How to Work Backwards From a Due Date

timer in the foreground with a student working in the background
Tips for Using Your Calendar or Planner to Tackle Big Projects

It’s great to start on an assignment by putting the due date in your calendar (whether that be in a physical planner or in a digital app), but you can get even more use out of your calendar by also scheduling the time when you’ll actually work on that assignment. To schedule your actual work time, it can be helpful to work backwards from the due date. This approach allows you to visualize when you need to get each part of your assignment done, as well as how much time it will take you.

Putting in this little bit of extra work ahead of time will also save you stress in the future, and should help free up some time in your life to do things that aren’t schoolwork.

Let’s take a look at what that might look like, with the example of writing an essay.

1) Break the Assignment Down

Highlight key words in the assignment or write them down.

This will also help you later to know what you need to turn in. Does your teacher require you to turn in your outline? Do you need to find sources for research?

2) Work Backwards From the Final Product

Break each part down into smaller pieces to determine the steps you need to take to get there.

For most essays, this would look something like this:

Rough Draft outline write topic sentences for each paragraph compose a thesis statement pick a topic.

If this is counterintuitive for you, try the reverse. Start with the first thing you need to accomplish and work your way up.

3) Schedule the Time in for Each Step

Work backwards through the days from the final deadline, putting each step or a few steps together where you will have time to work on them.

Instead of putting ‘work on rough draft’ into your calendar, try ‘pick topic and write a thesis statement.’

Getting specific about each step of an assignment helps you more accurately estimate how many work sessions you’ll actually need. Plus, checking multiple things off of your to-do list feels so much better than feeling as though you’ve only completed one assignment out of many.

For parents, check out this great video explanation for how to help your student use their calendar more effectively. This strategy is also effective for your own deadlines at work, or taking on any large task.


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or info@applerouth.com.