When it comes to planning, prioritizing and managing your academic and personal lives, now more than ever there’s a need to get back to paper. This may seem counterintuitive. With distance or online learning, you are now likely to have everything you need to know about your classes a click away. Why write things down when you can look them up online? To answer this question, you need to understand the key skills students need to be successful in school and what online tools do to support that, what’s missing from those tools, and ultimately how writing out a weekly plan on paper is the key to success.
Four things you need to do to be successful in school
The students who are most successful in school do four things really well:
- They know exactly what work needs to be completed and by when.
- They make a plan for how, where and when they will do their assignments and/or study for tests and quizzes.
- They keep track what work has been completed and what work has not.
- They turn work in the correct way and on time.
These aren’t simple tasks. The first part alone can be daunting. Some online learning platforms can be amazing tools to list your tasks for each class as well as to complete and turn in your work. But for other platforms, you might have to rifle through emails, keep track of what was said during class, look things up on a syllabus, and cross check that online. And that’s just for one class. This means that you sometimes have several tabs and screens open just to figure out the due dates of each assignment or test.
Online tools omit the most important part of the equation: You
While online tools can help you figure out what you have to do and by when, what they lack is the bigger picture of your life. Even if they have features to help you see when all of your assignments are due in a calendar view, they may fail to show other parts of your life. What else you have going on before and after classes is entirely missing. When you get back on campus, this becomes even more vital as you have to balance your academics with your extracurriculars, work and time with friends. While you are distance learning, taking care of yourself requires a little bit of planning and forethought, otherwise, it can easily be missed or forgotten. Furthermore, online lists don’t allow you to make a plan for how, when and where you will get everything done, a key piece to student success.
Paper allows you to see the big picture
Having a comprehensive list of what you need to get done is the first step in managing your academics. Without thinking through a timeline and evaluating if that timeline is reasonable and well-prioritized, then that list mostly just induces stress. By taking time every week to create a plan for how you can distribute your tasks across the week, you can lessen your daily burden. And the easiest and most effective place to do that is by writing it down in a planner or on a piece of paper. By doing so, you see the big picture and are able to make an effective plan for the week.
Consolidating your personal and academic commitments in one place allows you to see where you might have conflict in your schedule or where you might not have enough time to complete a big assignment. It’s the place where you can get clear about what part of the test you will study for on Monday vs. Tuesday, to make sure that you are covering everything you need to know. And if you are a procrastinator, seeing what time you have in a week will likely help you start things sooner rather than later because you will see your limited time. Read more about how to make a rock solid weekly plan here.
Paper allows you to focus
Writing things down helps your brain synthesize and process information in a way that typing does not. In fact, research shows that writing things down by hand helps you remember things better than if you look at your screen or type. Furthermore, it requires you to slow down and think things through rather than mindlessly typing away. Insight into each of your classes might require multiple tabs open on your computer and jumping from tab to tab. You might have to visit a few different tabs until you find the right one. In the meantime, it’s easy to get distracted by an open tab that you didn’t mean to click but might seem more interesting than your original search for assignment details.
Paper allows you to think things through
Once you have everything in front of you, you can take a break from your screen and think through how you will get things done and when. Most of the time, it’s tempting to jump into your work, but there is a huge benefit to planning out an order for what you will do and when you will do it. During that time, you can think about which assignments will take the most time, require the most effort, and are the most important. With this information, you can craft a plan to ensure you are completing your most challenging and important tasks when you are the most productive. Plans also decrease stress. If you take the time to spread your list out across a week, what once seemed like an onerous list now seems doable - 15 tasks turn into 3 tasks per day, which is much less daunting and stressful.
Perhaps the last and one of the best things about paper - there’s no need to remember a password and login and it doesn’t run out of batteries. If you take the time to map things out on paper and make a schedule, then when it’s time to do your work you can get to it. You may need to revisit a website for assignment details, but knowing what you need to do and when helps you to stay on track, waste less time and get things done with less stress and on time.
Lesley Martin has been working in education over the last 20 years. She currently works with students privately as an Academic Success Coach and is the CEO of ClassTracker, a company she founded that creates customized academic planners for middle and high schools and students. Lesley has published two books: Where’s My Stuff: The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide and Make the Grade: Everything you need to Study Better, Stress Less, and Succeed in School.