Tips for Grads: Calendaring for the rest of the semester

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

October! The month of scary things. Scariest to me right now? That it’s officially the middle of the semester. I usually plan out my schedule and assignments to the halfway point of the syllabus and tell myself the rest is Future Olivia’s problem. Well, Future Olivia is here and she’s responsible for making sure she knows what to read for next week.

But I’m going to take it a step further and use this natural middle point to map out what the rest of the semester will look like. While it may sound like a lot for me to suggest you take time in your schedule that may or may not exist to sit down and plan out what’s coming months down the line, you’ll be grateful that you did. Here are some tips for calendaring the rest of your semester:

  • Prioritize by magnitude: Rather than going chronologically, I go by the big ticket items in my schedule first, and fill in the smaller, lower-priority items later: class, assignment, job, etc. My biggest non-negotiables for this semester look like a final paper, my friend’s wedding, and a big work event. Yours may look different, you may have a ton this semester and not as many the next. But taking some time to figure out what the biggest benchmarks are will help you with my next suggestion…
  • Know what’s in pen & what’s in pencil: This only applies to a physical calendar, which there are arguments for holding onto, but stay with me. Priorities like a research paper deadline or being in my friend’s wedding aren’t negotiable, but wanting to go to my professor’s office hours are, in that this is something I could reschedule if I need to. However, if you have a habit of canceling things to make room for other things, and you wish you didn’t, try using this tip to train yourself into committing to things you may otherwise bail out on by writing it on a physical calendar in pen, as opposed to pencil, which you can erase.
  • Work backwards: If you have a final paper, work project, or report due during finals, another tactic to consider for effective calendaring is working backwards to add benchmarks that lead up to a final product. Anything from “draft due on December 5” all the way down to “have one paragraph written by 11:59 pm” on every Sunday for the month of November are great way to try this out and see if it helps you manage your bigger assignments.
  • Schedule ‘you’ time: If you’ve been reading my Tips columns over the past year and a half you may already know what I’m about to say. Schedule breaks! It is essential that you plan downtime, treats, breaks, or moments of calm for yourself. It is not frivolous or supplemental to do so, and is in fact a key factor in maintaining productivity and balance in your life as a graduate student. Scheduling these things with the same level of reverence that you schedule your graduate work will pay off in the short and long term.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.