Last month I shared my new planner, which is part of a larger accountability binder system that I use to keep track of things I need to work on and places I need to be.
One of the pages was my assignment and project sheet where I wanted to keep all of due dates. I have pretty small handwriting so I crammed in two 40-line tables on the page: one for classwork and one for writing projects.
I greatly underestimated how many things I would have due this semester. Not counting the surprise projects that have sprung up since the semester started (thanks a lot, j-school), I have over 150 items in my class assignment list.
By comparison, I have about 10 anthology deadlines listed in my project sheet for the entire year.
I obviously need something a little more heavy duty for tracking classwork.
Inspired by this post on Organized Charm, I made a Google Sheet specifically for class assignments.
The spreadsheet has columns for the semester week, the specific due date, the class it’s for, the assignment name, and the four potential statuses I may be stuck on: reading, taking notes, writing an initial draft, and completion.
The grey and white backgrounds really help me keep track of what’s upcoming that specific week, and on my printed sheet I use a yellow highlighter in between each specific day so I can prioritize.
The status columns help me to isolate and organize things within the spreadsheet, usually by ordering an entire column.
I use the status columns as a checklist to keep track of what I’ve done and what still needs work.
If you want to track things just with the spreadsheet, you can use drop-down menus in the status columns to check off items when you’re done.
I like using a paper system, so I manually check off when I’m done with a step–and when I’m totally finished, I use a highlighter to strike through the whole line.
The downside to using a paper version rather than an electronic version is that my professors have changed due dates several times so far, so I have to re-write them in the printed copy or re-print it if I’m feeling particularly fussy over it. Having a shortcut on a tablet or laptop may end up being a better option, even though I like having physical tracking sheets.
Click here to use the template!
[One day I’ll figure out how to make the embed code work. Today is not that day.]
Tagged as: downloads, homework, multi-taskingTo learn more about Excel, go to the organized listing of all my Excel tutorial posts or review the most popular Excel books on Amazon
Free Excel Template Download
When I started as an MBA student at UCLA Anderson, I was surprised and eventually overwhelmed by the number of responsibilities I had to manage. Multi-tasking was something I had always considered a skill of mine, but I soon realized that I couldn’t track all of my tasks just by memory.
For this reason, I built a homework and task tracker using Excel to track all of my commitments during fall quarter. I have been using it ever since and have made several revisions to the tool.
There were a couple of key themes that went into the design of this tool. The first of which is having vertical lists for all of your classes. The reason for this is fairly simple – during your first quarter you will fall behind in your classes. Even those of us who are used to getting straight A’s in our undergraduate courses will have difficulty balancing school work with networking, recruiting, social events, and club leadership positions.
Therefore, it’s not uncommon to fall several readings or assignments behind for a given course. The remedy for this situation is always the same – the night before everything is due, or right before a midterm, you’ll go through each deferred task in sequence until you are caught up with the syllabus. The vertical format is perfect for this.
Another key theme is the process of checking and crossing off items. While it may seem like a minor attribute, there’s something fulfilling about checking a box or crossing out an item once you’ve completed a task. The Homework Tracker template replicates both of these processes in a digital format.
Another goal of mine was to make the tool simple and intuitive. There are only two tabs where you actually input data and all input cells are highlighted in yellow. The tracker was built on a series of lookup formulas and significant conditional formatting. Please follow the Excel category on my website if you’d like additional information on those subjects.
Click here to download the MBA Excel Homework Tracker
The next section is a basic tutorial on how to use this template. It covers each tab by going from left to right through the workbook.
The Setup Tab
Start using the template by going to the Setup tab. Once there, all the cells you can update are highlighted in yellow. The process of populating this tab is fairly simple:
- Input your name
- Under the “Class Name” field, input all of the courses and commitments you’ve made for the quarter/semester (these could be club leadership positions, TA positions, recruiting, group projects, etc.).
If you have more than 8 total commitments, I would suggest combining some of the less intense commitments into one entry. If you have fewer than 8 commitments, input the word “(blank)” or some other generic text in your unused slots. This affects the conditional formatting of the Calendar View.
Each class / commitment (outside of the blank ones) must have a unique name for the template to work properly. For these inputs, it’s best visually to use an abbreviation. For example, Economics could be ECON; Accounting could be ACCTG.
