Time management and essay writing for Ptlls

Several people have mentioned worries around some of the more “soft skills” elements of Ptlls, mostly time management and essay writing. So we’re going to have a quick look at the challenges of those specific to Ptlls and then a few links to various resources.

Time management

Most people are doing Ptlls part time, often in addition to a job and many other responsibilities. Understandably it gets hard to fit everything in as there is a lot of self-study involved and the weeks will fly by. These expectations, or at least recommendations, should probably be covered in the introduction to the course by your tutor or in the paperwork.

Ptlls probably requires at least two hours of personal study for every hour of taught time – or the official time it takes to go through materials, if not attending classes. So for a three hour class that’s a minimum of six hours for that week. The more time you can dedicate the easier and less stressful it will be and the more you will get out of the experience.

Clearly you need to be organised and know exactly what you’ve got on your plate. Keep looking through the handbook for which deadlines are coming up and what topics you are going to be covering and plot it out on a calendar or spreadsheet. Schedule yourself study time like you would book any other activity. Block out as big a chunk as you can – it takes time to get organised and get in to the mood and then time to wind down again. If you give yourself an hour you’re going to lose at least 10 minutes to setting up then another 5 to tidying up. Make sure other people know that this is your working time: you need to minimise interruptions and not be double booked.

That working time isn’t just for writing essays. You need to also make time for

  • reading and researching
  • reflection and self evaluation
  • organising notes and learning materials
  • planning for upcoming lessons, essays and the micro teach

An important part of managing your time is to be super-realistic. With essay writing, for example, most people can physically type 500 words in half an hour. But do not underestimate the researching time, the planning, the thinking, the formatting, the referencing, the proofreading and all that goes along with writing an essay. A bit of forward planning will save time and hassle: make sure you have plenty of ink and paper for the printer and the like.

Resources: Business Balls is an excellent website and has a great section on time management. I personally learnt an awful lot from Getting Things Done, a system for catching all those little “must do” worries. It’s a super to-do list type setup and alleviated a lot of stress for me. Time management is a huge industry and there are a lot of books and resources on the topic – google “time management” and you’ll get a billion hits. Everybody has a different style and different circumstances to work round though, so one size definitely does not fit all.

Essay writing

There is a skill in writing essays and particularly incredibly short essays like the Ptlls ones. Even though the words are tight it still needs to hang together as a cohesive argument with an introduction and conclusion. In fact a lot of Ptlls writing is more about the editing than the writing. The likelihood is that you will end up over the word limits and your essay will need some judicious pruning to get it to the limit whilst still making sense. Be ruthless with filler, look for repetition and redundancy and keep the language as simple as possible to keep the word counts down.

A lot of people procrastinate when it comes to sitting down and writing an essay, finding it hard to get motivated. Being a terrible procrastinator myself I offer a few tips on the subject

  • Work out what it is that is stopping you. Is it that really you’re not feeling properly prepared? Or that you don’t fully understand the question? Fix that problem first.
  • Set yourself a time limit and jump in. Promise yourself “just 15 minutes, then I’ll take a break”. The set a timer and forget about it. You might find you actually want to continue once that time is up. And if you don’t continue you have still achieved the goal you set for yourself. The Pomodoro Technique is a formal and well-known example.
  • If not time based then break it down into smaller sections. Commit to getting a rough first draft done. You can then take a break and edit it later – whether it’s later that day or another day altogether, depending on how your time management is doing.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. Voltaire said that the perfect is the enemy of the good and this is certainly true of getting essays completed on time to tiny word counts whilst retaining one’s sanity.

Resources: The Open University have a What is good writing? module in their free Learning Space section. The lecturer and author David Gauntlett has a PDF on essay writing that manages to be quite humorous about the subject. A book that has been recommended by other Ptlls students is One Step Ahead: Essays and Dissertations by Chris Mounsey. It’s not the most academic of books and apparently particularly popular for mature students getting back in to the the groove of writing essays.

If anyone else has any favourite resources or useful tips you can leave them in the comments!

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