Drawing upon years of wisdom gained through repeatedly getting pummeled in the head, Mike Tyson once said,
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
And you know what? He’s right.
Plans usually go awry when you’ve got an angry, 6’3″ dude pushing 1000 psi’s of bone, skin, and top-grain tanned leather straight at your pearly whites. And, being honest here, it often takes far less than that to make a plan break down.
Plans are fragile at best; cloudy wisps of wishful thinking at worst. Good ‘ole Ike was telling the truth when he said,
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
The former president was right; planning is really important.
I’ve talked a lot about planning on this site. I’ve guided you through my personal planning/task management system, talked about how to use concentrated planning periods to beat procrastination, and went through how to create a study schedule for finals. My book on earning better grades even features an entire chapter on planning.
However, it’s a fact of life that our plans often go awry. When you’re a student, this can wreak havoc on your organization… and your motivation in general.
See, when you start a new semester, you (well, I – I guess I’m projecting here) usually reset your calendar and task management system. You make sure everything is reset and ready to go. With all the exciting new classes ahead, your motivation levels are higher than the inevitable near-future position of a helium balloon given to a child.
But then the plans start to go awry.
Maybe you don’t get punched in the mouth, but you do have unproductive days. You don’t finish all that you planned to get done. Also, new stuff comes up, friends distract you, and things generally fall through the cracks.
This contributes to what I like to call entropy – a general slide towards chaos within your task management system, calendar, and file system. Once those systems are compromised, your brain starts having to hold information on its own. This causes stress, and that in turn leads to low motivation.
Is this motivational death spiral inevitable? Do you simply just have to accept it each and every semester?
No – well, at least not if you’re doing weekly reviews. What are those, you ask?
Well, a weekly review is a time to sit down, review how your week went, and make sure all your task management systems are in order.
A weekly review should consist of at least three specific practices. Let’s quickly go through them.
When Eisenhower said that planning is everything, I believe he meant that the entire process of planning is everything. That includes the last step – reviewing how well the plan went. This is that step.
Look back at your plan for the week and ask yourself:
“How closely did I stick to it, and how much did I actually get done?”
One way you can make this part of the process easier is by keeping a daily accomplishment journal, which has the added benefit of boosting your confidence.
To do this, simply start a new notebook in something like Evernote or OneNote (or a paper notebook), and write down what you accomplish each day. At the end of the week, you’ll be able to look back at your journal and compare it to what you planned out at the beginning of the week (or at least what you had in your task manager/calendar).
Unless you were a 100% perfect productivity robot this week, now it’s time to ask yourself another question:
“Why didn’t I get everything done?”
Once you identify what caused you to fail in implementing your plan perfectly, you can make small changes which will allow you to improve during the next week. Here are a few ideas:
- Studying in a better location
- Blocking out distractions (like the internet)
- Telling your friends you’re studying so they won’t bug you
- Dropping a class (if your schedule turned out to be too hectic)
The Assessment and the Changes are the one-two punch of the weekly review. Together, they help you to become better able to implement your plans over time. Mike Tyson would be proud.
However, we’ve still got one more thing to do…
The last thing you need to do during your weekly review is to go through all the parts of your task management system and make sure they accurately represent what’s going on in your life. I’m talkin’ your:
- To-do app
- Computer file system (did you lazily save something to the desktop?)
- Physical file system (did you stick a handout in your back pocket when you were in a rush?)
Remember what David Allen said:
“Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.”
Your brain won’t let go of ideas unless it can trust the external systems where it stores them. And if you don’t do The Reset each week, entropy (chaos) creeps in and gunks up the gears in those systems, making them less useful and less trustworthy.
Speaking of external systems, it might be a good idea to enter your weekly review in a habit tracker – such as Habitica – so you don’t forget to do it!
If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.
Looking for More Study Tips?
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy my free 100+ page book called 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less).
The book covers topics like:
- Defeating procrastination
- Getting more out of your classes
- Taking great notes
- Reading your textbooks more efficiently
…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.
If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:
I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂
Here are the apps I used in this video:
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