Five ways to get on top of your study workload

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Remember when you resolved to be more organised and stay on top of your workload while studying this year? If that commitment has become a distant memory as day-to-day obligations pile up, you’re not alone. Even those with the best of intentions can quickly fall behind when life’s little challenges interfere with study. All of a sudden exams are creeping up and the tasks can feel insurmountable. But with these simple tips it’s possible to ditch that helpless feeling and get back on track.

Make a plan

When there’s a lot happening simultaneously, it can be tempting to dive straight into the chaos. But taking some time to look at the bigger picture and plot out work timelines can help you to get a handle on priorities. Jot down every single thing that you need to do and start putting time in your diary to complete tasks in the same way that you have non-negotiable time booked to attend classes.

Once the requirements are out of your head and into a plan, you’ll stop worrying about where to begin and start completing the work. Sort the items on your list from most pressing to non-urgent, then tackle the important ones first. For more help on getting organised, check out our six tips for time management.

Keep things in perspective

According to Professor Nicole Rinehart from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, falling behind isn’t a character flaw, sometimes it happens for reasons beyond our control. ‘We will all fall behind at some stage – it’s life. It’s how we get up and move forward that is important,’ Prof. Rinehart says. If you find deadlines looming and really don’t know how you’re going to manage, she suggests reaching out to those around to re-negotiate timelines if possible. ‘Taking some control of the situation helps students to put one foot in front of the other,’ she adds.

'We will all fall behind at some stage – it’s life. It’s how we get up and move forward that is important'

Professor Nicole Rinehart,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

Do the hard stuff first

Putting off the tough tasks can take up mental space. Working through emails and less important jobs while convincing yourself that you’ll get to it will only add to the anxiety of the workload. A report by McKinsey & Companies shows that workers can spend up to 28 per cent of the working week answering emails – that more than a quarter of the week on time-sucking admin. If you find yourself spending a disproportional amount of time on email, social networks or other communications switch them off and throw yourself into the to-do list.

Talk it out

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed it can help to talk to someone who’s independent of the situation. This person might be a mentor or a councillor with the capacity to provide non-judgemental feedback and help you to clarify what needs to be done to get ahead. Most schools and universities provide access to a councillor that can lend an ear.

Eat, sleep and relax

The best thing you can do when you’re behind is to take the time for a good night’s sleep, rather than staying up all night cramming. Studies show that sleep facilitates memory retention, which is a lot more beneficial than pushing through the small hours trying to learn. It’s also essential to make sure you’re taking the time to eat well. What we fuel our bodies with has an impact on our productivity. Eating heavy meals such as pasta will cause a quick release of energy followed by a slump, while healthier slow-release options like fruit, vegetables and lean meats will provide consistent energy and help you to avoid fatigue. To combat that tired feeling, having snacks like almonds and fresh fruit on hand will help you feel energised.

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Nicole Rinehart
Nicole Rinehart

Professor of Psychology (Clinical), School of Psychology, Deakin University
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