I'm starting my second semester of college next week. Looking ahead, I have approximately 13 hours in class per week (plus however many hours of homework, class readings, practicing, studying, etc.), plus a 3-credit online course. I'm also working 10–12 hours a week at the student food pantry, plus starting another job which will probably end up coming to 4–6 hours per week. In the meantime, I have my responsibilities as an S2S mentor and intern for NMG, family committments, the klezmer band I'm in, and there's also a yoga class I'm hoping to get involved with through the Honors College. Oh, and I'd like to, you know, eat, sleep and breathe every so often.
Add to that the fact that I observe the Jewish Shabbat—meaning Friday nights and Saturdays are completely off-limits for any school- or work-related activities, and, needless to say, my week is looking pretty hectic, though I don't think I'm taking on more than I can handle. Still, even aside from the overall time committment, the process of creating that schedule itself is no easy task, when I have all these things I need or want to fit in—many of which are likely to have conflicting times (or simply take up too much time when combined). Especially as someone who, until relatively recently, generally had a very flexible schedule and a good deal of free time, this isn't so simple. There's a lot that goes into planning a schedule, so today I'm going to share some tips for handling this process.
The first thing to do is prioritize. Depending on just how much you want to fit into your day or week, you may not realistically be able to manage it all, so it's crucial that you know which things are absolutely imperative, which are pretty important, and which are relatively insignificant. You may well want to discuss with someone else (or multiple someone elses)—from a school advisor/counselor to your parents—as you go through this process. Exactly which factors determine the relative importance of each thing may vary from person to person and activity to activity, but whatever they are, make sure you have a clear idea of what they are. In my case, there are certain courses I'm required to take in order to keep on track with my degree, and I also need to take a certain number of credit hours each semester in order to keep my scholarship. I have to ensure I'm working enough to earn the money I need to pay the rest of my tuition. And my Shabbat-observance is nonnegotiable. On the other hand, while I'd like to attend the yoga class, it's not the end of the world if that doesn't work out.
So things you're required to do for a program or any other reason obviously have to take priority unless you're going to make a wider change (although that can be something to consider, if it's just seeming like too much—there's no shame in changing your mind or goals!). Also important, however, is to leave space for the things that are important for your personal happiness (for me, this includes NMG) and to maintain your physical/mental wellbeing (e.g. time to have nourishing, healthy meals, relaxation/recreation, socialization, etc.). When you're working out your prorities, make sure you're not selling this category short.
While you're working this all out, keep in mind that you may ultimately need to compromise. You may have to drop something from your plans, or postpone it to a future time. I'd love to put in eight hours a week at my new job, or have ages to spend writing stories, going to concerts, or just hanging out with my family... but realistically, I can't do all of that and still attend all my classes, complete all my assignments, etc. There are also other courses I'm interested in taking but can't fit into my schedule right now, so while I still hope to take them at some point, they'll at least have to wait for the summer or next year.
You can read more about prioritizing (especially in the context of daily workloads, projects, and such—which are also very relevant to planning) in this excellent blog post by my fellow S2S mentor Katharine. :)
When it comes to the practical part of actually creating the schedule itself (as opposed to just thinking, in the abstract, of what you want to have on that schedule), I find that having an actual calendar/planner (physical and/or digital) is incredibly helpful. List the things you need to fit in and the things you want to fit in; fill in time slots as you go, and see what you have left. Sure, I can carry everything around in my head to a point, but if I have each activity written down for its timeslot, having that visual representation ensures that I won't end up accidentally double-booking or losing track of something. It also means that I don't need to worry about forgetting things in the moments when I'm not thinking about it, and when I actually get to the semester and am going through my day, I can easily check my schedule to ensure that I'll be in the right place and the right time and won't miss anything—plus, going back to the actual planning process, writing it all down saves me brainpower to use on prioritizing and problem-solving rather than just keeping activities/committments times straight in my head. Whether you use a specifically designed schedule planning tool, a spreadsheet, a word document, or just a piece of paper, don't rely on yourself alone to hold everything in place; no memory is infallible, and there's really no reason not to use an external tracking tool to help you in your planning.
