It happens to the best of us. We go into the semester or quarter with a grand plan of always staying on schedule and then life happens… we get sick, we have trouble balancing work and school, we’re sidetracked by our kids, or we just fall into a slump.
That doesn’t mean you’re a bad student or that you’re not cut out for graduation — it just means you’re human and you need a little help getting back on track! To help you back on schedule and to a place of optimal productivity, we came up with these six tips for catching up with your schoolwork.
1. Talk to Your Instructors About Possible Extension
Instructors appreciate transparency and they may give you some leeway. Your instructors may even offer other forms of support, such as one-on-one office hours, some helpful tips, or recommendations for student resources like tutoring. The earlier you can communicate any issues you’re experiencing, the better chance you have to course-correct.
2. Create an Inventory of Your Assignments and Prioritize
When you’re behind on your assignments, the thought of everything you need to do to catch up can be paralyzing. “Analysis paralysis” refers to overthinking matters to the point where you become so overwhelmed that you fail to take any action. To avoid reaching this point, it’s best to transfer your to-do list from your head to paper (or your phone, tablet, or desktop).
Create a list of all the assignments you need to catch up on and then prioritize those tasks based on importance and urgency. For example, past-due assignments that are a larger percentage of your grade should take higher priority. Also, you should start on more time-intensive projects sooner so you can space out the work and not get burned out by trying to do them all at once.
By creating a to-do list that is ordered from highest to lowest priority, you have a clear plan of action that you can start working on right away rather than worrying about whether you’re using your time effectively. If you’re not able to check everything off the list, you can at least rest assured knowing the most important assignments were completed.
Additionally, if you’re still struggling with analysis paralysis due to the stress of starting a hefty project, consider starting with a smaller assignment to create a “quick win” and get yourself motivated. You can also break your large project into smaller steps to help your assignment feel more manageable and to get the same “quick win” effect.
3. Create a Calendar for Your Assignments
Next, you will want to add all your past-due and upcoming assignments to a calendar, whether that’s paper or digital. Space out past-due assignments over a certain number of weeks (depending on how long you have to catch up) so you set a reasonable timeline for completing them in tandem with your new assignments.
Note down the dates for which you need to complete each assignment. It can be helpful to set your own personal due date a few days before the actual deadline to give yourself wiggle room in case extra time is needed. (This can help to prevent you from falling behind on even more assignments in the future.)
And make sure to be realistic with your goals for completing assignments. Trying to cram too much into one week will only set you up for failure and lead to frustration and loss of momentum.
It can be helpful to create due date reminders on your phone to help you stay on schedule.
4. Minimize Distractions
As you make the sprint to catch up on your coursework, you need to remove as many barriers as possible. Make an honest assessment of what unnecessary distractions are keeping you from completing your assignments on time and take steps to minimize or even completely eliminate those distractions while you’re focusing on schoolwork.
Here are a few tips that can help you stay focused and inspired:
- Work in a quiet room or area where you’re less likely to be distracted or interrupted. (Check out our 5 tips for setting up your study space for success.)
- Put your phone on airplane mode while you study or complete assignments.
- Remove social media apps from your phone for a while.
- Don’t try to study while watching TV, listening to a podcast, etc.
- If you work well with music, put on your best study playlist. (It may help to choose something instrumental so you don’t start singing along!)
- If you need a change of scenery, find a new place to study like the library, a coffee shop, or your patio.
- If you’re a parent and you’re able to do so, set a time when your significant other, a family member, or anyone else willing to help can watch your kids for a while so you can focus 100% on your schoolwork.
- If you keep thinking about other things while studying, write them down so you can clear your mind and refocus on the task at hand.
- Take regular breaks so you don’t get burned out. (Here are some ideas for how you can use your break time in a constructive way.)
5. Ask for Help and Tap Into Your Resources
One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to do everything on their own. Talk to an advisor at your school about the issues you’re experiencing so they can provide advice and direct you to resources that may be available at your college or university, such as free tutoring, study guides, or student workshops.
You can also ask around to see if there are any study groups you can join, as working in a group can help break up the monotony of your work and help you better absorb the material you’re learning. Even finding just one other classmate to swap notes and ideas with can be helpful. (Read this post if you’re thinking of starting your own study group.)
6. Reflect and Recalibrate
As you wrap up your semester or quarter, it’s important to stop and reflect on what you could have done better. Could you have procrastinated less? Been more strategic in your study schedule? Minimized or removed certain distractions? Been more vocal about your need for help?
Fortunately, your semester or quarter is an opportunity to start fresh! Go into your new courses with new strategies for success and implement them from the start so you’re less likely to fall behind. With a more intentional approach, you may be able to get through the semester or quarter with better grades and less stress.
To learn some strategies for how to make better use of your study time (which can help you stay on schedule), check out this post on how to study more efficiently.
You can also continue following our blog for more study tips.
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.