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4 Weeks to a 4.0: Adopt an Autopilot Schedule and a Sunday Ritual

March 30th, 2009 · 27 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 1Time to Change

This is the first post in a new four-part series I’m calling 4 Weeks to a 4.0. Each Monday, for the next month, I’ll be posting a new weekly assignment. I can’t guarantee that you’ll immediately earn a 4.0 if you finish all four assignments, but your grades will definitely improve and your stress will definitely plummet. If you want to overhaul your study habits, but feel overwhelmed by all the changes this requires, then this series is for you. Your first assignment, presented below, covers some scheduling basics.

Week 1 Assignment: Autopilots and Rituals

The goal of this first week’s assignment is to help you reclaim your schedule. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll start small with two easy ideas: starting an autopilot schedule and initiating a Sunday ritual. Your assignment for this week is to adopt these strategies, which I detail below.

(1) Create an Autopilot Schedule

Identify all of the regular work generated by your classes — reading assignments, problem sets, lab reports, etc. For each such piece of regular work, set aside a specific day and time when you’ll tackle this work every week. For example, you might decide that the two hours after lunch on Mondays is when you do the reading assignments for your history class.

I want you to follow this schedule for completing all of your regular work. At first, you’ll violate this schedule…a lot. Sometimes work will take longer than you thought. Sometimes you’ll procrastinate and miss a scheduled block. That’s okay. After each such violation just return to your schedule, tweaking as needed.

For more information on autopilot schedules read this article.

(2) Adopt a Sunday Ritual

This simple idea was first described in the yellow book — where it generated enormous amounts of positive feedback. It works as follows: Every Sunday morning, right after you eat breakfast, go somewhere quiet to clear your head. Have a cup of coffee and read a newspaper or a non-fiction book that interests you. Then go for a long walk (in the woods if possible) and think big thoughts. The goal here is to renew the flame of intellectual curiosity.

Once this rejuvenation is complete, retire to a quiet corner of the library and review your week ahead. Remind yourself what’s due and what little things you need to get done. Perhaps take an hour to knock off some of the urgent small tasks that might get lost in the chaos of the week (e.g., booking plane tickets home for an upcoming holiday or requesting recommendations for an internship application.) The key is to refresh and prepare for the new week.

For more information on the Sunday ritual read this article or chapter 2 of the yellow book.

Coming Up…

That’s all for week 1. If you have questions or want to report on your progress, please leave a comment on this post so the other students can learn from your experience. Next week we’re tackling notetaking habits.

Stay tuned…

27 thoughts on “4 Weeks to a 4.0: Adopt an Autopilot Schedule and a Sunday Ritual

  1. Calvin says:

    I violate my rituals far to often… Is there some type of shock therapy out there for me? Haha. In all seriousness though, it is very useful for students to use a calendar software to organize their tasks and events. Microsoft users have Outlook, Mac users have iCal, and Linux users have Sunbird.

  2. Study Hacks says:

    I violate my rituals far to often… Is there some type of shock therapy out there for me? Haha. In all seriousness though, it is very useful for students to use a calendar software to organize their tasks and events. Microsoft users have Outlook, Mac users have iCal, and Linux users have Sunbird.

    Absolutely. Every student should have a calendar that he or she looks at each morning. I use Google’s free calendar because I love the “quick add” feature. Put your autopilot schedule on your calendar, so it appears, to your mind, to be an immutable appointment, not a suggestion.

  3. Maciek says:

    First of all, I would like to thank you for all of your hacks – I read a lot of them but I did not have any strong enough factor that would motivate me to undertake an attempt to change my bad habits – now I will try.

    Secondly, shouldn’t there be rejuvenation instead of rejuvintaton? ;-)

    I am going to write my schedule now and I am looking forward next steps.

  4. Study Hacks says:

    I am going to write my schedule now and I am looking forward next steps.

    Keep us posted.

    econdly, shouldn’t there be rejuvenation instead of rejuvintaton?

    Ah! I wrote the post on a computer w/o automatic spell check. I’ve now fixed such mistakes.

  5. rupss says:

    Thanks for this, Cal.

    Any tips for adapting the autopilot schedule for us high school students?

  6. Study Hacks says:

    Any tips for adapting the autopilot schedule for us high school students?

    Identify when and where you work on each weekday and on the weekends. Assign regular work to these blocks. For example, if you’re usually at school until 4:00 (due to a club), you might have 4:00 to 6:30, at the local library, as a daily work block. On Monday, this is when you do note for AP history. On Tuesday, when you do math homework. Etc.