In the midst of all this, make sure you're leaving room for the other things that don't necessarily have specific times assigned—homework, exercise, family bonding, even sleep. Sometimes it's easy to be caught up in "these classes both meet at noon, I need to find an alternate time for one of them," to the point where you forget that (aside from the issue of taking on too much at once) if you don't have enough open time you're not going to be able to complete the assignments for both classes. Some things you know you'll need to do may not be possible to plan earlier on—for example, I know I'll have to have a weekly piano test next semester, but signups don't come up until class has already begun, so I'm just going to have to work that out when it comes. Different but similarly, my degree program requires me to attend a certain number of concerts over the course of my tenure as a student in order to graduate. Qualifying concerts happen on many different days, at many different times... but I still can't underestimate the challenge of finding the time to go to them. (For this reason, I've opted to leave a break in my schedule at a time when I know there are very frequent, near-weekly recitals. Even though I don't have to have a gap there, and it could otherwise be a good time to work, if I don't leave time open, that time won't come out of nowhere.) Committments that aren't attached to a particular time are no less important to keep in mind. Likewise, don't forget transportation time. For example, I take the bus from home to college—so I have to leave at least half an hour for that on either end of my day, plus factor in a cushion in case the bus is running late or I miss it. If you're leaving in the morning, it's important to have plenty of time to get together any food you need to pack, homework, etc.—and depending on the weather, just getting properly attired to go outside can add a few minutes. (Pro tip: Do not ride your bike in sub-freezing temperatures without wearing gloves or mittens. xD)
Also bear in mind that additional things will without doubt come up later on—sometimes, these will be one-time things, other times, they may be ongoing committments. Either way, these things matter too. Leave holes in your schedule, be willing to adjust if need be—and know just what you can adjust and what is really nonnegotiable, so that you're prepared when you find yourself needing to make a last-minute change or decision.
One vital ability when arranging a complicated schedule is to communicate with others. This is important both while your schedule is still in the works and after you're living it. While you're planning, you may find yourself in correspondence/coordination with multiple different people as you juggle all the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. A delayed response from one person or an unanticipated roadblock or piece of red tape (to use some examples from my own experience this semester and last semester, that's registration holds preventing me from enrolling in classes that are filling up, waiting for my coworkers to set their own schedules so that it can be figured out who can fill which shifts, waiting for a time to be set for the yoga class, waiting for this, that, and the other thing...) can interfere with your coordination with others—which can be difficult, no to mention frustrating. Still, one important lesson I've learned is not to let this prevent me from communicating. Even if that means sending an email saying "Hey, I'm really sorry I haven't gotten back to you yet. I'm still waiting to hear back from X and Z, so this is subject to change, but for now here's my availability/here's what I'm thinking..." that's better than just waiting for a resolution you may not get for hours, days, or (hopefully it won't take this long!) weeks. Chances are, people you're communicating with understand the challenges of planning a busy schedule... but if you don't tell them, they won't know how things stand. Make sure everyone's on the same page to the best of your ability.
The other aspect of communication which I touched on comes into play when unexpected things come up (as they inevitably will) that interfere/conflict with previously schedule items. A good general rule of thumb can be "first come, first serve" (in other words, if you've already arranged to do one thing at one time, don't call it off without good reason)... but this is by no means always the case. Again, when unexpected events or responsibilities pop up in your life, it's key to add these to your prioritization. Just make sure you're contacting everyone involved promptly and discussing the situation to keep everyone in the loop about what's going on. For me, even if that means that I have to miss a class for some reason (didn't happen this past semester except for a few planned dates which were Jewish holidays, but it still could), or a work shift (happened once or twice), or call off some other arrangements (ditto), then that means I'd better be emailing my professor, my coworkers, my peers, etc. to apprise them of the situation. Again, everyone has probably had similar experiences, and hopefully they'll be understanding—but not if they don't know what's going on.
Ultimately, planning a complicated schedule is a pretty crucial—albeit, sometimes challenging—life skill to develop, particularly as you get older. At this point in your life, you may or may not have the need to do this yourself—perhaps your school or your parents create your schedule for you, or perhaps you don't need to have any particular schedule—but even if that's the case, it's pretty much guarantee that you'll need to sooner or later. I hope some of this was or will be helpful to some of you, and best of luck with creating your own unique, personalized routine whenever you do so.
And if you ever get bogged down in all the detail work, just think of that satisfying moment when the last puzzle piece clicks into place. It's a great feeling. :)