Schedule to Succeed: Draft Your Term-Long Calendar

Balancing the demands of life in college can be overwhelming and stressful. This is particularly true because so many of our current educational policies are designed to train assembly line workers in an industrial economy rather than to support knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. Crucial skills in knowledge work include the ability to manage complex projects and to stick to self-imposed deadlines. To build these skills, you to need to develop systems to track your commitments, work efficiently, and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. One low-level scheduling tool that can help you earn the grades that you want is a term-long calendar. While your weekly schedule is designed to capture your recurring weekly time commitments, your term-long calendar stores all non-repeating commitments you have throughout the academic term. This term-long calendar is a crucial tool you can use to accomplish your academic goals, unleash your creativity, and get things done. In this post, we explore more about why it’s so important to create a term-long calendar and help you develop a system to draft this calendar before the start of each academic term. As soon as you master your skills in creating your term-long calendar, we’ll move onto more advanced scheduling tools that will prepare you to thrive in our knowledge economy.

A term-long calendar is a written document that captures all non-recurring time commitments, appointments, meetings, deadlines, and other special events that may be important to you during any given academic term.

One of our goals here at the Learning Code is to help you conquer college. In other words, we want to help you earn any grade you want in any class. Achieving your academic goals is a complex process that requires the ability to make dynamic scheduling decisions throughout each academic term. In any given week, you need to be able to anticipate future deadlines, plan ahead to stay on top of your work, and schedule rest time to recharge throughout the term. However, so many students struggle to do these things because they store all important dates in their mind.

Our brains are not well-designed to hold many important dates in our mind at a single time. Moreover, it can be very difficult to choose which due date is most pressing at any given moment. In fact, human beings are as much driven by our emotions as we our by rational decision-making abilities. Thus, the choices we make in any moment are bound to be effected by our transient desires. In the context of achieving your academic goals, emotional decision making that is based on immediate-term thinking can lead to a loss of focus on long-term priorities.

One of the first things you can do to be a more effective and efficient learner is to capture and organize your various time commitments in a visual format that is stored outside your own mind. Specifically, when you create a term-long calendar that stores all important commitments you’ve made over the entire academic term, you free up your mind to make strategic scheduling decisions. Because you have a written record of your various commitments, you can be much more flexible, thoughtful, and effective when making decisions about how to spend your time on a day-to-day basis. In later posts, we’ll explore how to leverage your term-long calendar to learn more effectively, spend less time studying, schedule in fun/play during your academic term, and consistently achieve your academic goals. For not, let’s go through the process of drafting your term-long calendar for the upcoming academic term.

STEP 1: CREATE A BLANK TERM-LONG CALENDAR

Step 1.1: Create a blank term-long calendar. This calendar should start with the month in which the first day of instruction begins and include all months through the last day of final exams. Make sure the calendar is organized by week and includes all seven weekdays. Many software packages like Mac’s Calendar app make this process very easy. Below is a video that highlights how you might make a blank calendar at the start of every quarter.

For those who would like to make their own calendar, I’ve provided a template for you. Click on the button below to download this template and create your own work.


Some notes about a hard calendar (print version) versus a soft calendar (electronic version) may be useful here. Many of my students buy into marketing pitches from Silicon Valley. Specifically, I have many students who claim that digital calendars are much better than written versions. While I agree with the idea that using digital tools can make life easier, I challenge blind faith in technology. When coaching students, I recommend using hard calendars (paper version) to schedule your events and track your time commitments. Of course, I suggest that you use technology to print out your calendars each quarter. But once you’ve printed the blank copy, I recommend that you hand write all of your commitments. I make this recommendation for a few reasons.

First, written space is a LOT cheaper than screen space. One of the most important features of a term-long calendar is the ability to look into the future and plan ahead. When you use printed calendars, you can lay out many months of your life in front of you and see all the commitments you have. This is much harder to do on a computer since you are limited on screen size.

Second, physical hand writing involves much more creative thought and allows for more design flexibility than in computer programs. From artistic elements, highlighting, images, post-it notes, and different pens/pencils, etc, I find it much easier to create visually appealing calendar items in hand written form than in computer programs. Part of this is because the computer version of calendars are limited by what the code can do. If the creators of a calendar app didn’t write specific code to enable a certain feature, it can be really hard to create that feature for your work. But when your writing your work by hand, you can create any feature you want, erase it, change it, edit it, and have almost infinite flexibility in how you style your work to make it easy to remember your commitments.

