Good planning:

Helps you to be organised and stay motivated

Saves you time

Planning and organisational skills are sought after by employers

Planning can help you save time and be more efficient with your research.

Plans can be very useful as a way of keeping you motivated and your project or assignment on track.

To help you plan it is important that you are clear on:

  • What you are being asked to do (see the University of Birmingham's Understanding your question (pdf))
  • The deadline you are working towards
  • What else you also have to do in this time
  • What you need to prioritise

A plan or timetable needs to suit you. It is pointless spending time and effort on producing a plan in great detail if it doesn’t suit your preferred way of working. You could use the following tools:

  • ‘To-do’ lists
  • Bullet points
  • Mind maps to sketch out ideas
  • Diary or calendar task functions
  • A timeline, with deadlines for individual tasks
  • Post-it-notes placed around your desk

A plan might start out quite broad and get more specific as you start researching your area and get a better idea of how you want to approach your assignment. You might also plan your writing.

Be flexible

Having established such an overview you will find it easier to move on to the next stages of prioritising your workload and drawing up work plans. Build in contingency plans to allow for any slippage in your timescales. For example, setting an earlier ‘soft’ deadline that is ahead of your ‘real’ deadline can often help you to meet ‘real’ deadlines more effectively. It allows for a time buffer if other things crop up while you are working on your assignments.

Be realistic

Effective planning can help you to meet deadlines and help you to keep track of your work-life balance. When making your own plans, you may find it useful to consider your regular, timetabled or extracurricular commitments, e.g. every Tuesday you have a seminar. This will help you to prioritise your workload and to be aware that other things can crop up. It will also allow you to check your plans are realistic and take all of your activities into account.

You will find that as a student there are lots of competing pressures on your time. Remember there are only 24 hours in a day and finding time to sleep is important. How do you get the most out of your studies, explore Imperial's societies and sports, and still find time to make friends and explore London?

Tips for managing your time

Students in a classroomThe key to effective time management is having a good overview of your workload and being able to prioritise your time effectively. Here are a few tips for helping you to manage your time:

  • Keep a to do list 
  • Prioritise important work 
  • Make a note of deadlines 
  • Manage distractions and procrastination 
  • Know your limits 
  • Don't take on too many tasks

(adapted from MindTools 10 Common Time Management Mistakes)

Action planning

Think of an action plan as an expanded to-do list. First, write a list of all the tasks that you need to complete. Next, develop an action plan by assessing how long each task will take and giving each task (or stage) a deadline for completion.

Action plans can cover hours, to weeks, months or years. They only take a few minutes to construct but will be invaluable in helping you plan your time. With practice, it becomes easier to break down an activity into manageable tasks, and accurately estimate the time needed to complete them. However, you should always be realistic; be wary of allowing too short a time which will only result in your missing deadlines, or too much time which is simply a waste.

Prioritise your workload

This can be as simple as looking at your action plan and highlighting the work that is urgent, or ordering the work in order of deadline or importance. We tend to focus on work that is easy to do, and postpone the work that takes more time and thought. Be aware of this when prioritising your tasks.


After discussing or starting a project, the initial rush of enthusiasm can fade. Keeping your motivation up will help you to complete projects and assignments.

A clear focus is important for your motivation, as is some indication of when you will be finishing. Planning can really help with motivation. Different people find that different things motivate them. Here are some suggestions to try:

  • Take regular breaks
    - Leave your work area completely
    - Have a stroll outside, make a cup of coffee
  • Avoid being drawn into something on the internet, or television or a conversation that you will find difficult to break away from
  • Vary your tasks so you are not always working on the same thing
  • Tackle tasks that you find uninteresting at the start of a work period. Get them out of the way and reward yourself with more inspiring work
  • Evaluate your progress - when you are planning your work, build in some milestones so that you can measure your progress in some way
  • Keep an ideas diary - sometimes distractions will pop up. These may be ideas for further research or interesting resources that are not relevant to your current work. Keeping a note of these can mean you can follow up at a later date, but it also helps you to avoid distractions from your current work
  • Celebrate. Sometimes it is good to celebrate when you have finished a task or achieved a good mark. This can help to motivate you in the next task

Finally, you should assess how effectively you are fulfilling all of your commitments. Once you have developed an initial plan of your activities and tasks you will need to reassess it as your priorities and commitments change.

If you have produced an action plan for a project, keep this with you and tick off areas of completed work to stay on track.