Personal Accountability: Creating a Study Plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Plan to succeed by putting together your own study plan!
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Depending on the source, this quote has been accredited to Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Alan Lakein, John Wooden, and likely a handful of other well-known influential people. Perhaps there’s good reason that it’s so popular—because it’s so true! Without a plan, we don’t know what to do, when to do it, or how long it will take. Think of it this way: When taking a vacation, we do not just throw a few things in the car and start driving aimlessly around for an unknown length of time. Even those of us with an adventurous streak will take the time to plan the basics of a trip—a destination, a route, and a timeframe. If we take at least that minimal amount of care in planning a short vacation, how much more effort should we put into planning our day-to-day life?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to developing a study plan, but one thing is sure: the best plan is the one that will be followed. To that end, consider the suggestions below showing how to set up a study plan based on weekly commitments. Feel free to make adjustments according to your needs and style.

First, start with a clear idea of how you currently use your time so that you can identify the necessities you need to include in your plan and the timewasters you need to make a concentrated effort to avoid. If you really aren’t sure how your time is currently spent, keep a time journal for a week, writing down what you do and when.  This might seem like a tedious task, but without knowing where your time is being spent, you cannot focus on the important activities and you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to get done, and frustrated at your lack of progress. It is well worth the effort, I promise!  Here’s a fun, online schedule tool that can really be an eye-opener:

Second, use a to-do list, planner, or calendar to plan your week.  There really isn’t anything you can do to eliminate sleeping, eating, driving the kids to school, medical appointments, or other must-do’s, so list or schedule those in first. You might want to put an ‘M’ next to them for must-do. Next, list or schedule in should-do items, which would include priority items that need to get done but are not depended on by your day-to-day life, such as your coursework or weeding the vegetable garden. You might want to put an ‘S’ next to them for should-do. Finally, list or schedule in the things you want to do.  These things generally take last place because they do not significantly contribute to reaching goals or managing family life; however, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” so be sure to include some fun time! Interspersing your week with activities you really enjoy will help to keep you motivated and interested in other less pleasant tasks. You might want to put a ‘W’ next to them for want-to-do.

Third, become familiar with the features of Career Step’s Study Planner as this can prove to be a very valuable tool! You can access the Study Planner from your course’s home page. There are two methods of planning:

  1. Study hours per week. If you have a limited amount of hours you can commit to for studying each week, use this method of planning. It provides an estimated completion date based on your time commitment.
  2. Completion date goal. If you must be done with the coursework by a certain date or you have a very flexible schedule, choose this method of planning. You may need to adjust your weekly plan if the estimated amount of hours projected by your desired completion date exceeds the amount of study hours you committed to.  If you are unable to adjust your study hours, this is not the best method of planning for you.

Keep in mind that you cannot create a study plan based off of both a weekly hour commitment and a specific completion date. No matter how much pressure you’re under to get the course done by a certain date, you cannot squeeze 20 hours of study each week out of a 10-hour weekly time commitment. Note that both methods take the amount of the course you have completed thus far into consideration, so it’s never too late to start using the Study Planner. The Study Planner also provides the estimated hours each module will require for completion, the percent of each module already completed, and the estimated completion date for each module.

Fourth, now that you’ve made a weekly schedule and looked over the projection results in your course’s Study Planner, you can add some more details to your to-do list or planner. For example, if you are just starting the course and are able to commit to 2 hours of study each weekday for a total of 10 study hours per week, you could write, “Start and complete 100% of Program Orientation,” as well as, “Start and complete 20% of Computer Fundamentals,” into your first 2-hour study block in your planner. You could then write, “Complete 60% of Computer Fundamentals,” into your second 2-hour study block, and so on. (Note that this is 60% of the whole computer module; in other words, an additional 40% to the previous day’s 20%). At the end of your study period, you can regenerate the Study Planner results and make any necessary adjustments to your study plan for the next day based on those results since the Study Planner projections are only estimates.

You are now well on your way to creating and following a realistic study plan, so go ahead and cross “Create Study Plan” off your to-do list!

Below are a few tips you’ll find helpful when creating a study plan:

  • We often procrastinate when we feel overwhelmed by the amount of things we need to do, so try not to take on the world.
  • Interruptions and distractions are a part of life, so leave some wiggle room in your schedule.
  • Efficiency is not as valuable as effectiveness. If you find yourself forgetting material you just finished studying, you’re being too efficient and not effective enough. Slow down and change your approach. Time spent studying something one day that you can’t remember the next is lost time!
  • Be sure to schedule time for a reward after reaching a goal. The reward should be appropriate for the difficulty and boredom of the task. Yes, I said boredom! You’re not going to love every minute of your coursework and it can be just as difficult to tackle easy, boring material as it can be to tackle challenging, interesting material.
  • Avoid putting off studying today with the idea that you’ll just catch up later. “Later” often never comes, and the further one falls behind the harder it is to catch up.
  • Multitask whenever possible. Watch your favorite TV show while folding the laundry. Spend quality time with your family while making a meal together.
  • When writing a to-do list or creating a plan, use a pencil!

What do you think? What are some successful strategies you’ve found for managing your day-to-day priorities?

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