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Starting off with a Bang: Suggestions for Beginning New Semesters

Like me, do you experience a dramatic increase in stress regarding the number of assignments, courses, projects, and activities of a new semester? Do you find it difficult at the beginning of each new semester to adjust to the environment, schedule, and deadlines? Through many semesters, I have come to understand that certain habits may help to reduce the intense stress that accompanies a new semester. In this blog post, I provide some helpful suggestions and habits to start the new semester (and year) with a bang.


  1. Apps to do the job

Some people may disagree with this suggestion, but I strongly believe that apps can help each person lead a more efficient, less stressful, and overall better life. These apps, if used appropriately, may organize the many assignments, courses, projects, and activities in an easy-to-read and access format. Yes, using apps takes initial time and commitment to understand how to use them and routinize it into your daily life; but once you overcome that initial learning curve, your life will likely be more efficient.

I use Outlook (comes with Queen’s Microsoft Office license) for email and calendar and Todoist (freemium app) for managing and monitoring progress on tasks. There are many apps available to better manage your professional/academic life. I spent nearly a year trying to determine the best combination and features of apps that allow me to reduce stress and improve efficiency. During this year, I explored over 20 apps, used them for a long period of time, and I discarded them once I realized they were not meeting my academic and professional needs. My suggestion would be to explore various technologies and apps and be open to the myriad of ways they may enable you to lead an efficient and less stressful life.


  1. Review course schedule

Before the semester starts, review your course schedule and lock-in the class time in your calendar for each week until the end of semester. Find your classroom locations ahead of time (if classes are in-person) and explore the online interface of the learning management system where all online documents may be located. Find and download essential course materials for reading such as course outlines, schedules, and assignment instructions. Create a folder dedicated to each course and create the following subfolders: course information (general information, course outlines, schedules, etc.), modules (weekly course content, presentation files, and readings), and assignments.


  1. Review course assignments

Review learning objectives, structure, and deadline for all assignments in each course. Make one page with due dates for each assignment either categorized per course, or as a complete list for all courses. Insert deadlines in your calendar or to-do list app with reminders to start working on the assignment four, three, two, and one week before the deadline.

Other helpful tips on course assignments:

  • Determine if there are any assignments due very soon. Start to work on them in January because you will have a lighter workload during this month compared to other months. Working on assignments now will lower your workload in the future, and you will have more time to work on other assignments due later in the semester.
  • Determine if there are any assignments that are scaffolded, meaning that you need to complete an assignment before you start another one. Use this information to plan the when, how, and what of your assignment.
  • Determine the topics for each major paper or presentation and jot down general ideas and notes on the topic and the resources you may need to complete the assignments.
  • Try to find synergiesbetween assignments. This does not mean to submit the same paper as two assignments to separate courses. Instead, focus two assignments to two distinct aspects of one topic. This will reduce the amount of time you will need to acquaint yourself to the topic. For graduate school courses, you may easily accomplish this by focusing assignments on your dissertation topic. This choice will also help you to complete your dissertation because you will be more knowledgeable about the topic.
  • Make a schedule on how and when you will complete all assignments while taking into account your personal, social, and professional commitments. Foresee any conflicts with these commitments and find solutions ahead of time.
  • Work on assignments a bit each week. If you reach a point where you have sufficient research to complete an assignment, then finish the assignment if you have time available. It is always easier to complete research and assignment at once than complete them weeks or months apart. See Where do I start? Strategies for writing effectively.
  • Plan your reading week now (if you have one). Will you need extra time to complete assignments due after reading week? Do you intend to take a break during the reading week? If yes, how will you ensure that you have enough time to complete assignments due after the break?
  • For weeks you foresee as being exceptionally busy, insert buffer time– extra time that you will use if you need more time to complete an assignment. Including this time allows you to plan for unexpected situations that may affect one or more domains of your life.


  1. Review commitments

Perform an hour-by-hour (map-a-week) analysis of your curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular commitments. Please see previous blog post for more information: A Short Guide to Living a More Efficient Life. Determine if there is an opportunity to add more things or if there is too much on your plate that you have to let go of something. Moreover, find any periods of time where your workload in one area will dip (or increase), and how you can use that time to address other competing commitments.

  1. Start a new habit

The month of January is useful because your academic and professional life is still getting into gear. Use this time to start a new healthy habit and maintain it for the month of January. Use this time when you have the mental space to improve your daily routine. Examples of habits include exercise, healthy eating, expanding your social life, and daily brain exercises.


Posted in New Students, Productivity, Skill Development, Staying Well, Transitioning Tagged with: , , , , ,

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