Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.
Confucius BC 551-479, Chinese Ethical Teacher, Philosopher

Improving My Organization, Planning and Resource Management

Principles of Organization, Planning and Management

There is not one universal organization, planning and management method. On the contrary, there are many situations, goals, objectives, methods and means; but proper organization, planning and management rest on a few simple principles.

Giving Myself the Time Necessary to Plan

When I am pressed for time, I tend to devote less time to operational organization and planning. Stress prompts me to take immediate action. This has contrary effects to expectations: instead of saving time, I lose a great deal of time and consequently become anxious and stressed as I panic at seeing the time pass. 

Specifying My Immediate and Long-Term Goals

When I know exactly where I am headed, I can efficiently plan and schedule the functional organization of my work.

Determining My Priorities

Unfortunately, due to lack of time, I must sometimes choose between objectives and in doing so, sacrifice one or two. If I do not have enough time to do them all well, it is preferable to decide in advance which activities I should choose based on a set of decision making criteria: personal interests, academic value, possibility of later recuperation, etc. The comparison of the various goals that I am pursuing facilitates the determination of priorities: in the case of a schedule conflict, I will know in advance which objectives will be first, second and third and which objectives I will have to set aside.

Having a Global Overview and Foreseeing What’s To Come

Proper planning should enable me to have a global overview of the work to complete (forest) and a detailed view of each stage that is involved (tree). Proper planning allows me to foresee potential problems well in advance and to respond in due time. It also allows me to ensure proper integration of the various stages of work and activity. The worst way to manage work is by short-sighted and emergency-based management.

Short and Long Term Detailed Planning

Proper planning begins with breaking down the work into smaller pieces and describing in detail the stages involved in each, with as a precise as possible time frame. This work break-down enables me to judiciously distribute the work over time, based on the semester’s overall deadlines and time available and prioritize specific activities, should conflicts arise.

Estimating Time for Each Task and Stage Of Work

The time required to complete each task and work stage varies considerably from one individual to another, from one course to another, from one assignment to another. My familiarity with the course material, the content volume, the quantity of new concepts, the documentation available, the type of exam and the performance requirements, to name just a few, are variables I must consider when I evaluate the time I need to complete a specific task. If I am unsure, it is best if I make a conservative forecast: minimum time (should everything go well) and maximum time (should everything go wrong).

Identifying Missing Information

It is very difficult for me to plan everything ahead of time, once and for all. Certain information is unknown to me at the beginning of the semester: work evaluation requirements and criteria, the type of exam, difficulty level of the reading material, etc. Readjustments will be necessary throughout the semester. Therefore, it is best if I complement my planning for the semester (global overview and co-ordination of all my courses) with a weekly plan (detailed and readjusted view).

Expecting the Unexpected

The unexpected is the major cause of disruptions to my schedule and work plan: some tasks take me longer than expected (unrealistic preliminary estimation), my availability was reduced (family events, health problems), etc. Therefore, it is wise to not overbook and be sure to leave myself some leeway, to more realistically estimate my work capacities, to allow time for research of missing information and to expect possible changes to my goals or objectives.

Establishing a Realistic and Flexible Time Frame

Setting a time frame for a given activity does not necessarily mean that I have to confine myself to that tight schedule, but more that I must set a time limit beyond which, I know I am starting to fall behind. Instead of self-imposing a rarely-respected tight schedule where specific tasks are done at fixed times, it is preferable that I plan a flexible schedule that allows me to shift from one task to another depending on my mood and availability. This is a more flexible management tool that respects natural human functioning.

Evaluating My Actual Availability

It is one thing to estimate the time needed to accomplish each task and it is another, to actually have that time. Health, the realities of my family, part-time work or professional life are such that my availability does not always necessarily coincide with the study time I need to achieve high marks. It will be necessary for me to make decisions regarding the number and choice of courses, priorities and time allocated for each task.

Taking My Capacity Into Consideration

My mind is not a computer. It works well under certain favorable conditions but can become particularly inefficient with fatigue or prolonged periods of stress. I must therefore adjust my planning and management to my motivation at that particular time (taste, availability), my capacity to concentrate (place, time, ambience) and my memory function (recall, revision).

Assessing and Readjusting My Progress

Throughout the semester, my predictions are likely to be overthrown due to many factors: family events, learning problems, tasks taking longer than expected, new information concerning an assignment, etc. A readjustment of my use of time becomes necessary. It is best that I reserve a brief period of time at the beginning or end of the week to assess and decide which tasks need to be done in the coming week and to prioritize them in case I cannot complete them all.

