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I need a foolproof method of prioritizing schoolwork

  1. Nov 7, 2012 #1
    This is very basic stuff I probably should have been taught when I was in middle school or high school, or whatever. But, having ADD, I'm finding it very difficult to manage my time doing schoolwork right now.

    I feel like being a logically oriented person and a math major, I should be able to approach this in some sort of logical way. But I always struggle to answer the question "Just what should I be working on right now?"

    Example: I'm doing well in Bridge to Abstract mathematics (a proofs course). Not as well in Differential equations. Perhaps I have homework in both. I need to pull up my grade in diff EQ so I work on that, which takes away from time on Bridge. So I get to my Bridge class and I'm now behind. I take a quiz or test and do not so great.

    In this case it's just a case of "ok, balancing things out. Something has to get sacrificed."

    But there's other situations that are not so clear cut. I have web assign homework for differential equations, which is due at a certain time then expires (usually midnight on some date). Let's say I have a Bridge test the next day, but I have Webassign due that night. Usually I've worked on a few problems but I have those last few that are hanging me up. Now I have a time priority (urgency) vs. another kind of priority (important) and I'm faced with the "important vs. urgent" decision.

    I'm kind of rambling here, but can anyone relate, and has anyone found a solution? I almost feel like it should be a perfectly reasonable, logical, perhaps mathematical approach to this, or perhaps I think that because I'm a math major.

    Dave K

    p.s. Oh crikey, can someone edit my title. I obviously meant "foolproof" not "full-proof" I'm kind of my own grammar hound and it's hurting my eyes.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2012 #2


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    Re: I need a full-proof method of prioritizing schoolwork

    One way to categorize tasks is by two crteria: Urgent and Important.

    "Not urgent and not important" - why bother to do it at all?
    "Urgent and important" - DO IT NOW.
    "Urgent but not important" - you probably have to waste some time doing this, even though it doesn't have much benefit in the long run. Just get it done and then forget about it.

    But the most critical group are actually the tasks that are "Important but not urgent". Those are the things that you SHOULD be doing, but they keep getting crowded out by everything else.
  4. Nov 7, 2012 #3
    Re: I need a full-proof method of prioritizing schoolwork

    Yeah, I learned something like this when I did time management seminars back in the day (with Franklin and such). Maybe I'm just not using it effectively, but it seems not detailed enough almost.I think the problem is, what is "it"? and how much of "it" should I do?

    What i mean is - sometimes my homework becomes a time sucking black hole. I can say "I'll do Diff EQ first, then bridge," But then 5 hours later I'm still on Diff EQ and my brain is done and won't do bridge, so it just doesn't get done.

    Maybe I'm overthinking it. Wouldn't be the first time.

    But I hear what you're saying. I should put it back into practice more. Funny how I forgot all this stuff I learned when I was out of school and I'm not using it now that I"m back in.

    -Dave K
  5. Nov 8, 2012 #4
    Re: I need a full-proof method of prioritizing schoolwork

    Oh and can an admin seriously edit the topic title for me? It's atrociously bad. It should be "foolproof."
  6. Nov 8, 2012 #5
    Personally: I have 2 days set aside for larger projects. I have little time, after doing my daily & regular homework, to do much else on the other 'busy' days (20 credits this term). Regularly scheduled homework feeds into this mentality; I try hard to not get 'stuck' one night where I have regular homework and a long-term/large project (or paper) to do.

    If I have nothing, on my 'project homework' days, I end up working ahead (or doing extra problems) a bit to ease up a night. If I read ahead more than a day and I understand the material - I'll do the homework for it if it is available.

    Also - I find it much easier to do work during the day between classes than at night. Maybe your problem isn't necessarily prioritization, but procrastination. You may just need more time in general to complete your assigned work and you're underestimating that. This was an 'automatic' thing for me since I have to drive ~20 min to school, so I don't go home (or do a dorm) between classes. I sit in a studyroom and work for my 1-2 hour breaks. Rarely do I find myself bringing homework to my house anymore after I've started really busting myself to do homework in the hour long nooks and crannies of the day.
  7. Nov 8, 2012 #6
    Here's the problem. I used to be a fan of the Franklin method of prioritizing. You group tasks, A, B, and C priorities. Then prioritize each of those. Work on a1 until finished. Etc. Sounds logical. It worked for basic house and work stuff.

    But with school it's different of the math assignments it's the "Until finished" that's a problem. I start working on A1....A1....A1....A1.... Still not done. Stuck on a problem. Maybe I should switch to the other one now?

    So I'm not sure how long I"m supposed to spend on something before I say "this isn't working." and literally just stop and do something else.

    I'd also like to just do a little bit of each type of homework each day...That way I'm never completely behind in any one thing even if I'm a little behind in everything.

    That's another nice idea that doesn't work in practice. Because The test for subject A is next week, and i need to get through X amount of problems in order to be ready for it...and I don't see how I can possibly study for Subject B while that's going on. Finally I get through it, then I'm behind on B.

    Perhaps this is all very normal, but I keep thinking "there's gotta be a better way." I very purposely lightened my load this semester so I wouldn't be overloaded, since I also have math club (I'm VP) peer leading, and I'm married (which is a time commitment!)

