One of the biggest “productivity killers” we encounter is having big projects sneak up on us. You’ve got a nice, organized system set up for keeping track of all of the things that you need to devote time to; to-do lists, calendars, planners, sticky notes. But then, as you commence working on a big paper, you suddenly realize that the deadline for that study abroad application is in 2 days, and you’ve got 3 projects connected to your extracurriculars that you need to deal with. Suddenly, you’re swamped with work that you hadn’t anticipated.
Enter the yearly outline. The idea of the yearly outline is essentially to maintain a clear picture of what major projects you’re hoping to accomplish each year, and what kind of a workload getting all of them done is going to entail. I’ve got a yearly outline for each of the next 4 years, broken down by semester (fall, spring, and summer). For each semester, I list the major things I’m hoping to do or accomplish—applications to finish, things to research, and the like—plus what courses I’ll be taking, and any other major responsibilities I’ll be taking on; jobs, extracurriculars, etc. Then I check my outline every few weeks, update it if need be, and add tasks to my to-do lists as deadlines and opportunities near.
Having such a broad outline, instead of only relying on more short-range info (like a monthly calendar or short-term to-do list), means that you’ll have a clearer picture of what you’re going to need to be devoting time to; this semester, next semester, next summer, and however far into the future you’d like.
Creating a yearly outline can’t completely save you from unanticipated work, of course. Sometimes things just come up on short notice, or slip our minds until it’s too late to take an organized approach to them. But it can certainly be a valuable tool to help cut down on things being overlooked or forgotten until the last minute, and a way to help insure that you’ll know in advance where your workload might become unbalanced, so that you can redistribute courses, extracurriculars, jobs, and major projects if possible.
Crafting a rough outline of your next year or few years also creates an opportunity to think about what you do with your time, and what you would optimally like to be devoting it to. Your outline doesn’t have to be just a repository of all of the things you already know you need to do; if you keep thinking that you’d like to make some space in your schedule for new projects, or you’re thinking of trying out some sort of Zen Valedictorian-style setup for a while, note that on your outline for next semester (or whenever it might work), and then when the time comes, you can pick out—or drop— courses and extracurriculars accordingly. Just something to think about, as you look ahead to the upcoming school year.