Third, I believe it’s really important to customize your calendar in your own style and make it pleasing to look at. In my own calendaring systems, I use pencil to draft commitments that are not yet finalized, I use pen to capture hard deadlines and important meetings, and I use a host of highlighters to signify important types of events. Orange highlighting is for birthdays/parties/festivals, red highlighting are for quizzes and exams, green highlighting is for financial-related commitments, and yellow highlighting is for work-related commitments. I also use post-it notes to remind myself of important deadlines in months to come. Moreover, because I am writing by hand, I can create arrows that span multiple days for travel plans and also change the size of my writing to indicate importance of events on a given day. While some of this is possible on a computer, I’ve never seen a calendar app that can do a fraction of what I can do by hand.

Fourth, scheduling on a computer means you have to have your machine with you. Moreover, if you plan to sync your calendar across devices, you’ll need access to the internet. This can be a barrier to scheduling on the fly in the library, during in-class meetings, or when working with classmates. When your in dialog with others, it’s not always easy to turn on your electronic device to make an appointment. But, assuming you carry your written calendar in a small binder that you have with you, it’s super easy to take that out and jot down an appointment on the fly.

Fifth and most importantly, I want to coach you to be very careful about creating calendar events. One of the disciplines we are developing in this schedule to succeed project is that of scheduling carefully. When you only have a single, paper copy of your calendar, there is only one place you can write down commitments. This is an intentional lack of convenience and creates a need to protect your document from loss or ruin. By forcing yourself to treat that written calendar carefully, you can raise your consciousness about how important it is to protect your calendar, schedule yourself prudently, and track your commitments.

Now that you have a blank calendar template ready for yourself, let’s start filling in the important dates.

STEP 2: SCHEDULE IMPORTANT REGISTRATION DATES

Step 2.1: Go online and search “Academic Calendar for (your institution).”

Step 2.2: Find a master academic calendar for the upcoming academic terms. Then, fill in important registration dates on your term-long calendar including:

☐ First day of instruction

☐ Deadline to drop classes for a full refund

☐ Deadline to withdrawal (late drop) from a class

☐ All academic holidays

☐ Last day of instruction

☐ First and last days of final exams

☐ Any other important registration dates

☐ The day the class schedule comes out for next academic term

☐ The registration day(s) for signing up for classes in next academic term

STEP 3: SCHEDULE FINAL EXAMS FOR YOUR CLASSES

Step 3.1: Go online and search “Final Exam Schedule for (your institution).” Then find the scheduled dates, times, and locations for your final exam in the upcoming term.

Step 3.2: On your term-long calendar, fill in the dates, times and locations of your final exams for your classes this term.

STEP 4: SCHEDULE PERSONAL DATES AND ACTIVITIES

Step 4.1: Schedule important personal dates that you know will occur in the upcoming academic quarter. These include:

☐ Birthday’s of family and close friend (include your birthday)

☐ Family Holidays, Vacations, or Events

☐ Religious Holidays or Religious events

☐ Weddings or Graduation ceremonies

☐ Extracurricular activates (student athletics, club trips, etc.)

☐ Travel, special local events, and weekend trips

☐ Medical appointments

☐ Planned recreation time

Step 4.2: Contact your family, loved ones, and close friends to find out if they have anything planned that you are expected to attend between the first day of instruction and the last day of final exams for the upcoming term. If so, mark this event appropriately.

Step 4.3: Make sure to plan rejuvenating activities into your term-long calendar. These will help balance your academic life. This might include day trips to your favorite local spots, a massage/manicure/pedicure, a trip to the movies, time with family or friends, exercise, or any other special activity that helps you recharge your batteries. Plan your personal activities to support your best effort in your classes. Be careful to schedule these activities at appropriate times during the quarter. Scheduling a fun weekend with family immediately before Monday midterm exam is probably not the best strategy you can use to thrive in your classes. However, scheduling a trip to the movies in the afternoon immediately after that exam might provide a well-earned 3-hour break. Also, do everything in your power to avoid long, intense personal activities during your academic term (i.e. international travel, week-long family vacations, interviewing for new jobs, etc.). If at all possible, schedule these types of activities during Summer Break, Winter Break, or Spring Break.

