Assignments All Due At Once? How To Manage Your Chaos With Less Stress.

I’m sure you have wondered why your assignments always seem to be due around the same time? Well, having taught within the college and university sector for a long time, I can safely say that this this is one of the most common complaints I receive from students. I know how much stress it causes you because of this careless timetabling. So why can’t your teachers plan your due dates better you ask? Sadly, there is no real ‘answer’ to this age-old question. The truth is that academics or teachers plan their own due dates for their subject well in advance of term. They only have control of their own due dates for the subject they are responsible for, allowing them to avoid collaborating with other staff to make your experience a little easier. I know this isn’t good enough Stay Troopers but I am just telling you the truth (trust me, I am on your side!). Your teachers are more concerned with ways of minimising their workload and to ease THEIR suffering, grading your assessments when it best suits them, not when it best suits you. This all sounds terribly unfair I know, but it’s how it works and you guys are the ones left worse off. This is part of the reason why I created Stay True, to be there for you guys and to help you when you need it, particularly in times like this. Sadly, universities have become large businesses and therefore have hundreds of units offered each term with hundreds, if not thousands of staff making faculty discussion an effort (although not at all impossible). So, whilst this remains in the ‘too hard basket for them’, I will be here for you! So besides from using Stay True tutors to help you work on your assessments during these periods, here are some top tips of mine which may also assist with getting you across the line and out of assignment chaos.

Get Old-School and Get a Diary.

I know we are all addicted to our phones but take my word for it, they just don’t work when it comes to calendars. For whatever reason, electronic calendars are not great for seeing and visualising your weekly timeline. I think this issue comes down to the simple fact that calendar apps are designed to condense viewing options to suit the small sizing parameters of our phones. What I suggest is investing in a diary. Yes, those old-school ones from the newsagency. It needs to be a decent sized one (preferably A5) that has all seven days clearly visible over two pages. It needs to fit nicely in your bag so that it doesn’t become an effort. Once you have your diary, at the start of each term it is important that you put in all the assignments that you have due on each relevant day/date. You should highlight these days and include information on how it needs to be submitted, how much the assessment is worth and what time it is due on that day. Doing this will allow you to become aware of any ‘bunch’ ups in the due dates of your assessments and to adequately prepare for these periods. You should also include all the ‘major’ events and any other commitments you have upcoming so that you have planned well ahead of time (i.e. work, weddings, parties or appointments). Setting up a clear diary that you can regularly consult will allow you to plan to make sure you get on the assignment bus so that it doesn’t run you down!

Don’t Take on The World, Just Take on One Assignment at a Time.

It is important that you only work on ONE assessment at any given time. If you have two assessments due in one week (perhaps even on the same day) it is important that you dedicate a few days to each one. Once an assignment is completed and you are happy with it, put it aside and move on to the next. If you try to complete two tasks simultaneously, each with completely different content, you are likely to spread yourself too thin. Doing this will render you less likely to be able to articulate ideas in a logical fashion. I wish we could split our brain in half to focus on two assignments at the same time, but we can’t (at least not yet anyway). You don’t want to get your wires crossed and disadvantage yourself from doing your best work. My suggestion is to keep your approach simple and give each assignment the time it deserves. You will be far less likely to freak out and potentially freeze up if you know that you have sufficiently allocated enough time to spend on each assessment. I know how paralysing the blank screen of death can be so think of it this way, one blank screen is better than two, right?

Keep Those Files Healthy.

Make sure that your files are properly named and appropriately stored everywhere! I can’t tell you how many times I have had a student contact me in a panic, having a meltdown after realising they submitted an assessment for a whole other unit. I also get many students accidentally submitting an old version of their assessment, say without a reference list, or half of their document missing for example. To avoid this, I suggest that each time you make significant changes to an assignment, save it using the title of the assessment and date/time in the file name. Doing this, and sticking to this, will allow you to have a clear tracking system in place providing you with the confidence that the file you are submitting is the latest version. You don’t have any spare time during these busy periods so you certainly don’t have time to spend re-editing or even worse, re-writing an assessment from scratch… ‘ain’t nobody got time for dat!’. You should set up folders for each subject at the start of term and stick to saving your work to them. Don’t end up the way I did with a desktop full of hundreds of untidy and unorganised files forcing you to spend hours using the search bar to locate a single assignment. Write in your diary what you named your file and which folder you saved it to for some extra backup!

Save, Save and Save Again!

Thankfully our word processing apps are much more advanced these days compared to when I first started at uni. Most programs have the capability to update your files more frequently and sometimes in real time. It is still important however to save your work every paragraph or so. Although we can trust the auto-save feature more nowadays, the only person you can trust fully is yourself! It is particularity important to save your work if you intend on having a break from your computer, if the battery is running low, you have a lot of files open at once or even if it is a really hot day (you don’t want your computer overheating and combusting in front of your eyes the moment you are about to submit!). I have been in this situation whilst writing my PhD, losing hours, days and sometimes even a week’s worth of work. To avoid both you and your PC from having meltdowns, save your file to multiple locations including your hard drive, cloud, USB and even an email inbox (addressed and sent to yourself). This will get you into the routine of valuing, protecting and storing your work appropriately. You undoubtedly worked very hard on these assessments and you need do them justice. Protect your precious baby with your life! You will have a better night’s sleep knowing that you got every base covered.

Prioritise and Give Everything One Final Make-over.

Once you have worked on your two (or more) assignments, you should leave a day or so to edit them one last time. What you will find is that when you return to your first assessment, you will pick up on mistakes you missed before. By the end of the week you will also be on a roll, feeling positive and totally in the groove. After having had a break from your work, the tidying up process becomes satisfying and much more bearable. If you can find the time to apply some distance you will see things in a new light and with a fresh perspective. You will be able to edit your assignment with clarity and confidence, making it read and flow better. Ideas take time to develop, so whilst you have been working away on that second assignment, you have probably been thinking of new ways to improve the first one without even realising. All of this happens subconsciously in the background, and with minimal effort. So, make sure you go back and improve everything by giving it the mini makeover it deserves. This is the fun part of the whole process. Once you are completely satisfied with your work, submit those wonderfully and clearly labelled files and send your babies out into the world ready for success. Don’t dwell on your assessments and be confident that you handled the chaos thrown at you by following my tips the best way you could! You are a Stay Trooper! 😊

Don’t run or avoid chaos because remember, chaos can be organised, harnessed and controlled. It is preparation and strategy that is key here. So, what are you waiting for? Go out and buy yourself that fabulous diary because believe me, it will be one of the best purchases you will make. Oh…and you should totally make it funky at least because after all, if you have to live with it every day you might as well enjoy it!

Dr Evvie Smith