Keeping Track of My Progress

I must always know exactly where I stand. It is equally important for me to know how my time was used (evaluation of my progress, justification of how my time was used, development of an expertise in time estimation). 

Filing My Documents in a Functional Order

The value of any given order is dependent on the goal you wish to attain. The main quality of order must be functionality. In the case of university studies, the order I choose to follow reflects the conception that I have of learning.  We can sum up the two poles using two metaphors. The first is strata: I perceive my learning to be a progressive accumulation of knowledge, layer upon layer, course after course. It resembles a binder where documents and notes pile up in the order they were received regardless of their category or utility. The second metaphor is architect: I perceive my learning as a constant personal reconstruction of concepts and subject material. The order I choose will be one that allows for a more logical information mobility and association by sets and subsets.

Enabling Ready Access to All My Documents
A functional order should allow me to have quick and ready access to essential information and filed documents. There is no exemplary filing method: the method should be designed to fit the project. Each university course has very specific requirements. The methods used to file and index handout material should be practical. It is generally more functional to group handout material, memory tools, document sources and work into their own separate folders.
Separately Filing Course Management Documents

All of the documents that serve to plan my courses (syllabus, deadlines, schedules, assignment guidelines, evaluation criteria, etc.) should be grouped together and filed separately for easy reference.

Organization, Planning and Management Tools


A computer is an organizational tool. Unfortunately it remains almost uniquely used for word processing. While this tool is in the process of changing professions and communication, its under-use in the context of university studies is something to ponder. A computer well-used to store and manage learning content allows me to triple or quadruple my university output, while preparing me for my future professional practice. Therefore, it is not an investment that I should barely consider, but rather, it is an area of personal development in which I should invest the necessary time.

Folders, Files, Filing Cabinets, Archive Boxes

In addition to binders and school bags, there are tools that are used to file and efficiently manage my course and work content. A computer has a set and subset filing system (folders, files) that facilitates my information access. It also has a word processing outline view mode that allows me to file course content, lecture notes, bibliographic elements all into the same file and to draft my work and simultaneously develop the structure as a whole and part by part. 

I can also adopt, at little cost, an equivalent document classification system that uses sheets of paper classified in files, folders, filing cabinets or archive boxes. A system like this allows for great mobility of handout material.

Synoptic Overview

A “synoptic” overview is a sheet of paper that gives me an at-a-glance global overview of each of my courses spanning the entire semester (see model in appendix). This tool ensures my long-term panoramic view. It helps me to foresee what’s coming up, anticipate bottlenecking problems, give myself some leeway, distribute my efforts overtime, define true emergencies and schedule my study activities at the most opportune times. To preserve this document’s legibility, it is best not to overload it with too many details.


There are also monthly calendars. These calendars can serve the same purpose, but with a shorter time perspective (and the risk of loosing sight of the months to come).


Agendas exist in a variety of formats: electronic, on computer, notebook, etc. It is a short-term management tool. In the case of university studies, it is preferable to opt for weekly agendas instead of daily agendas. Used with a daily list of things to do, agendas allow for a flexible management of my tasks. They have the basic advantage of freeing my memory from small details and lists of things to do, which contributes to stress reduction. Like my shadow, my agenda should always be with me.

Hourly Schedules

Schedules are short-term planning tools. They indicate when and how much time I must allocate to each activity. But be careful that they do not become too confining or a source of guilt. Schedules are like New Year’s resolutions: once you realize you can not stick to them, you let them fall to the way-side and unfortunately, along with these, go all planning and management intentions as well.

Task Lists

Task lists are short and long-term management tools. They can be daily task lists (many small tasks), weekly task lists (with or without a set day for each task) or global task lists (list of projects to complete during the semester with no specific deadlines).

Task inventories, operation-by-operation, step-by-step enable me to decide from week to week which tasks or parts of tasks I must complete in order to be on time without rushing.

A completed-task file is made up of the collection of these daily and weekly lists. Once the tasks are completed and crossed off the lists, it might be of self-interest to keep them in a separate file. Using these lists, I can easily reconstruct how I used my time. This option offers a variety of advantages: I can justify the time I spent on a task and present it to a professor; realize the time necessary for certain operations; complete an assessment of my semester.


Web design by Mimi Cummins.