Taking a project management approach to my studies

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“Project management seeks to achieve defined goals by using plans, schedules and resources to execute project activities within a set timeframe”

Source: https://www.projectmanager.com/project-management (para.1)

It’s easy to drift through a semester, there is so much time to get everything done, until suddenly there isn’t! This can lead to last minute learning (cramming), substandard project work, dysfunctioning teams, increased stress, and feelings of not being in control, of being overwhelmed. Treat your semester as a project, take back control and not only will you learn more (laying the foundation for future success) but you will also enjoy your studies more. This double reinforcement of better learning and a greater sense of satisfaction will encourage you to rise to future challenges with confidence.

So, what techniques from project management can help you to complete your semester successfully?


Define your goals

The real key to success is to start with end point, where you need to be by the end of the semester. This means noting the learning outcomes and assessments for each course to give you a clear overview of what you have to have achieved by the end. One way to do this is to list all your courses in an excel sheet. Complete following columns with course learning outcomes, assessment types (written project, oral presentation, exam etc.), individual or group work, submission deadlines or exam dates, description of what you have to do for the assessment and what course content you need to have mastered for the assessment

Set milestones

For each assessment, break down the knowledge and skills you will need into a series of steps. Plan backwards from each submission deadline or exam deadline by asking yourself “what do I need to have achieved by the deadline to take this assessment? To be ready for the assessment, what do I need to have achieved by one week before the assessment? To be ready for one week before the assessment, what do I need to have achieved by two weeks before the assessment?” and so on all the way back to the current date. This technique breaks your work into manageable chunks, building your knowledge and skills on a regular basis, reducing last minute panic or exam stress.

Allocate time

Time is the most valuable resource of all and we never have enough, so schedule your study time wisely.

Use a calendar or scheduling tool. For the semester 7 capstone projects (thesis, applied business project), create a Gantt chart to plan the stages of your project.

At the beginning of the semester: Enter your class schedule into your calendar. Enter your assessment deadlines and exam dates. Enter the milestones you identified in step 2 above.

Each week: Allocate blocks of study time dedicated to the upcoming milestones.

Be flexible

Circumstances change and any plan has to be adaptable. Constantly revise your schedule or Gantt chart to reflect your progress.

Learn from your experience

At the end of the semester, take the time to reflect on what worked about this approach and what didn’t work. Use this hard-won knowledge to prepare a more effective study plan for the following semester.

Appreciate the true value of this approach

As a future manager and leader, you will have to set goals, allocate resources, appoint teams, monitor progress, evaluate impact, and then start the process over again…in short, you will have to manage projects. By managing your semester as a project, you will be both more successful in your studies and you will develop this important skill for your future career.