Updated: the next two sections discuss two features that were recently added to the 2.0 version of this tracker.
Per some of the comments from users of this tracker, I adjusted the template so that you could shift between years more quickly. The original template required you to start in 2012 and manually click your way through the years in the calendar view. Now all you need to do to reset the template is select a baseline year. The template will use the first Sunday of that year as the starting point of the calendar view.
In the example below, we’ve picked the year “2019” and the calendar view has been manually shifted by 2 weeks (with the up and down arrows), so the calendar view would be showing the third full week of 2019.
No Password Protection
When I built the first version of the homework tracker, I collaborated with a friend and put a lot of time into creating something that we believed would help others. We wanted to receive credit for our contribution and for that reason, we decided to protect the file with a password. (which ironically, neither of us can remember today)
The problem with this approach is that, it’s now causing problems rather than helping people. Had there been no password protection, I’m sure the average Excel user could have figured out the problem and addressed it. Additionally, it goes against the principle of transparency I’ve discussed in my model building posts. Therefore, this latest version of the tool will not have password protection.
Please note that since the password protection has been removed, it’s much easier to make an entry error. Because of this, I’ve protected the “Calendar View” tab (without a password) as that tab is primarily view only.
The Master List Tab
Now that you’ve setup the foundation of the tracker, you must input your relevant individual tasks. The best time to do this is right at the beginning of your classes. What I’ll usually do before I start a quarter is sit down with each course syllabus for all of my classes and use them to populate this template. The update process is as follows:
- Enter a task name for every task
- Enter a task due date
- When you finish a task, enter “Shift + P” in the checkmark column to cross that task off
- To highlight an important task, enter “Shift + N” in the checkmark column to highlight it in yellow and bold the text
The template allows a maximum of 200 tasks for a given class / commitment. How many rows you use will depend on how much detail you want for your tasks (i.e. listing five readings due in one day as one assignment versus breaking each reading out individually). Overdue tasks and tasks without a date will be highlighted in red.
After completing you initial input, you’ll likely need to add additional tasks that are due in the middle of your entries. To add data and re-sort your entries:
- Append your new task after the last task you filled out
- Select any entry under the “due date” field that is part of your congruent data set
- Input “Alt – A – S – A” to re-sort your tasks
- You can also sort manually by going to the menu and selecting “Data – Sort – Sort By: Due Date – Order: Oldest to Newest”
- Your entries will now be chronologically arranged
For the sort function shortcut to work, you need a congruent data set, meaning you can’t have empty rows separating your data.
Finally, a couple of things you should not do on this tab:
- Do NOT try to move or shift rows to sort them when incorporating new tasks. Doing this will break formulas that feed into the Calendar View. Please use the sort process described above.
- Do NOT edit the top row of the Master List tab
The Calendar View
The Calendar View is primarily an output tab designed to show you a weekly view of the tasks you entered into the Master List tab. The only thing you can change on this tab is the week displayed; you do so by pushing the spin button up or down.
The Calendar View basically shows you when you might get slammed with work and encourages you to prepare accordingly. During the recruiting season, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have multiple interviews, a midterm, and a group assignment all due in one day. A maximum of 12 tasks will appear for a given day; if you happen to have more than 12 tasks due, an overflow indicator ( ! ) will appear at the very bottom of the corresponding day.
The Calendar View is also formatted to be print ready, so you can print a copy out at the beginning of the week to help plan out your schedule.
Below are a list of known technical issues with the template:
- The MBA Excel Homework Tracker was built using Excel 2010. Opening the file with an earlier version of Excel may prevent some formatting features from working.
- There are no macros in this workbook nor links to other workbooks
- A circular reference warning may pop up when using this file. There are no circular references in this model and this is a known bug in Excel.
- I designed the tool as “offline-only” as each tracker will primarily be used by one person. I considered using Google Docs for this tracker, but currently Google’s version of Excel has nowhere near the conditional formatting capabilities that Excel offers.
Please email me with any comments or suggestions for future versions. Due to contractual agreements, I am not able to give out the unlock password for the spreadsheets.
Click here to download the MBA Excel Homework Tracker