Creating the Master Schedule

“One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954, chapter 2

This isn’t about hobbits and quests, although I do maintain that one does not simply walk into higher education. The smart student does have a plan, a goal, and a grand network of friends, family, and mentors who will assist on the path toward the attainment of a degree. The smart student, the resourceful student, understands the role of time management and planning at the beginning of the semester.

The smart student begins with what several student resource scholars have termed a master schedule or semester schedule. Rather than rely on just a monthly calendar or a weekly planner, the smart student begins with a one-page schedule that includes the entire semester.

Of course, many students who encounter this idea are stunned. How can one semester fit onto a single page of paper? There’s so MUCH that happens in those seventeen weeks (sixteen weeks plus the week for finals), it’s impossible to cram it into all of those little blocks!

It is. You’re right. That’s why a master schedule doesn’t try to cram every possible assignment and expectation for every class onto a single page. First of all, that’s not effective. Not everything takes top priority all of the time, and a master schedule is for those events that take top priority. Second, the master schedule allows multiple priorities to surface before they become crises. At the beginning of the term, setting up the master schedule gives the student the opportunity to see those days where multiple exams or projects could occur. It’s an advance planning tool, not a daily reminder.

That’s something for a later post.

To set up a master schedule, use a spreadsheet program. You can do it with GoogleDocs. Set up a table that’s eight columns wide and eighteen rows high (you can do nineteen rows if you’d like to include the week before classes begin). Label the top row with “Week #” followed by days of the week, Sunday through Saturday. Along the leftmost column, label weeks 1 through 16, then Finals. From there, fill in the cells with the appropriate dates. If you like a bit of color, use the formatting tools to fill each month in a different color.

Once you’ve made it pretty, it’s time to make it practical. Gather all of the syllabi for your classes as well as the University master calendar. Go through each and write in the major assignments and assessments. Papers, exams, research projects, presentations, those should all go in there. Write down days off and days for add/drop and class withdrawal. Write in birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays that you shouldn’t forget.

Step back and look at the schedule. Do you have more than one exam on a certain day? Week? Multiple projects due the same week? Exams before or after a holiday break?

Now, you know. From here, you can start planning your weekly schedule and modify it when you know you have exams or events coming up. Post your master schedule somewhere you can see it often – the desk, the fridge, the bathroom mirror. This way, you’ll minimize stress and surprises as you start to plan each week of the term.

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