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Female student looking stressed with laptop and study materials

8 December 2022

Are all your assignments due at once? Here’s how to manage multiple deadlines

Are your assignments starting to pile up? Having several competing deadlines can be stressful and leave you wondering how to get everything done on time.

Think the secret is to work on multiple assignments at once? This approach can actually make things harder. While many people believe that multi-tasking helps you to get more done, the human brain can’t do two things at once – it can only switch between the two as quickly as possible.

Dr Gillian Clark from Deakin’s School of Psychology says trying to do more means you actually do less: ‘We make mistakes and take longer to complete tasks when we try to do multiple things at once.’

It’s possible to split your attention if you’re working on several simple tasks or automatic behaviours – think walking and talking, or making a sandwich and listening to a podcast. But you run into trouble when you try to focus on multiple tasks that aren’t automatic behaviours. ‘We reach a limit and our brain doesn’t have the capacity to allocate attention to everything all at once,’ Dr Clark says.

What not to do

Switching tasks makes you less productive – whether you’re reading multiple lecture notes or studying while chatting with a friend. ‘Because only one task is being focused on at once, it means that we miss things, make mistakes and slow down on all of the tasks we’re switching between’, Dr Clark says.

Research backs this up – students who use their smartphone or watch TV while studying or listening to lectures tend to have get less done, retain less information and achieve lower marks than students who don’t multi-task.

How to study efficiently

The most effective strategy is to focus on one thing at a time. Just. One.

‘Avoid distractions and interruptions – close your email, don’t answer your phone and make it clear you’re not to be disturbed,’ Dr Clark says. ‘Allocate blocks of time for each task and ensure you focus only on the assigned task during the allotted time.’

If there are simple tasks that can be automated through practice, you might be able to complete two tasks at the same time. For anything challenging, new or varied, however, ‘allocate as much of your attention to one task at a time as you can,’ says Dr Clark.

Feeling stressed? Try these tips

While stress is a normal part of managing competing demands, if your study load is making you feel out of control, try these tips to de-stress:

Ask for help

If you start to feel overwhelmed, the below services are free and available to all Deakin students:

Edited version of an article originally published in this.

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