How to Plan

Coping with exam stress – how to plan your time
Effective time management can help you to achieve a balance between the things you have to do ‘tasks/chores’ and ‘pleasure’ activities. Planning ahead helps you to stay in control of not only the things you have to do (important) and the things you should do (urgent) but also the things that you would like to do.

Why bother planning?
Often there are key points in our lives when we have to work extra hard at being effective under pressure -the exam period is a good example. In such situations, it is a good use of time to plan a few days/week ahead to ensure you feel in control and achieve a good balance to help maintain your sense of wellbeing.

Focusing on the task in hand and getting organised will help with motivation and reduce stress levels.

Everyone is different and with practice, you can develop good insight into yourself to know when you’re at your best to start to plan your time. This could be either the evening before to plan your next day or when you wake in the morning.

Getting going
Start by getting yourself an activity timetable – see ‘Activity Timetable’ page.

Spend a short time deciding what is important and what is urgent – some things may have to be done today, and others can be left for later.

As a general rule of thumb, important tasks enable us to achieve our own goals and urgent tasks tend to be activities that demand our immediate attention, but are often associated with achieving someone else’s goals.

Use the salami technique
If you are daunted by having a lot of tasks to do – don’t try to do the whole lot at once, but divide the task into ‘slices’.  You can do a slice bit by bit they will all add up to make one large piece!

Pleasure and physical activity are essential to wellbeing
When planning your day, add some time for the things that you like to do and that make you feel good.  You might want to ensure that your day finishes with one of these activities.

Checking how your planning is going
Be realistic
Be wary of setting yourself up to ‘fail’ by including too much in your plan

Check how it’s going
At the end of each day check how the plan worked out. Use this review time as a good opportunity to have re-think about the strategies you are using – do they need to be adapted slightly?  What went well? Did it help?

Where things didn’t work out as expected don’t criticise yourself. Take a step back and try to identify why – ask for help with this if you need to.

If things didn’t work out as expected ask yourself:

  • Did I plan too much?
  • Did I get sidetracked?
  • Did I get stuck in old patterns of self-critical thinking?
  • Did I spend too much time on the things I felt I ought to do?
  • Did I overlook putting in enough pleasure time for me?
  • Did I fritter time away, through not really wanting to do a chore, and then feel the day was wasted?
  • Did I end up doing things others wanted, rather than what I wanted?

The answers will give you valuable information about your patterns and make it easier to change them.

Try to remember that however much we might try to stay in control and manage our time sometimes unexpected things can happen that can significantly alter our plans. It is important to recognise when this is happening, how it is affecting you and for you to review what is realistic and manageable in the changing circumstances. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to ask for help if you need to.

Check out our other handouts on…

  • Coping with exam stress – Looking after you
  • Coping with exam stress – Getting organised
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