  7. Lisa says:

    Any ideas on how to adapt this for people whose schedules don’t stay the same from week to week. I’d love to set up some sort of autopilot schedule, but except for the times I’m in class, I work anytime from 5am to 10pm, seven days a week. I can’t set aside, say, Tuesday evenings for my bio reading, because there’s a decent chance that I’ll either have to work at that time, or I’ll have woken up at 4am for a morning shift and won’t be able to focus.

  8. Study Hacks says:

    Any ideas on how to adapt this for people whose schedules don’t stay the same from week to week.

    If you have a general sense of how much time you’ll have available each day to do focused work, but aren’t sure when it will be, then you can assign work to days, and then decide on the specific times when the day actually arrives.

  9. Pete says:

    “and read … a non-fiction book that interests you” What would be wrong with reading challenging fiction?

  10. Aaron says:

    I agree Google Cal is the best. It’s available from anywhere plus they send you sms reminders (Well at least they do here in Aus). So it is virtual impossible to forget anything and you get a little reminder to motivate you as well.

  11. T says:

    I am surprised that there wasn’t even a parenthetical about the Sunday ritual for those who might attend religious services. Beyond that – thank you so much for all the work you put into your blog – I wish I had read it before flunking out of a program I loved and was well suited for in every way except paper load.

  12. RF says:

    Thanks for that! About tweaking the autopilot system for high school students, what if you have homework for most or every subject everyday? I take 6 subjects and for 4 of them there is homework or assignment needed to be done everyday. I wish I can set blocks of time to do chemistry on a certain day and history on another but it’s not college. My homework load can take anywhere from 2-4 hours a day which is pretty much my evening and I can never really focus on capturing something in one particular subject. Having said that I’ve just about done for term 1 and my results have been pretty good. It’s the first time I’ve started time blocking and capturing insights throughout the term(my school only holds 1 45min tutoring session once a week but i’ve taken full advantage of that)and it’s been a big help. I have slipped up once in a while from the schedule but have gotten back to it and i’ve never stayed up till midnight. Next term will be a lot harder though and the work load will be bigger so I’ll probably implement more of the advice from here.

  13. I’ll definitly try the sunday ritual this sunday. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Taras says:

    Hey Call! What about print version of your articles? It is not easy to print this.

  15. Study Hacks says:

    Hey Call! What about print version of your articles? It is not easy to print this.

    I spent a little time trying to setup a wordpress plug-in that made printable version work, but I failed. In the meantime, subscribing to the RSS feed or copying and pasting into Word both generate simple, printable versions.

  16. Mike says:

    Another way to get a printable version is to use the Readability bookmarklet (Google on that). Click on the bookmarklet when viewing the page and it comes out nice and purty, suitable for printing.

  17. Hui says:

    I’ve read your book of “How to become a straight-A student” and was told by my friend about this blog. Just drop by to let you know that your techniques really work! I’ve been using your 5-minute time management skill since Year 2 (now I’m in Yr 3 second semester). I use Windows Calendar to schedule all my tasks. I input my class schedule and important dates into the calendar before the semester starts and print out the weekly calendar before a new week starts. I just have to carry that few pages of calendar (only 7 days) with me everyday and whenever is needed, I record down the new to-do items and transfer them into my Windows Calendar after that. This autopilot schedule works well for me also. I found that I have more free time once I assign all my regular tasks to a specific time block. It works because 1. I know how much time per day I have once minus off those regular tasks 2. I won’t do non-regular tasks during those time slots so more productive, and since I already know how much free time I have, I can then schedule for my non-regular tasks easily without violating much of my calendar. 3. peace of mind. It really is. I now can’t live well without my 7-day-calendar and if I happen to not to plan anything for that week, it will be a messy week ever. And anything that not recorded on my calendar will be “ignored” by me naturally. I guess it’s a good thing ya? :)

  18. Study Hacks says:

    Just drop by to let you know that your techniques really work!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Nicleau says:

    I know it’s been a couple of years since this series, but I thought I’d take a shot at a question. Any advice for older students returning to school for juggling family commitments and the necessary flexible schedules they require?

  20. Heather says:

    I just came across this article that repeats/reinforces the message in Cal’s book on Acing College, that you should read a smattering of articles in a really good daily paper: Information Overload Here’s a quote:

    But if you consume news online, you may miss a story that is relevant to a problem you face at work, or learning about an individual who makes you consider an issue in a new light. Online browsing – particularly when so much of today’s content is algorithmically pushed to us based on previous site visits and habits — keeps us from experiencing these serendipitous stories, which can have an unexpected impact on our thinking.

  21. June says:

    This autopilot thing really sounds good. I want to try this out but it feels like there’s a lot of beginning work to do. Well, i suppose no pain no gain :)

  22. Imran says:

    Thanks for the info on auto pilot and Sunday Ritual. I will be using it tomorrow(Sunday).

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