STEP 5: SCHEDULE PROFESSIONAL OR EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Step 5.1: Schedule important professional or extracurricular dates that you know will occur in the upcoming academic quarter. These include:

☐ Dates for professional conferences you plan to attend

☐ Important workshops you want to attend

☐ All dates for your extracurricular activities (sports events, competitions, meetings, etc).

☐ All meetings with extracurricular clubs or groups

☐ Professional or extracurricular travel

☐ Due date(s) for college applications

☐ Due date(s) for scholarship or internship applications

☐ Decision date(s) for college applications

☐ Decision date(s) for scholarships or internships

All of the work above can be drafted before the start of your academic term. In other words, you can learn more about most of the due dates discussed above before your classes begin. Of course, as you gather new information, you can always update your calendar to reflect those new commitments. However, once classes start, there are a whole collection of new commitments that you can track on your term-long calendar. These are often communicated on the course syllabor arise in your day-to-day meetings with your teacher. Start to track these in step 6 of this process, change these when necessary, and update your calendar as new commitments arise throughout the term.

STEP 6: SCHEDULE IMPORTANT DATES FOR YOUR CLASSES

Step 6.1: For each class that you are currently enrolled in, find your course syllabus or the calendar of due dates for this course. Find all important due dates listed in those documents.

Step 6.2: Fill in the dates and times for all exams, quizzes or assessments. Highlight these in a special color that is dedicated to this type of event (I usually used red for these. And this was the only thing I used red for. If I saw red on my calendar, I knew it was an exam, quiz, or assessment). These might include:

☐ In-class exams (i.e. midterm exams)

☐ In-class quizzes

☐ Take home exams due-dates

☐ Any other assessment date you think you need to remember for your classes

Step 6.3: Fill in the due-dates for every important assignment from each class

☐ Term paper due dates

☐ Term project due dates

☐ Homework assignment due dates

☐ Any other due date you think you need to remember for your classes

Finally, plan to stay healthy during the quarter. Getting sick during an academic quarter can make it very hard to stay engaged with your learning. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid sickness. But, do everything you can to promote a healthy lifestyle and maintain balance so that you are not over stressed. Manage your commitments and look ahead to make sure you get adequate rest, eat well, and stay balanced. If you see a potential issue with too many commitments in a given week, proactively renegotiate anything you can to minimize the chances that you get sick.

STEP 7: REVIEW YOUR EXAM SCHEDULE

Step 7.1: Look back at you’re the calendar you created in Steps 1 – 6 above.

Step 7.2: If you have a time conflict with any of your regularly scheduled exams or other important due date in the course, you might do any of the following:

☐ Cancel the activity that conflicts with this exam.

☐ Enroll in another section with a scheduled exam time that works.

☐ Plan to ask your professor to reschedule your exam

☐ Drop this course and re-enroll during a quarter that will work

Be very careful about asking a professor to reschedule your exam. Most professors will state their policy about rescheduling exams on the class syllabus. Make sure to read the syllabus carefully if you are in this situation. Also, be considerate of your instructors: try this option only if you really can’t find any other alternatives.

Step 7.3: If you have any activities planned on the weekend before to final exams:

☐ Reschedule those activities to another date after finals have finished.

☐ Plan lots of extra study time during the two weeks prior to final exams.

Step 7.4: If you have plans immediately after any of your final exams:

☐ Reschedule these activities.

☐ Be ready to sacrifice your ability to stay extra time after the final if available. Do everything you can NOT to plan activities for 2-4 hours after any scheduled final exam. I suggest this for two reasons. First, sometimes instructors will announce during a final exam that there is extra time to finish. If you’ve scheduled yourself for activities immediately following finals, you will likely lose out if this happens. Also, the process of preparing for and taking a final can be very stressful. By planning to have free time after each final exam, you guarantee time to get food, take a nap and recover.  

STEP 8: UNDERSTAND YOUR TIME CONFLICTS

Step 8.1: Download our term-long calendar analyzer by clicking the button below.


