Time management tips

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If you experience difficulties with motor skills, reading, listening, comprehension and maintaining focus, every assignment can feel like a mountain to climb.

Your university can offer many useful resources for improving and developing these skills such as online guides, courses and workshops but there’s a set of tools already at your fingertips.

You’re probably already familiar with Office 365 and its suite of productivity apps, but are you using them to their full potential? There are many features built-in that you can customise to create and consume documents faster and more efficiently.

To save you time exploring all the options, the experts at Ultima Education share six of their favourite (and free) Office 365 features that help with reading, writing, spelling, presenting, notetaking and getting organised. 

MS To Do is a task management app that allows you to keep on top of whatever you have to do, wherever you are. Everything can be organised quickly and easily, and your assignment deadlines can live happily alongside your shopping lists. Simply set up your categories, drag tasks to re-order them and add details such as reminders, due dates and supporting files. If you have a larger project to tackle, you can also add steps here, breaking it down into bite-size sections. 

You may already use OneNote to take notes in lectures, but a feature that’s often overlooked is the ability to record audio at the same time to ensure you never miss a thing. What makes this especially useful, is that the program automatically syncs with your notetaking so you can play back a specific point just by selecting a section of your notes. You are then free to concentrate on actively listening and taking your own notes which further aids your understanding.

Find out more about how tech can take the stress out of notetaking.

If you struggle with concentration and think faster than you can write, MS Word Dictation can help. This function creates content with your voice so you can get down your ideas quickly and easily. It’s simple to get started and you can edit, format, add punctuation and comments all while dictating. Your transcribed text can then be used to create essays, presentations and coursework.

Discover more dictation software options with our comprehensive guide. 

Another quick win in Word is Read Mode which changes the document layout for a more comfortable reading experience. Read Mode automatically fits the page layout to your device, opening full screen in a landscape format which is ideal for absorbing long documents. When you read in this view, you get fewer distractions from menus so you can remain focused on the text itself. You can also make changes to the page colour, text size and brightness to suit you.  

One aspect of essay writing that can feel a bit intimidating, is correctly recording your source materials to avoid plagiarism. Luckily, MS Word makes this easy with their referencing tool which automatically formats in-text citations and generates a reference list. To add a citation, position the cursor at the point in your text where you want to reference something and click Insert Citation. Once you’ve added all the sources, you can use the tool to create a bibliography. 

After all that effort, you want to present a polished piece of work which is where Presenter Coach in PowerPoint comes in. Having to showcase your work in front of your peers can be daunting, but Presenter Coach gives you all the skills you need to confidently deliver an impactful presentation. This feature allows you to rehearse your presentation whilst getting real-time feedback and guidance on your pacing, recommendations of inclusive language and even letting you know if you’re using too many filler words. At the end, you’ll get a summary so you can see how you performed and advice for making improvements. 

If you have a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you can access a package of support including specialist software that’s tailored to your specific needs. Jump to our guide to see if you are eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). 

Get in touch with us today to see what support you could receive through the DSA.

Sharp Focus

Student life is busy. You’re juggling a constant stream of new information, meeting new people and settling into new surroundings not to mention the impact that mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, attention-impairing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and epilepsy can have on the way you organise and process information.

Luckily, there are many tools and techniques that can help improve your focus and manage your time more effectively.

As study needs assessors, we have extensive knowledge in assistive technology and the various software programs that aid reading, learning, comprehension and organisational difficulties. Read on to discover some of our favourite free and DSA funded apps.

Trying to study in a communal area can really impact concentration but you can improve your focus by using Noisli to create your own calm space by custom mixing your own sounds to play while studying to block out annoying noises. This also works well while travelling and winding down after a stressful day. 

If constant pings and pop-ups on your devices are affecting your ability to concentrate, there’s a clever app and website blocker for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome from freedom that can give you control to temporarily block distracting websites and apps when you’re trying to study. This is a great tool to help you stay on track and build better habits.

Do you have lists coming out your ears? Global Tasks helps you do away with all those to-do notes by keeping all your tasks and projects in one place. Colour items to group them, prioritise important stuff and add due dates so you never miss a deadline. You can also temporarily hide less urgent jobs to improve focus and help reduce stress levels. It’s an effective way to plan and organise activities and can be used for everything including work, social and personal reminders. 

Students with conditions such as ADHD may find mind-mapping tools extremely helpful and MindView is a leader in this field. This intelligent piece of software turns critical information into visual maps where the user can quickly organise their ideas, time and resources by simply dragging and dropping pictures, text and more. These mind maps can then be easily exported into a range of different formats including Microsoft Word to create a polished piece of work.

Other useful (and fun) tools to boost memory include flashcard programs such as Anki which uses the evidence-based learning technique of spaced repetition to help you remember things quickly and easily and Quizlet, which enables you to create your own flashcards for any topic you like or the option to choose from sets created by other students online. 

As well as tech solutions, there are also many study skills anyone can use to improve concentration such as the Pomodoro technique. This simple time management method is based around breaking down work into short intervals which helps reduce overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

Another free but powerful technique is a meditation method where you count your breathing cycles. This exercise in mindfulness focuses on your natural breathing rhythm which can improve your concentration skills and help you focus on the task in hand. Headspace, Stop Breathe Think and Calm are all great meditation apps.

If you struggle to stay focussed and keep on top of your workload due to a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition, you may be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances. The package of support you receive is individually tailored to your specific needs and equipment such as the specialist software mentioned here can make a huge difference to your studies. Find out if you are eligible for DSA funding here.

In the meantime, check out our extensive guide to find the software that best meets your needs.

What are your tips for staying on track when studying? Join the conversation on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

If you’d like advice or more information, get in touch and we’ll go through the options available to you.

Ketchup on your time

Time management is a vital skill for studying at university, with students expected to organise much of their learning independently with minimal support from tutors.

Students eligible for DSA can get specialist support with this if they have particular difficulties keeping on top of their workload due to specific learning difficulties or mental health difficulties, but the humble tomato can also help organise your time, you be more efficient in your studies and help you concentrate and focus for longer…

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s based around using a timer to break work down into a series of short intervals (traditionally 25 minutes each and known as pomodoros), separated by short breaks of a few minutes each. After four pomodoros, you then take a longer break of about 30 minutes.

What this process can be great for is breaking down big or overwhelming tasks into much smaller chunks to work on. This can help get started on tasks and by allowing for regular breaks, help you to keep working for longer. It also gives a great sense of achievement because you can see how many intervals you’ve completed, while also helping estimate how long tasks should take based on how many intervals have been needed in the past.

So, why not give it a try – all you need to get started is a task and a timer, though you might want to use one of the many apps or websites to set up your pomodoros and breaks – the TomatoTimer website is a good place to start.

And how do tomatoes fit into this? Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and the name came from originally using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time the intervals.