Managing the work

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Taking responsibility involves managing your own progress through the coursework.

You are studying for your own reasons and under your own particular circumstances, with your own background in the subject, so it is up to you to work out where you need to direct your efforts. You may have particular difficulties with parts of the subject, or with finding time, or accessing books, and it is for you to develop a strategy that addresses these challenges. That strategy might include seeking advice and support, but you remain the person in charge.

Sketching the big picture

To take control of your work, you need to begin with the ‘big picture. What are the main components of the course? What work do you have to hand in –and when? Are there other assessed elements? Which are compulsory and which are optional? Is there an exam? Is the course divided into topics? Are there key books that the course works with? All this information should be available on printed sheets, or on a departmental website. Make sure you have tracked down the relevant sources, then take time to go through them carefully with highlighter pens, or write down your own notes of the key things you have to do.

Identify priorities

Use different coloured highlighter pens, or double and treble underlining, or star ratings, to indicate the importance of different course components. What is absolutely essential? What looks particularly challenging? What will need to be planned well in advance? What is optional?

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Own’ the course

Take ownership of the course information by putting your markings all over it. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by ‘official’ documentation, so assert yourself. You are the one doing the course, not ‘them’. Build up your own picture of the course. Having reviewed the big picture, pick out some of the first tasks and begin to think about how to tackle them.

Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks

A key principle in keeping on top of your studies is to break big tasks into small, bite-sized tasks.

I set myself just one or two small, manageable tasks. I find if I can achieve these it’s so much better than setting myself a full working day and then not getting round to much at all. I often feel so virtuous at having achieved the little tasks that I go on and do more. I get a kick out of ticking things off my list

The trouble with big tasks is that their shape and scope is hard to comprehend. You can’t see where to start, so, like Ryan, you keep putting things off. And if you do get started, it is very hard to tell how much progress you are making. Bite-sized tasks give you much more control.

Make tasks specific

It helps to turn vague, abstract tasks, such as ‘make progress with the book, into specific, concrete tasks, such as ‘read the next ten pages. You then know where to start and what to do. You can set yourself a time allowance and check your progress as you go. And when you complete the task, you can pat yourself on the back.

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Making a To Do list

An excellent way to begin to engage with your work is to create a To Do list. This is a simple device, but very effective (particularly if you use computer,which makes it very easy to update). The example in picture below,

shows tasks arranged in the order they are to be cheeked. Each item has some stars indicating it importance, and an estimate, in brackets, of the number of hours it will take. Tasks 3 and 5 have been broken down into sub-tasks.

You may already have a to do list .If not, make yourself one. List your study tasks for the week ahead using either pen and paper or your words processor. Use coloured paper if you have any, then the list will be easy to find amongst other papers. Ifyouuseawordprocessor,number the items in your list. Try moving list items around: put the cursor on an item,hold down the Shift and Alt keys and use the arrow keys;:.This should move the item up and down the list.

Try the right arrow for ‘demoting a task to a subtask and the left arrow for ‘promoting it back. If these moves don’t work with your words processor,try the Help menu. When your list is done, save it and print it off.

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Using your To Do list

As you complete your tasks, cross them off your list. When other tasks arise, write them in, using arrows to show where they fit into the sequence. If you made the list on your computer,go back to the saved list to delete completed tasks and add in the new ones; then rearrange the sequence as appropriate, save the updated version and print it off. In this way the uncompleted tasks will gradually move up your list. Nothing gets forgotten, and you don’t have to keep writing anew list. a to do list is a guide to action. It turns a shapeless mound of work into sequence of tasks you can tackle. It tells you where to start and enables you to track your progress. You may find yourself working on tasks out of sequence, but that’s fine. Your To Do list is a creative tool, not straightjacket. With it in front of you, you can think intelligently about modifying your plans when things have not worked out. You’re main in control.

Key points

To manage your work effectively you need to:

Review course information, marking up the important features, so that you can build up the ‘big picture of what you have to do.

Break big tasks into smaller ‘bite sized tasks.

Make a to do list to help you steer your way through the work.

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