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Managing Time

Scheduling and managing time wisely are important for college students.  Have you ever missed an important appointment or deadline?  If you have, you probably found that it complicated both your academic and your social life.  You may have ended up feeling anxious, frustrated, guilty, or some other uncomfortable feeling.

There's an old Garfield comic in which Garfield, looking bedraggled and standing in his bed, says:  "I didn't get enough sleep last night.  I slept the whole time.  But the night just wasn't long enough."  Maybe you're like Garfield, and it seems that there's not enough time for sleep.  The following ideas will help you make the most of your time by personalizing your schedule to fit your tastes and activities.

The Balanced Life

The balanced life has six areas of development:  intellectual, social, physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial.  Sometimes it may seem that one or two areas demand more of your time than the others do.  But all six areas need some attention. Consider your values and priorities and how they relate to the way you currently allocate your time.  Knowing what is important to you can help you make decisions about how you spend your time.  Are you spending your time on the things that are the most important to you?  Or are you allowing the things that matter most to be at the mercy of the things that matter least? Remember that's it's important to do something that you like to do every day, even if only for a few minutes.  This can help you to avoid feeling deprived, especially when a big chunk of your time is spend studying.

Time Management Matrix

The late Steven Covey developed a Time Management Matrix as a guide to making decisions about how time is spent. 
In Quadrant I, the Quadrant of Necessity, are activities that are both important and urgent.  These include items such as crises, medical emergencies, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects, and last-minute preparations for scheduled activities.  If we spend a lot of time in Quadrant I, we're always in crisis mode-always putting out fires.  We set ourselves up for stress and burnout.

Quadrant III, the Quadrant of Deception, contains activities that are urgent but not important.  These include interruptions, some calls, some mail or email, some reports, some meetings, many "pressing" matters (for example, having to run to the store to get something you ran out of and need right now, instead of planning ahead and already having it on hand), and many popular activities.  These activities may appear urgent; but in relation to your goals, they are not.

Quadrant IV activities are neither important nor urgent.  This is the Quadrant of Waste.  These activites include trivia, busy work, junk mail, some phone messages or email, time wasters, and escape activities (such as video games), and viewing mindless TV shows.  It is in our best interest to avoid this quadrant as much as possible.  The more time we spend here, the fewer goals we achieve.

Steven Covey suggested that we are most effective when we spend most of our time in Quadrant II, the Quadrant of Quality and Personal Leadership.  Activities in this quadrant include preparation and planning activities (activities that increase your efficiency or your ability to recognize new opportunities and to produce; this would include things such as learning to cook healthy meals or going to college to prepare for a career), prevention (such as changing the oil in your car or exercising regularly), values clarification, relationship building, and true recreation or relaxation.  Focusing our time here allows us to achieve our goals faster.  It directly impacts how easy or hard it is to manage Quadrant I, the Quadrant of Necessity.

First Steps to Effective Time Management

Weekly Schedule

To begin managing your time more effectively, you first need a clear idea of how you currently use your time.  You can accomplish this by keeping a detailed record of how you spend your time for one week.  You might use this Weekly Schedule, or you might use your own planner or another way of keeping track.  Just remember that the more detailed your record, the more helpful it will be as you try to determine how you can more make more efficient use of your time.

Personal Time Survey

After you have kept track of how you spend your time, use the information from your one-week schedule to complete the Personal Time Survey.  This will give you an estimate of your current time use.  Follow the directions for each item in order to learn the total time spent on each activity in one week.  Make sure that you include everything you do in this time estimate.  After you calculate each item's weekly time, add all of the times in the right-hand column together for the grand subtotal.  Subtract the subtotal from 168 (the total number of hours in a week) to figure out how many hours you have per week that are currently available for study.

Study Hours Formula

To decide how many hours you need to study each week in order to get A's, use this rule of thumb:

Study two hours per credit hour for a lighter class, three hours per credit hour for an average class, and four hours per credit hour for a difficult class.

For example, suppose that you have a 3-credit class in a subject that is relatively easy for you and that does not require more than an average amount of homework.  Spending two hours of study time for each credit hour, for a total of 6 hours per week, would probably be more than adequate.  But a 3-credit class in a subject that is hard for you and that requires a lot of homework may need four hours of study time for each credit hour, or a total of 12 hours per week.  Considering your current classes, use the Study Hours Formula to determine the amount of time that you need for study.  Compare this to number at the bottom of your Personal Time Survey, which is the time you have available for study after everything else you do in a week.  If you're like most students, you will find yourself a bit stressed by the comparison.  To ease your anxiety, remember that it is not only the quantity of study time, but also the quality of study time that counts.  This formula is just a general guideline.  You might try following it for a week, making adjustments as needed.

