Back Calendaring

by Debbie Brown

Over lunch in the Commons the other day, my friend Sara and I found yet another thing we have in common: the difficulty in making time for large writing projects for which the deadline is (or seems to be) far away. Sara is a second-year grad student in the Nursing Program, and I am in my second year in the Cultural Studies program. We each need to write a major thesis by the end of May, and both of us are still writing our proposals! We’ve known about these papers for a year and a half now, and yet we are struggling with finding time to complete (or begin) our capstone projects.

Just by talking it out, we came up with the key: dedicated writing time. I heard a great tip the other day from Rosa Lundborg, M.Ed., the director of disability student resources and veteran services, and it fits right in with the idea of dedicated writing time. Rosa calls it “back-calendaring.” Here’s how it works: get a large calendar with boxes big enough that you can write clearly. Use a pen. Start with the due date and then proceed backwards to today. Make “appointments” for yourself – you are more likely to protect (and keep) an appointment when it’s written in pen on your calendar.

Let’s say I decide I can write on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. I’m going to go to the Writing Center every other Thursday to have a “fresh set of eyes” look over my writing. I have already set up appointments with my capstone advisor every other Monday. My calendar might look something like this:

MON

TUES

WED

THURS

FRI

SAT/SUN

3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time 1:30–appt. at Writing Center 5pm–email draft to Prof.
1:15–Meet with Prof. 3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time
3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time 1:30–appt. at Writing Center 5pm–email draft to Prof.
1:15–Meet with Prof. 3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time
3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time 1:30–appt. at Writing Center 5pm–email draft to Prof.
1:15–Meet with Prof. 3-5pm: writing time 2-4pm: writing time
6pm-Final Thesis Due!

Because Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my writing days, I will write these appointments on my calendar every Tuesday and Wednesday. And then, except in case of family emergency, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during this time are dedicated to writing and “set in stone” on my calendar. In pen.

By “back-calendaring,” I have now set up a schedule that fits with my work life, my school life, and my personal life. Instead of panicking every time I think about writing a 50-page thesis, I am now relaxed, because I have plenty of time to do everything I need to do in order to write a great thesis.

This method also works great for shorter papers with closer deadlines. Just start on your calendar with the due date and work backwards. How many hours do you need for research, writing, and revision? Give yourself plenty of time and make it realistic. For example, don’t schedule library research at the time when you usually go to the movies with your best friend – you know you won’t keep those “research appointments.” At the same time, realize you may have to give something up; after all, you are a college student. But with a little organization and back-calendaring, your hectic schedule will be more manageable.

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