"Time is what we want most, but what we use worst," declared William Penn, who managed to make time to found a colony. We can only speculate what he might have gotten accomplished if he had had a smartphone. (Maybe he'd have been even more efficient? Or maybe he'd have spent his hours browsing reddit?)
As a first-year college student you probably have more free time—that is, time you can plan and define for yourself—than ever. On the other hand, with a challeng- ing class load, work demands (possibly), and social distractions (certainly), it's easy to feel like there aren't enough hours to do what you want to do.
This chapter aims to challenge Penn's statement. Time is what we want most— and what we can use well. In the following pages, we'll:
- show you how to create a time log
- recommend time management strategies that will help you take control of your time
- reveal common time zappers—and how to avoid them
Your Personal Time Log
In order to manage your time well, you need to know how you currently spend it. Keep track of how you use time for three days—from how long you spend in the shower each day to how many hours you watch television to how many hours you spend sleeping, eating, studying, attending class....You get the picture.
Keep a small notebook with you so you can write things down as you do them. Record your activi- ties accurately. (If you're supposed to be studying, but you take a break to check your favorite blog, write it down!) It might seem crazy to take 15 seconds to write down that you just sent wrote a one-minute email, but those emails and other little tasks add up. All of this data will help you reflect on how you currently spend your time—and, more importantly, help you manage your time realistically and efficiently.
Time Management Strategies
Once you have a sense of how you spend your days, it's time to adjust so that you can get the most out of them.
1. Create a Term Calendar
This calendar serves as a quick reference to all the major events of the term: Exams, assignments, club meetings, family events, appointments, personal projects, visits from friends or family, etc.
Use the right calendar. Your term calendar can be in any form, but it has to be easy to read and use.
Use your syllabi to write in all important due dates, deadlines, and exams.
Review your term calendar regularly—at least once a week.
Resolve conflicts immediately. Even if the conflicts are weeks or months away, it's best to resolve them as soon as you recognize there's a problem.
2. Create a Weekly Schedule
Map out a rough plan for each week on Sunday or Monday. Block out time for all the things you need and want to do. This takes some time but it will save you energy as the week progresses.
Write in all must-dos, such as class, meetings, and appointments.
Review your term calendar to make sure you don't overlook any deadlines,
commitments, or engagements.
Write in some want-to-dos. Schedule time to exercise, meet up with friends, and to do other things that are important to your well-being.
Don't over schedule yourself. Avoid filling up your calendar with every little detail. You want a calendar you can actually live with.
3. Create Daily To-Do Lists
The to-do list is not just a goal-setting tool; it can also help you relax. After all, it takes energy to maintain a mental record of what you need and want to do. If everything's in your head, you have to remember things, re-remember them (Now what was I going to do after lunch?), wonder if you've forgotten anything, etc. Write the tasks down and you've conserved some valuable brain real estate. Also, when things are written down you can cross them off, which can be gratifying. Here's how to create a good to-do list:
Refer to your weekly schedule as a starting point. Write down any appointments, tasks, or activities.
Create a realistic list. Recognize your limitations so you don't go to bed each night feeling like you didn't get anything accomplished.
Break larger tasks down into smaller chunks. For example, instead of writing "research paper" or even "begin research paper," write "determine topic for research paper."The University of Minnesota has a cool assignment calculator on its website that can assist this process (lib.umn.edu/help/calculator/).
Prioritize. An assignment due the following day should get higher priority than something due the next week. An especially challenging task should be allotted more time than those that you can whip through.
Cross off as you go. It's important to see that you've completed what you set out to do. Doing so will keep stress at bay.
Transfer tasks. If you don't get something done, transfer it to the next day's list. If it's truly not a priority it might take a few days to get to it.
Common Time Zappers
The big bad twins of time wasting are procrastination and interruptions.
Procrastination can be a beautiful thing. It has caused late-night junk drawer cleaning and encouraged friends to linger over a dinner conversation long after the food has gone cold. Procrastination can be creative
("I know! I'll take up knitting!" ) or mundane ("Hmm, now how about this font? Or this one?" ). But it can catch up in a bad way. You know it has hit if you're finishing a paper at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. class, or if you're fanning your project to dry the glue on your way to turn it in.
If you tend to put things off, take some time to reflect on why you procrastinate. Is it because the assignment seems overwhelming? Is the work difficult to under- stand? Are there too many distractions? Is procrastination simply a habit? What do you get out of procrastinating? What would be the benefits of not procrastinating? No advice book is effective on its own. However, if you think about your work habits and determine that putting things off increases your stress level, here are some tips to avoid procrastinating:
Create a realistic schedule for completing tasks.
Maintain a positive, motivated attitude towards your work.
Break tasks and projects into manageable blocks, with realistic breaks built in.
Reward yourself for a job well done—and give yourself something to look forward to.
Enlist support. Set goals with a friend so you can help keep each other on track.
Interruptions are the other common time zappers. The world is full of potential interruptions; the trick is to manage them. Here's how:
Just say no. Or at least, just say "later." People will stop by or call and invite you to join them for a meal, a game, a conversation, everything. Get in the habit of letting people know you're busy and telling them when you will be available.
Turn off the phone, TV, computers, etc. If you can't turn the computer off because you need it for schoolwork, make a commitment to ignore the temptations it contains. Every little beep, ping, and ring will distract you from your task and, ultimately, it will take a lot longer to finish the work.
Establish a schedule. Set study hours and let friends, roommates, and family know that those times are off limits.
Get organized. Sometimes it's not others who interrupt us, but our own tenden- cies toward distraction. Make sure that once you sit down to work you won't be getting up in five minutes to check on something or retrieve something you forgot you need for the assignment.
See Chapter 7 for more information about the effects of interruptions and multitasking, and tips for how to stay focused.
Time Management Exercises
- Keep track of the way you spend your time for three days. Use the sample time log illustrated at the beginning of this chapter, or create one that works well for you. If you really want to see where your time goes, take the data from your three-day log and create a chart. Here's an example:
To make your own pie chart, use Microsoft Excel or a free online graphing service like chartgo.com.
- Create a term calendar and a weekly time schedule. Commit to writing daily to-do lists for this week. At the end of the week, review your term calendar and weekly time schedule. What aspects of this exercise were helpful and something you can imagine continuing for the next month? What aspects of this exercise were not helpful?
- What are your most common "time zappers"? Write down your top five common "time zappers" and devise a plan to limit the amount of time they take up this week. Make sure you set reasonable expectations for yourself! There's no need to avoid your favorite social media site altogether, for example. Just try spending half the time on it that you usually do. Share your goals with a classmate or friend and report to that same person at the end of the week.