for 2-3 hours outside of class for every 1 hour spent in class). Add into your weekly schedule this study/prep time for each class.

3. Write down a specific assignment into a specific time slot, as if it was a class you were planning to attend. This way, when you have a chunk of good study time, you don’t take up the first 20 minutes deciding what to work on. Then treat it as an appointment with yourself...and show up on time!

3. Know Yourself and Set Realistic Goals

If you know that you like sleeping in late over weekends don’t schedule a study time for yourself at 7 in the morning. The goal is to be balanced! And that means that you have to be realistic about your habits and behavior. When in doubt, overestimate ... and leave some empty blocks of time open for social or personal needs. Many students forget about things like laundry and showering etc., and many students underestimate how much time it takes to do things.

University of Chicago created "S-M-A-R-T" tips for setting study goals:

S = Specific

M =Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Realistic

T = Timely

Vague: "Read Kant for three hours." (Any goal exceeding 1.5 hours of study should be broken into smaller goals.)

Specific: "Read 6 pages of Kant in an hour and prepare a thought for class"

Not Measurable: "Study for Chemistry exam tonight."

Measurable: "Work problems from 5 chapters for 45 minutes each." (Short, measurable goals will help you stay on track.)

Not Attainable: "Study 40 hours every week outside class."

Attainable: "Study 20 hours every week outside class and get to bed at a decent hour every night."

Unrealistic: "Get straight A's this quarter." (You cannot control everything that will affect your grade.)

Realistic: "Go to all classes. Study 3 hours per day."

Not Timely: "I'll start my paper tomorrow..."

Timely: "Today, I can read the essay questions and pick my topic."

4. Eat well-balanced meals and get regular exercise.

Take time for good meals and exercise. Healthy eating and exercise can dramatically improve your concentration, mood, increase your energy level, reduce tension and help you accomplish a tough class/study/work schedule.

5. Use small bits of time between classes and meetings effectively, consider eliminating social media.

Yes, I said it. Social media is great but it eats up your time. In fifteen minutes you can review, edit, and revise your notes from a recent lecture. You can even compromise with yourself and instead of entirely removing your social media, delete the apps and look at it during predesignated “Social Media” times. My dear stressed friends, you would be shocked how much time we waste scrolling.

6. Handle each piece of paper once.

Stop shuffling paper from one pile to the next. Make a decision about what to do with the paper and do it. When you take time to read e-mails [and do that judiciously], respond to them immediately; don't look at it more than once.

7. Diagnose what's stopping you.

Is it really the whole paper you’re having trouble starting, or just deciding on a topic? Is it the whole problem set, or just one that has a section you can’t understand? Are you researching your paper endlessly? Start writing instead and find out in that way whether more research is required. Rome wasn’t built in a day; college takes 4 years; difficult tasks are meant to be subdivided.

8. Take breaks and build rewards into your schedule.

Limit your blocks of study time to no more than 2 hours on any one course at a time. After 1 1/2 to 2 hours of study you begin to tire rapidly and your ability to concentrate decreases rapidly. Taking a brief break and then studying another course will provide the change necessary to keep up your efficiency. Two hours of solid studying, then a brief break, then two more hours studying, followed by a half-hour phone call to your best friend, is more productive than four mediocre hours of study interspersed with phone calls.

9. Take time for yourself.

Let yourself sit still with your favorite coffee, create something even if it is scary, and watch your favorite tv show. Your mental health matters.

10. Let yourself get distracted.

If you give a moment of your full attention to something that has you worried or distracted, it is more likely to be quieted. Don't let it keep lingering on the edges of your mind.


Quiz written for USA WEEKEND by time management expert Hyrum Smith, chairman of the Franklin Covey Co.