Step 8.2: Review your first draft of your term-long calendar. Determine all dates that you have a time conflict with an in-class meeting. In the term-long calendar analyzer, fill out Table 8.1-List of Non-Regular Attendance. Track all the dates where you will arrive late to class or be absent from class in Table 8.1.

Figure: Table 8.1- List of Non-Regular Attendance. This table is designed to help you track the days you plan to arrive late or be absent from an in-class meeting. Having these dates in mind will empower you to plan ahead for these time conflicts.

Step 8.3: Think about your commitment to stay engaged with your classes and the in-class meetings. Make a commitment to yourself now about how many absences and late arrivals you will allow yourself this quarter. Fill out Table. 8.2- Plan to Stay Engaged to track your planned number of absences.

☐ Decide the maximum number of absences you will allow yourself.

☐ Decide the maximum number of times you’ll allow yourself to be late.

Write these goals in columns three and four of Table 8.2 in your Term-Long Calendar Analyzer.

Figure: Table 8.2- Plan to Stay Engaged. This table is designed to have you make a commitment to yourself at the start of the quarter about how you plan to engage during in-class time.

As you think about your plans for in-class participation, it may be helpful to have some guidelines for your participation. Below are some ideas about how frequently you might want to allow for non-regular attendance during your in-class meetings.

Figure: Table 8.3- Estimated Absences and Late Arrivals

Of course, emergencies and unplanned events can occur that effect your attendance. Sometimes these are unavoidable. The point of this exercise is to get you thinking about your commitment for regular attendance.

HOW IMPORTANT IS REGULAR ATTENDANCE?

Unlike high school or employment, most college instructors will not track your attendance. In fact, it is usually only the most dedicated professors who will spend the time to get to know your names and notice when you are not in class. In general, it is your decision to come to class regularly as a college students. When thinking about how committed you want to be to in-class attendance, I want to provide you with some interesting ideas.

First, I might encourage you to realize that each in-class meeting is a very special event. In-class meetings are one of the few times during each week when you will be in the room with your professors and with other peers who are trying to earn their education. You might imagine that each in-class meeting represented a connection between the lives of hundreds of people. Each in-class meeting requires millions of dollars of economic activity that includes the salary of the teacher, investments from students and their families, labor of construction workers who build the buildings, janitors who cleaned the classrooms, and lots of taxpayer money to fund your school. In-class meetings are where the magic of education is supposed to happen. I encourage you to get your hands on as much of that magic as you can.

Second, I want to coach you to treat yourself like a professional learner. As you think about what this might mean, I ask you this: what do you think are the attendance habits a professional athlete? How often would a professional athlete attend practice? How about game days? How often would they show up late? If you’re thoughtful about your responses, you might recognize that the most successful athletes treat practice time as sacred. They show up early, leave late, and make a commitment to regular attendance. They hardly ever miss a practice session. They engage with 100% effort at every practice and dedicate themselves to their best performance every time they show up.

I recognize that many professional athletes get paid a lot of money. But, think about how they got to that position. Think about how long they had to work and how many practices they didn’t miss in order to build the skills they needed to be really good at their craft. Now, think about yourself as a professional learner. As a professional learner, I encourage you to build the discipline of regular attendance. Do everything in your power to show up a few minutes early, stay fully engaged during in-class meetings, and prepare yourself for success in each class. Minimize your absences. When you show up, give your best effort and stay engaged.

Third, I encourage you to make explicit connections between what you do during in-class meetings and your vision for your life. College is a large expense for you, your loved ones, and our society. Try to remember how privileged you are to have the chance to earn your education. This blessing is likely built on the hopes, dreams, hard work, and sacrifice of many generations of people in your family and larger communities. When you think about this reality, enjoy a strong sense of pride in yourself and feel the strength of your commitment to your education.

One way you can earned this privilege is to attend classes. You may not enjoy every in-class experience nor do I claim that all of your teachers will be good at their jobs. But make a commitment to your learning, your family/loved ones, your communities, and to your future self to do everything in your power to earn the privilege of your college education. Attending class is low hanging fruit in your journey to earn your college edcuation and build a career that you love. I encourage you to make a commitment to attend class and do everything in your power to make that time valuable for your learning.

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