Time management is not only a skill that’s important while you’re attending school, but it’s one that carries over in to every aspect of your life. Every day we face an array of schedules, meetings, deadlines, household chores, and a whole host of other events we need to contend with; if we don’t plan our time effectively, we won’t accomplish what we need to do.
Perhaps the most important starting place when thinking about managing our time is setting reasonable goals. It’s all well and good to say we’ll attend all our classes, go out with friends in the afternoon, do all our homework before dinner, make a meal for the kids, and throw in a laundry before going to bed at 10:00 so we’ll be fresh in the morning, but is that realistic? The answer is a resounding no! And if we do try to work in all of these things, we’re more likely to get stressed out and do all of them badly rather than focusing on what really is important and doing those things well.
For the purposes of this blog, let’s work through effective time management strategies for going to school, recognizing that you can apply these same strategies for every other aspect of your life.
- Prepare a Semester Calendar
At the beginning of the semester, each teacher will hand out a syllabus, a list of topics that will be covered, dates of tests and/or papers due, and any outside reading or homework that’s required. Once you have that in hand, you can lay out your strategies for how you will manage the workload. On your calendar, make sure to write down:
- What homework readings you’ll have to do and when you’ll need to do them
- All your assignments and when each is due
- Dates of quizzes and tests and any review sessions that may be held
- School functions you need to attend
- All extracurricular activities and home/family/work commitments
This will give you a broad picture of what the next few months will look like.
- Prepare a Weekly Schedule
Now you need to think more about the details of your schedule. Unlike the semester calendar, which you create all at once at the beginning of the semester, you need to create your weekly schedule each and every week, changing assignment/test dates as appropriate and adding in new information about study group times, work shift changes, extracurricular activities, and the like. Make it a point to create your weekly schedule each Sunday, but also make sure to update it during the week as new items arise. On your calendar, include:
- Each class you have and the time you will spend in it.
- Assignments you need to complete (or start) for each of those classes this week, including all lead-up activities.
- Blocks of time set aside for doing homework or research for a term paper.
- Any special meetings and study group sessions.
- All the hours you need to be at work.
You should update the schedule if and when anything changes during the week to affect your time commitments.
- Prepare a Daily Schedule
In some ways this is the most important schedule you need to make, as it reflects your time commitments for the immediate moment. Every evening, set it up for the next day. When you complete a task, make sure you put a check mark by it, and if you accomplish something not on the schedule, write it down and check it off too – you’d be amazed at how good you’ll feel to see just how much you’ve accomplished with those check marks. Make note of:
- What your overall goal is for that day – what you hope to achieve.
- Everything from your weekly schedule that needs doing the next day.
- Everything from your previous daily schedule that you haven’t yet completed, and mark it as a priority for the following day.
- Any other activity you’ve squeezed in during the week that never made it on to your weekly schedule.
One of the keys to effective time management is starting with the big picture and working your way down to the specific details. Your three-pronged calendar system does exactly that.
General Time Managements Skills
There are a number of general time management strategies you should employ to make the most efficient use of the time you have. These include:
- Prioritize your assignments. Yes, you have a lot to do, but not all of it carries the same immediacy or importance. And you may feel that you don’t have enough time to do everything you need to do, but if you prioritize, you’ll find you’ll get a lot more done. Start with your most difficult, or important, subject or task – you’ll be fresh and have plenty of energy. The next task will be less demanding, and it will feel much easier to do by comparison. If you can’t finish everything, prioritize what you couldn’t finish for the next day.
- Create blocks of study time. Choose an amount of time for which you know you’ll be able to focus without getting distracted. If you need a longer amount of time for a difficult or complex assignment, you can take a short break to get up and stretch before returning to the work – just remember it’s important that you continue to work after the break.
- Choose a permanent, or semi-permanent, study space. It’s wasteful to spend chunks of your precious time searching for a place to study every day. Look for a space that will always be available and free from distractions, so you can concentrate on your work.
- Work before play. It’s easy to put off studying so you can meet your friends or play some sports, telling yourself you’ll do your homework later, before bed, in the morning, or whenever. The trouble is, more often than not you’ll end up not getting to it at all. If you get your work out of the way first, you’ll be more relaxed and able to enjoy your down time more.
- Join a study group, especially for your harder subjects. Not only will you gain more perspective on the material, but you can divide tasks among the group members, cutting down the time each of you needs to do research. You’ll present a summary to the group on your selected topic, and that will help you too. If you have to teach something to someone else, it means you need to have command of the material first.
- Eat healthy, get exercise, and get plenty of sleep. All of these will give you more energy and more focus, which will translate into less time you need to spend on each assignment or reading.
- Be flexible. It’s very rare that everything goes according to plan. Be prepared to alter your daily and weekly schedules to accommodate new things that pop up. Staying one step ahead will give you more time to plan a new strategy and execute it effectively.
Always keep in mind that time is a precious commodity. By taking active steps to use your time effectively, you will become more productive no matter what you’re doing.