    -Dave K
  8. Nov 8, 2012 #7


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    The best time management advice I've heard is to first create a semester calendar. This lays out all of the assignments you need to complete for the semester (I recommend using Google Calendar for this). Then divide those assignments up into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, if you have to complete a chapter in a week, then divide the chapter up by its subsections. Next, subtract the number of days the assignment is due in by 3, so:

    (Number of subsections) / (Number of days until assignment is due)-3

    That formula should give you a manageable daily goal. You'll be making incremental progress in each subject and making it a habit of getting assignments done a few days ahead of schedule prevents you from being overwhelmed by the onslaught of due dates.
  9. Nov 8, 2012 #8
    Ah, formulas! We're getting somewhere. Only problem is my instructors tend to be working on the fly a bit and I can't really do that in advance as well as I'd like...

    Though there are some patterns. Diff EQ tends to hand out assignments after each class, so 3X a week, though the length varies. They are usually due the same day the next week. I've tried to do X problems per day so I have it due the day before, but 2 or three days before is probably better.

    [pardon my thinking 'out loud' or whatever the written analog of that is]

    Bridge to abstract mathematics - (Logic and proof course). That's tough. It's very sporadic. The professor isn't even completely sure which sections he's going to cover (as long as we get the point of the course, which is to learn how to do proofs. For example, we don't have to do the graph theory chapter, but it would be helpful. But we might skip it.)

    Hard to judge what the "due date" of the assignments is since they are not collected. Though we do have weekly quizzes and it's good to have the assignments done by then so you'll be prepared. 3 days before won't always work since sometimes it's assigned on Tuesday and "due" Thursday.


    -Dave K
  10. Nov 8, 2012 #9
    One method is, when you put everything on Google calendar, make an accompanying schedule that says not when things are due but when you plan to do things. For example, let's say it's the beginning of the week, and you have two assignments due on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, and three on Saturday. You could make something like this:

    Sunday - Assignment one for DiffyQ
    Monday - Assignment 2 for DiffyQ
    Tuesday - HW problems in Calc 3

    ...and so on. It also helps because IMO, doing only one or two tasks a day is way more efficient. You said you feel mentally exhausted when you try to do multiple big things in the same day, so try your hardest to keep each goal separate.

    Good luck!
  11. Nov 11, 2012 #10
    Something I have found that has helped me tremendously with deadlines is creating deadlines of my own. I do this by pushing EVERYTHING due forward one day. So if I have a test on Tuesday, I study all weekend as if it were on Monday. The same goes for homework assignments. Since classes are MWF or TTh, I rarely run into the "we haven't covered it in class yet" issue since I'm just one day ahead. If I miss my own personal deadline (it happens), I'm not punished grade wise. Once you get into the hang of this schedule, it's really no different from your normal schedule except if you work with others who get things done at the last minute. I do, and I use that time to help them and solidify my understanding of the assignment. With this method, you can also use any of the prioritization methods given above, but I just do the hardest assignments first.
  12. Nov 12, 2012 #11
    I do what Null and tinylights do. I do my assignments a few days early, essentially pretending they are due 2-7 days before the actual due date, and it helps tremendously in easing off the stress and letting me focus on my work. I also usually try to work on assignments for no more than one or two classes per day -- this is where being ahead helps tremendously. Obviously, I couldn't do this if I weren't working ahead of schedule. If I work for six hours on my organic chemistry studies, I'll either solely do that for the night or pair it with an easy assignment due later in the week or two weeks out. For on-the-fly assignments, I'll work on them as soon as possible, since I'm usually ahead and can then afford to let the other assignments slide a bit.
  13. Nov 19, 2012 #12
    have you ever heard of the "pomodoro method"? it was designed for getting writing tasks done, i believe, but it works for just about anything. in english, pomodoro = tomato. the method is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer the creator used in devising this method.

    essentially, you set up your study sessions in 30 minute chunks. the first 25, you work hard at staying focused on one task. at the end of that period, you get a 5 min break--no work, no reading, just do whatever you want to do.

    then repeat.

    you can play with the tomato times, making the work periods longer or shorter as needed, but take the break seriously. it will give you motivation to work harder between breaks!

    from there, for any given day, you can assign "tomatoes" to your tasks based on priority: bridge gets 1 tomato, de gets 2.... etc.
  14. Nov 20, 2012 #13
    Yeah, I tried this for awhile. The problem is my A.D.D. in this case. Whenever something is novel it works for me, as long as it's novel. When I tried this method (I didn't know it had a name - I was just doing it based on another idea) it worked for about 3 days. Then when it lost it's novelty I found it impossible to do.

    I think the problem is more prioritization right now. I still don't know *what* to do half the time. It is taking me too long to do assignments, so even if I say "Important task #1 to be completed by ___ date" sometimes I just can't get it done by then because it'll take me 6 hours to complete something that takes a "normal person" 2 hours. So then I basically have to stop doing the assignment in the middle because by that point something more urgent has come up. Stuff gets left undone and I'm looking irresponsible because I didn't "do my homework." It's frustrating.

    Basically getting the a.d.d. looked at right now. It wasn't a problem (much) when I was working and single. Being in school has really "brought it out." It might have a dietary basis. I was just diagnosed hypoglycemic.

    (Geeze, speaking of a.d.d. I know I"m all over the place in this post).

    -Dave K
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