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The workload for Oxbridge is intense. Especially in first year, when you are still transitioning from school, it is difficult to manage your time effectively.

Sometimes in my first year studying Maths and Philosophy, I would have up to 5 or 6 problem sheets a week, or 2 or 3 problem sheets and an essay. You are expected to spend about 8 hours per problem sheet, and even longer for an essay, so how do you do it?

Tip 1: Do a timetable, get a planner, be organised!

The key to successful work in such an intense environment is organisation.

I would recommend getting a good planner, where you can visualise your week and work out when you will get the work done. Write your deadlines in, plus any other events you may be going to, and be realistic with your time.

planner deadlines oxbridge
My planner, from Week 4 Hilary Term in my first year at Oxford.

There's no point optimistically stating you'll do 5 hours of work on Tuesday if you have hockey practice from 3-6, lectures all morning, and have agreed to see your friend in a play in the evening. So be honest with yourself.

I would also make yourself a timetable at the beginning of every term to help stick to deadlines. Write in it when your lectures, tutorials and deadlines are.

timetable deadlines oxbridge
The Oxford University Maths and Philosophy timetable for Hilary term 2019. This is where I start for making my own timetable and then add my own stuff to it.

Tip 2: If you're not focusing, stop

It is very easy to sit aimlessly in the library, staring into space, and count it as time well spent working. However, you are doing no good here.

If you feel your focus slipping, do something else for a while. For example:

  • Go for a run (a longer break, but great to restore your focus)
  • Walk to your room, make a coffee or tea, then walk back to the library (a short break, but can really help)
  • Have a Facebook break – I always find this good. Try to go on your phone somewhere other than in the library, or it often doesn't feel so much like a break, but procrastination.
  • Go and find a friend and have a chat.
  • If it's near a meal time, go and eat then, when you feel your focus waning.

If you really struggle with focus, a good way to break up your time is to set lots of alarms. Spend 30 minutes working, then 2 minutes on your phone, and continue on in this pattern, setting an alarm for the end of each section. You can end up doing a really effective amount of work, with minimum distraction in the 30 minute focused sessions.

mobile phone deadlines oxbridge
Gadgets can be one of the biggest distraction, so if you are working on your laptop, make sure to turn your notifications off, or this can be a huge sub-conscious distraction. Try not to check your phone too much.

Also, don't be afraid to take breaks. At Oxbridge it may feel like everybody is working like machines all the time, but everyone needs time off!

Tip 3: Work in different locations

If you work in the same spot in the same library it is easy to become bored and then get distracted. Try to mix up where you work. Some ideas are:

  • Your room – particularly nice if you're feeling tired and want to stay cosy with a book later in the evening.
  • Your college library – often a great facility that is really close and accessible. You can often find your friends there too which is nice, although make sure this doesn't become a distraction!
  • Your faculty library – every faculty has one and they are often really good spaces with all the books you could possibly need. Some faculties, such as the maths faculty in Oxford, also have their own workspaces there.
  • Bigger libraries – the famous libraries in Oxford, such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library are open to anyone to work in. These are amazing spaces, so make the most of them!
  • A Café – if you need to a more calm and chill atmosphere, there are lots of nice cafés you can go and work in, either by yourself or with some friends. Also, it is sometimes good to discuss work with friends doing your course, and a café is ideal for this.
bodleian deadlines oxbridge
The Bodleian Library, a beautiful place to work in Oxford.

Tip 4: Be honest with your tutors

Although planning and time-management is key to meeting your deadlines, as well as shaking up location and taking breaks, sometimes it doesn't work out. It is very normal at Oxbridge, with such an intense workload, that sometimes you cannot quite meet every deadline.

If this does happen, be honest with your tutors! Don't pretend you emailed the work when you didn't, or that you lost the sheet etc. They understand the intense environment, and that sometimes things may go askew. It doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things, so try and be honest.

Timer Oxbridge deadlines
Sometimes you may run out of time to get through a piece of work; that's not the end of the world!

Very often your tutors will give you help to get you back on track, so do not stress too much! Try and stay as calm as you can with regards to work. I find not over-worrying about every single sheet and essay is the best way to stay on top of it.

Tip 5: Don't overwork

Studying at Oxbridge is a huge commitment, but it is very important to remember deadlines are only deadlines, and not to overwork yourself.

You should have spare time in Oxford and Cambridge, to do interesting activities, join societies and sports teams, play in productions and orchestras, and to just relax with your friends.

Obviously, with the workload, you cannot do everything, but if the only four walls you've seen of Oxford are the library, you definitely need to re-consider your schedule.

punting deadlines oxbridge
Punting is really popular as a way of relaxing in both Oxford and Cambridge in the summer term.

I do Maths and Philosophy, which is a very full-on joint honours degree, but I make sure I have time to do things I love. I am on our JCR Committee, part of my college's feminist society, social secretary of our college netball team, and play in a uni-wide orchestra.

There is definitely time for other things!

You should not be working at the expense of your happiness, friendships, other interest, and mental health. Your work will also be better if you take breaks and engage your mind in other things too. So don't overwork, and let deadlines rule your life!

Conclusion:

The workload at Oxbridge is intense and the deadlines constant. It often feels unmanageable, so here are my 5 tips for staying on top of it:

  1. Do a timetable, get a planner, be organised!
  2. If you're not focusing, stop! Smaller amounts of productive work are far more beneficial than hour upon hour of fruitless work.
  3. Work in different locations. Try to switch it up to avoid boredom and procrastination.
  4. Be honest with your tutors. If you're struggling with the workload then tell them; they're there to help.
  5. Don't overwork. Oxford and Cambridge are full of amazing opportunities, so make sure you make the most of them too!

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