College Student Time Assessment

Next, complete the College Student Time Assessment.  Using the information from your Weekly Schedule, your Personal Time Survey, and your Study Hours Formula, decide how you might allocate your time differently.  Are there some things on which you're spending too much time?  Too little time?

Planning Your Schedule

Now you are ready to make adjustments in planning a new Weekly Schedule.  This becomes a plan for how you would like to spend your time more effectively.
There are a number of ways to keep track of your daily schedule, and you can choose whatever best fits your own personality and preferences.  Some people prefer appointment books or planners.  Others like a piece of poster board tacked to a wall.  Some people use 3"x5" cards.  Some keep their schedule in their phones.  There is no right or wrong way.  Whatever works for you is what is best for you.  Whatever you use, it is best to allow spaces for each hour, or if you have a really busy schedule, each half hour.  

In developing your schedule, first fill in all of the necessities: classes, work, meals, adequate sleep, etc.  Next block in your study time, using your completed Study Hours Formula.  Remember to schedule your study time when you feel energized!  Also it's best to review class notes soon after each class.  Make sure to schedule in breaks during your study time, about 10 minutes each hour.  Taking breaks increases your study efficiency.  

Develop a calendar to keep track of when major papers or projects are due.  You can see the "big picture" by using a semester calendar.  The key is to plan now and then follow the plan!

When registering for classes, be realistic about how many credits you can reasonably carry.  In order to succeed in your classes, it's necessary to have the time to study.  If you find that you don't have time to study and you're not spending too much time doing things such as socializing, watching TV or movies, or playing video games, you may want to consider taking a lighter load.

After scheduling becomes a habit, you can adjust your schedule.  It's better to be precise when you're first learning to live with a schedule.  It's easier to find something to do with extra time than to find extra time to do something.  Maybe you'll find that your schedule isn't working, or you may feel deprived if you're leaving out something that you would really like to be doing.  If it doesn't feel right, you may have left out some value, or maybe some need is not being met.  Most importantly, make your schedule work for you.  A time schedule that isn't personalized and honest isn't a time schedule at all.

Additional scheduling ideas

Making the Most of your Time

Once you have figured out how you spend most of your time, think about what are your most important activities.  Do you have enough time for them?  If you're like most people, the answer is "no."  So now let's consider how to make the most of your time when it seems you just don't have enough.

Don't be a perfectionist.

Trying to be perfect sets you up for defeat because nobody can be totally perfect.  Perfectionists are afraid of failing, so they often avoid and procrastinate rather than attempting to do something.  Or they may spend so long trying to make it perfect that they either don't finish everything they are supposed to do or they don't have any down time. 

It's important to set challenging goals, but they should also be achievable.  Break difficult tasks into manageable chunks.  Remember that the only way to eat an elephant is one forkful at a time!  

Don't be afraid to fail--be willing to "endeavor!"  And then, accept your best effort as "good enough."  Perfectionists also tend to have a lot of rules about how much they should be accomplishing and doing.  While you are in college, with a lot of your time focused in the "intellectual" area of development, there are limits on how much you can do in some of the areas.  Remember that "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  

Learn to say NO.  

Suppose that you made social plans for tomorrow with your friends, and you set aside tonight to study and do laundry.  An acquaintance of yours asks you to see a movie with him/her tonight.  You're not really interested.  Or maybe you are interested, but you don't see how you can spare the time.  You want to say no, but you hate turning people down.  Politely saying "no" should become a habit.  Saying "no" frees up time for the things that are most important and helps you feel in control.

Learn to set priorities.

It's important to prioritize your responsibilities and commitments.  The key to accomplishing your priorities is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to first establish your priorities and then schedule your priorities.  Some people don't know how to set priorities, and so they procrastinate important tasks and then panic when time gets short. 

Using a "to-do list" places items in order of importance.  One way to prioritize is the ABC list. 

This list is divided into three sections.  Place items that need to be done today in the A section.  Items that need to be completed within the week go in the B section.  The C section is for items that need to be done within the month.  As the B and C items become more pertinent, they are bumped up to the A or B list.  You can try this or come up with your own method, but do something to set priorities.

Use time more efficiently.

Combine several activities into one time slot.  For example, while walking to school and around campus, listen to recorded class notes or mentally review the important points from your classes.  This allows you more time in the day for good study review.  While you're showering, make a mental list of the things that need to be done.  When you watch TV, accomplish tasks that don't require much thought, such as shining your shoes or folding your laundry.  These are just examples of ways to make better use of your time. 

