By Dorian Grayson
Have you ever gotten a project and stuffed the paper away, safe in the knowledge that you have plenty of time to complete it? Were you then surprised when you remembered the project a few days before it’s due and had to rush to complete it, devoting all of your time to it?
We’ve all been there. Smaller homework assignments are easy to quantify, since your task is clear and you just have to do it. Projects, on the other hand, are amorphous things that will confound your abilities to estimate your time. Luckily, there’s a way out.
To-do lists should be lists of tasks. Don’t just put your project on your to-do list. Not only does it go against the spirit of your to-do list, but it deludes you about how much work you have to do. Things like your Spanish assignment should take up one task, whereas projects should take up several lines to emphasize how much work it actually represents.
More important than that, is your preparation for the project. Generally, you’ll spend a class going over the project’s requirements, and when you leave that class you are both the most prepared to tackle the project and the least likely to do any work on it. What you need to do before anything else is make sure you start the project. If you take nothing else from this article, take this: start working on a project the day you get the assignment. Not only are you locking in your knowledge of the assignment, but you’re beginning a pattern of slow work on the project that will get it done over time with no cramming or stress.
Here is a good rule of thumb: as soon as possible after the class when you go over the project, sit down and outline each task that is necessary to bring the project from nothing to completion. These tasks should be individual actions that take less than one hour but more than two minutes. This list of actions forms the flowchart that takes you to a finished project. Work backwards from the due date and space out the tasks you need to do so that you will be done, comfortably, within time. From there, if you have time that day, you can do the first action. It is very important to address projects slowly over time, because consistent work will always let you be less stressed.
Your to-do list is a sacred place that inevitably tends towards entropy. You will underestimate the amount of work a project requires if you don’t break it down into tasks. You will forget the project if you don’t reinforce it into your mind. You will procrastinate if you don’t work on the project consistently. You might fail if you try to do the whole project the night before.
It is crucial that, with all you have going on, you use your time efficiently and keep organized. By breaking down projects like this, you will ensure you never feel swamped from the work and instead better incorporate it into your daily schedule. Good luck!