August 18, 2016
Never Miss an Assignment Again!
I love the start of a new semester. It is a fresh chance to set personal and professional goals, get organized, and see what I can accomplish in a short period of time. It’s like New Year’s Day comes twice a year (three times if you count summer session, which of course I do!).
I’ve decided to start off the school year by writing up some advice for my students on how to do well in school, particularly in a distance education program. My hope is that you’ll pick up some useful tips and get your academic year off to a strong start.
Today’s tip relates to remembering due dates. Meeting deadlines for assignments is fundamental to being a good student, for a variety of reasons:
- In almost every class, late work will cost you points and missing a lot of deadlines will pull down your final grade. If grades are important to you, then it is silly to lose unnecessary points.
- Organizing your work and meeting deadlines is a core professional competency. Developing an organizational system now sets you up for success after graduation.
- Related to the above, repeatedly turning in late work doesn’t reflect well on your ability to be a successful professional and therefore affects my willingness to write a positive letter of reference or connect you to my professional network later.
- Missing deadlines causes unnecessary stress. School is stressful enough (so much to do, so much to learn) without adding to it with a last minute rush to finish something on time or waking up to the sinking feeling that something was due the night before.
At the same time, I get it that you are really busy. Believe me, I get it. Between teaching three classes, raising kids, writing professionally, and volunteering, I have trouble remembering deadlines, too. Seriously, I will forget to grade assignments without an organizational system for remembering due dates (the due dates I assigned).
So here’s my system:
- Get a calendar, ideally one that lets you see a month at a time. I prefer a printed calendar, since online ones often obscure all but a few appointments in the monthly view (ultimately, I have two calendars, an online one that is more effective for day-to-day appointments and a printed one for tracking due dates).
- Gather up pens or markers, one color for each class or major commitment in your life. If you are using an online calendar, you should be able to change the color of appointments and tasks – assign a color to each class or commitment.
- Starting with your first class, take the syllabus and put every class meeting and due date on your calendar. You don’t need to have a lot of detail, since these are just reminders. For example, if my 567 class has a forum post for Professional Reading 3 due on Friday, my calendar says, “567 PR3.”
- Next, read every assignment sheet and add any additional due dates to your calendar, then look at the course website for any additional dates. Some instructors get all the due dates in the syllabus, but not all do, so the goal here is to be as thorough as possible.
- Switch colors and do the same thing for the rest of the classes you are taking.
- Switch colors again and add any major non-class commitments. I define major as things that will interfere with my normal work routine (weekend travel, an all-day commitment) or that require a lot of prep work on my part (a big party, photo day at my daughter’s ballet company).
Yay! You now have your due dates organized! My September calendar looks like this:
Of course, now you have to work the system.
- Once a day, look at your calendar. Take note of what is due tomorrow (last chance to not miss that deadline!) and what is coming for the next few days (to avoid unpleasant surprises).
- Once a week, look ahead for at least a week or two. I use Friday afternoon as a planning day to block out my upcoming week and create a to-do list for the weekend. This is also a good time to break down large assignments into smaller tasks and put them on your calendar as weekly goals.
- Cross off assignments as you complete them. This has two benefits – it feels good to see what you’ve accomplished (all those lovely crossed out things!) and creates a visual reminder of what you still need to do. (Note: for weekly meetings, I make a check after the reminder when I’ve completed the readings and course prep and then cross it off when class is over.)
I hope the above helps you get organized to meet all your due dates this fall!