Avoid the perils of procrastination.  

About one-fifth of adults report the habit of routinely delaying tackling tasks that would lead to a more successful life.  Procrastination not only causes stress and self-doubt, but procrastinators are more likely to suffer physical symptoms and to visit the doctor more often.  The following ideas can help you to change your thinking so that you can overcome procrastination.

    • On a piece of paper, create two columns.  In one, write your excuses for not getting started on something.  In the other, challenge these excuses with positive, realistic thoughts.
      • Excuse: "I don't have enough time."
      • Response: "The longer I wait, the less time I'll have.  So I'll never have more time than I have right now.
    • Write a "contract" with yourself and sign it.  Better yet, share your goals with a friend, spouse, or co-worker.
    • If you worry about what others think, imagine responding to and surviving harsh criticism.
    • Set an alarm on your phone or computer to sound off at regular intervals to remind you of the benefits of completing a task on time.

Top 10 Reasons for Procrastination   

(Adapted from "The Top 10 Reasons for Procrastination and How to Get Over Them," by Louise Morganti Kaelin)

1.  Clouded vision.  (SOLUTION: Step back.)

It's time to look at the forest.  What exactly are you trying to accomplish?  Sometimes we get so caught up in the detail that we forget where we're going.

2.  The task is overwhelming.  (SOLUTION: Break it down.)

The bigger the task, the more we need to define the natural milestones within the task.  Want to lose 20 pounds?  Go for five pounds, four times!  Need to clean your room?  Break it down into North, South, East, and West.  Or divide it into tasks that can be done in a certain block of time (15 minutes, 2 hours, etc.).

3.  Fear of the end result.  (SOLUTION: Acknowledge the fear, then take the next step.)

Sometimes we're afraid we'll fail; sometimes we're afraid we'll succeed.  The outcome is the same:  fear of what will happen when we're done scares us so much that we don't work at it.

4.  The task is unpleasant or boring.  (SOLUTION: Focus on "why" you are doing it.)

You hate to clean, but you love living in graceful surroundings.  You hate to do laundry, but you love having clean clothes.  You hate to make phone calls, but you need the information on the other end of the line to make your project go faster or easier.  There are many tasks or chores that we don't like to do but that are necessary to live the life we want to live.  Focus on the bigger picture.

5.  Indecision.  (SOLUTION: Remember, often there are no wrong choices.  So do something, anything.)

There are very few things that can't be undone, or done again.  Can't decide what color to paint, so you let your walls remain stained and grungy?  Pick three colors.  Start with the lightest.  If you don't like it, go on to the next.

6.  You lack confidence.  (SOLUTION: Figure out if your lack of skill is real or imagined.)

If it's real, find out where to gain the skills you need or find someone with the right skills who can help you.  If it's imagined, look at #3-fear of the end result.

7.  Not enough time.  (SOLUTION: Break it down into steps that are doable in 5 to 15 minute chunks of time.)

This is related to #2--feeling overwhelmed, but has more to do with time than feeling overwhelmed.  Large, uninterrupted chunks of time are very hard to come by.  (And if we're honest, when they do come, we'd rather do something fun!)  A good rule of thumb is "5 or 15".  Either do 5 things (file 5 pieces of paper, fold 5 articles of clothing) or do something for 15 minutes.  You'd be surprised how much gets done that way, and without pain!

8.  Distractions.  (SOLUTION: Be honest with yourself, then get focused.)

Are you consciously inviting distractions so that you have a "good" reason not to get something done?  It's a way we often sabotage ourselves.  Give yourself a gift of time to work on a project.  Don't answer the phone or door for one hour.  If someone calls, ask the person if you can get back to them in an hour.  Take control of the situation.

9.  Not allowing adequate time  (SOLUTION: Figure out how long it will take, then double it, or better yet, triple it.)

When we envision a project in our minds, we see ourselves flying through it, on a straight and narrow path.  Because of that, we tend to vastly underestimate how long it will take-partly because we forget about Steps 1 through 8!  Eventually you'll get better at this, but to begin with, start doubling how long you think it will take.  This will allow you to plan better and, perhaps, even complete a project without stress!

10.  Too many other projects.  (SOLUTION: Ask for help or establish priority.)

If you've got too much on your plate, speak up-either to your boss, your family, or to yourself.  What is the most important thing to do right now?  Focus on that.  Also, work on "Important" tasks, not just the "Urgent" ones!