Oops, I’m a week behind on lectures. Let’s talk about priorities – OurWarwick

Oops, I’m a week behind on lectures. Let’s talk about priorities

This term, I’m going to be organised.“, she said.

This term, I’m actually going to do the assigned reading.“, she said.

This term, I’m not going to pull any all-nighters.“, she said.

I make myself these promises at the beginning of every term. With calendars, a Trello board and a OneNote notebook primed for the new term, I’m 100% ready for everything that will be thrown at me.

Don’t look at me like at. I am!

For the first 2-3 weeks of term, it goes pretty well. By weeks 5-6, at which point the coursework starts piling up, I start to slip. Unfortunately, we STEM students don’t get a reading week; we’re in it for the long haul.

And when we start to get behind on things, catching up can be quite daunting. At times like these, we need to be pragmatic. We need to prioritise.


While I wish this wasn’t the case, and that we could always ace everything all the time, prioritising work is at times necessary. Not just in university, but in the big wide world.

This is how I prioritise things.

For emphasis: This is personally how I prioritise things for my course. I definitely would encourage trying to avoid ending up in a situation drastic prioritising is needed, but life happens. I get it.

Prioritise coursework

It’s quite simple. If there’s a deadline, we are compelled to meet it. When I say prioritise coursework, I mean prioritise starting coursework early.

Especially when it comes to programming, starting coursework at the last minute is very, very dangerous. More so than essays, in my opinion, as we can never predict when we’re going to get bugs and how long it will take to resolve them.

(During one memorable assignment in my first year, it took a week to solve a bug. It was such a stupid bug. A forehead was emphatically slapped.)

While I would never recommend missing lectures, sometimes the consolidation work outside of those may have to wait. And when this happens, I still make sure to keep up with the lectures that are relevant to the coursework.

I’ve written a bit out tackling work during tough times before.

Prioritise some modules over others

To my lecturers: I’m sorry.

While every module is important in its own way, some modules are more risky than others. I identify these ‘danger’ modules as those which really need that extra effort to do well in.

A lot of it is, of course, personal. What someone finds easy is what someone else might find difficult.

I’ve found that there are some modules where lectures are heavily reliant on understanding material from the previous lecture – otherwise, you’re lost. This is especially the case for more mathematical/theoretical modules. In these cases, I will put extra effort into keeping up on time, as catching up is much more painful.

If I find myself behind on lectures in a module that are clearly divided into topics, I will catch up on the current topic and come back to prior missed topics later. That way, I’m not constantly behind on everything and can properly engage with the module for the rest of the term. Getting stuck playing catch up ain’t fun.

Prioritise understanding over notetaking

Taking notes takes time. Especially with online asynchronous lectures, I find that I take longer to get through a lecture when I’m taking notes. It isn’t unusual to take 1 hour to get through a 30 min lecture.

When short on time, this isn’t ideal.

But I would prioritise just watching the lecture and coming back to take notes later, rather than leaving the lecture to take the notes.

In fact, one thing I’d question is: are the notes always useful?

I try to be smart about taking notes:

  • Do I need to write down what the lecturers say word-for-word? Or just cover the main points?
  • Check the exam – if it is more problem-based than simply regurgitating content, doing practice questions from textbooks or past papers and making notes on processes rather than knowledge may be useful

Prioritise health and wellbeing

Burn out is a very serious thing (see this fab post by Tanishk). If you need a break, then please take a break.

Of course, when it comes to coursework deadlines, there isn’t much room for negotiation. I try to avoid all-nighters, but if it does happen? Chill for the next day. Recovery time is important, and I think it’s worth delaying some stuff.

Exercise is really helpful. I’ve been terrible at keeping fit through lockdown (and when I say terrible, I mean terrible). But this week I started following the Pilates sessions live-streamed by Warwick Sports on Facebook (free!), and it felt great! My productivity, which has also slumped through lockdown, was really good.

So yes, sometimes it does feel like we must prioritise work over chill time, but I don’t think it’s sustainable if this happens all the time.

Another thing is to work with yourself rather than against yourself. See this interesting post on energy mapping by Allana. I have realised that I work better in the afternoons and evenings, I’m not forcing myself to get up early, which just affects makes me feel tired.

I prioritise sleep. Sue me.

Cover image by nile from Pixabay

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