Preparing for the new academic year can ensure you start your studies with confidence. Your first week back will be an adjustment with new classes, workload, a busier schedule with social events, and deadlines. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, taking some time out to prepare, reflect and reset can put you in a good position to achieve your goals, avoid falling into procrastination, and reduce the likelihood of burnout.
Choose a Planning System
How do you intend to keep track of classes, deadlines, and your personal life while juggling everyday tasks and studying? You can maintain a clear mind and sense of ease by implementing a simple, yet effective planning system. This will enable you to implement time management techniques, organise your to-do lists, and identify busier periods of the academic year. The best planning system is one that’s realistic for you.
What are you likely to use and update throughout the academic year? You might prefer an all-in-one tool like an academic planner, or a digital workspace such as Notion. Something like this would allow you to manage your schedule, time, and tasks. In the case of digital tools, you might even be able to have your planning system and study materials all in one place. Alternatively, you might prefer to use a mix of tools, like Google calendar for commitments, classes, deadlines and routines, and separate digital tool or planner for organising daily, weekly or monthly tasks.
Whether you prefer digital or analog planning, or a mix of both, there’s no right or wrong way to approach this. A good planning system is easy to maintain, and allows you to achieve your goals, complete tasks and manage your schedule. If for you that looks like a notebook with sticky note to-do lists, that’s okay.
Set Goals for the Academic Year
Just like the new year, the beginning of the academic year can feel like the perfect time to set new goals. Academic goal setting can help you navigate your expectations for your studies, personal life, and even career during this time. Ask yourself, what would you do if you couldn’t fail? Your goals don’t have to focus on grades or performance. Instead, you can set goals for networking and socialising, achieving a better work-life balance, or sticking to certain study habits and routines.
This approach allows you to set a variety of beneficial goals that improve both your academic and personal life without worrying about grades. However, such goals can still lead to academic success by allowing you to network with other students, maintain your motivation by balancing life and school, and ensure you’re studying regularly. If you find performance oriented goals motivating and valuable, aim to make them specific and actionable. Reflect on previous grades or study habits to strategically plan how you intend to reach those goals and best balance assessments.
Similar to deciding on a planning system beforehand, choosing an organisation system can help you to feel prepared. A simple organisation system can allow you to locate study materials, important documents, and identify relationships between your study topics.
Before you get organising, take some time to declutter your physical and digital space. You can pick out paperwork or files that might be relevant for the upcoming year, such as information you’ll expand on in a new module, or assignments that you achieved a good grade on. Next, you can plan how you want to organise readings, files, future assessment work, and more. You might want to go paperless, or switch from digital to paper. The new academic year is a good time to make that change.
Getting organised can also involve setting up your digital workspace with the relevant apps, software and websites. By setting yourself up at the beginning of the year, you can make the best use of these digital tools throughout your studies. For example, you can set up an account with genei, and begin organising readings into folders and projects. You’ll have well organised material to refer back to for essays, exams and assessments, alongside your own notes and AI-powered summaries. Similarly, if you plan to use a study tool like Anki for flashcards, you can keep these up to date and ready to go for the exam season.
Define a Study Routine
A well-thought out study routine can reduce the stress that comes with class preparations and deadlines. Your planning system will highlight the free time you have to study, and syllabus or module outlines can show you what work will be required. First, your study routine can focus on staying on top of weekly class preparation and deadlines. These are short term goals and are likely to be recurring tasks. Each week, you can identify time blocks or days to complete this work, i.e. every Tuesday morning, I will complete my readings for Wednesday’s lecture. This pre-defined routine takes the guess out of deciding when to get things done, and allows you to work even when you might not feel motivated to.
Second, your study routine can support long term study goals, such as memorisation or assessment preparation. This will be informed by the type of study methods you choose to implement. For example, if you decided to use popular study techniques like active recall and spaced repetition, you’ll want to schedule sessions to engage in active recall of material throughout the year. Making these decisions at the beginning of the year, rather than when the exam period rolls around, can allow you to be prepared and avoid burnout when you have multiple deadlines and exams to complete. Read more about techniques for active recall here, and a detailed guide into curating a study routine here.
But what if you struggle with routine? You can take a more flexible approach. Instead of assigning specific and strict routines, you can outline the essential work to be completed, the assessment types you’ll have, and the study methods that allow you to perform well. Using this information, you can work on a weekly or monthly basis, when you feel you have the time, or headspace. The hardest part is often getting started but if you know exactly what needs doing, when it’s due, and what steps you’ll take, you’ll be able to get started even without a strict routine.
Prepare a Study Space
It’s easier to engage in deep work and hit a flow state if we maintain a distraction free environment. You can rework your current study space to eliminate distractions and feel motivated. What helps you to focus? This might be a desk space filled with books, papers and decorations that help you feel like you’re in a ‘working’ space. Or, a completely clear desk with only the essentials. Alternatively, if your working space isn’t ideal or you concentrate better elsewhere, create a list of study or co-working spaces, cafes, and libraries. You can go visit some before the academic year begins to complete your academic planning, or first week of readings, to see if the atmosphere is ideal for you.
Prioritise Your Wellbeing
Planning and being proactive is an effective stress management strategy, as we discussed in this article. But, it can also help to implement healthy habits early on, such as resetting your sleeping patterns and making small, healthy diet changes to boost your energy and concentration. The first few weeks of the new academic year presents a lot of changes that can leave you feeling tired. Getting your health in check can allow you to balance these adjustments and maintain your mental and physical energy. You can also prepare a list of relaxing or grounding activities to turn to, or implement each week so you can reduce stress and overwhelm. This can make it easier to reset, take proper breaks, and avoid burnout.