Time Management Do's and Dont's: Conquering the Time-Management Monster
Time management may seem overwhelming, but take comfort in the many students who have conquered it, sharing key time management tips -- do's and don'ts.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Many students find themselves overwhelmed with managing their time when they start college, ironically not because there is so little time available but because there is so much -- and so much more freedom. Unlike high school, where you were sequestered in classrooms for perhaps seven hours a day, in college you may have large blocks or even entire days without classes. And you have no parents around to remind you when to do things and play a role in planning your time.
This article offers some do's and don't for time management:
DO track your time. To get a good feel for where your time is going, spend a week writing down everything you do, hour by hour. You will begin to develop a feel for ways you are using time effectively, as well as how you are wasting time on unproductive activities. You may be surprised at the number of time-wasters you can cut from your schedule.
DON'T be unrealistic about the goals you can accomplish in the amount of time available. Once you start to get a feel for how long it takes you to complete assignments and study effectively for tests, you can build those times into your planning. Keep tracking your time as you progress through school so you'll know if allotting, for example, a month for a big project or two weeks to study for finals is sufficient. And remember that if you've followed advice elsewhere in this book to study as you go along, you should be able to set realistic goals to prepare for tests.
DO multiply time estimates by up to threefold. Those realistic goals you just set? Some experts -- and students -- recommend multiplying the time needed to meet any academic goal by 1.5, 2, or even 3, depending on the complexity of the test or assignment. "I usually sit down and figure out exactly how much time I will need to complete an assignment, and then add on an hour just in case," says one student. Allotting much more time than needed will allow for unexpected interruptions, distractions, and miscalculations of how long the work will actually take.
DON'T try to do it all at once. Break tasks down into smaller components. Determine all the smaller component tasks of larger projects and study demands. Let's look at a sample timetable for a short-term writing assignment, a five-page English paper on a specific piece of literature, due in two weeks. Here's how your timetable might look:
|Jan. 15||Receive assignment|
|Jan. 15-17||Develop and finalize topic/thesis|
|Jan. 17-20||Conduct reading, research|
|Jan. 20-23||Plan organization of paper; do outline if necessary|
|Jan. 23-25||Rough draft|
|Jan. 25-30||Edit, revise, polish final draft; do bibliography, if necessary|
The University of Minnesota offers an awesome tool, an Assignment Calculator at that enables you to type in the day you're starting an assignment, enter the due date, and indicate the type of class. The result is a timetable like the one above with dates by which you should tackle each project component. You can even sign up for e-mail reminders of benchmark dates, and the timetable contains links with more information about how to tackle various parts of assignments.
DO get the hardest tasks -- or the easiest -- out of the way first. For assignments, unlike the preceding paper, that don't have to be completed in sequence, or for an array of tasks relating to several assignments, many experts recommend doing the hardest ones first to get them over with -- so you have a downhill coast from there. Others prefer to tackle the easy chores first because they can be handled quickly and without too much angst. Because you accomplished part of the project right away, you may be motivated to keep going, even though the toughest tasks are still ahead of you. It's actually a form of procrastination to put off the hardest components, but it's productive procrastination.
DO stay as busy as possible. This advice may sound counterintuitive, but keeping a very active schedule will make you a better time manager. When our daughter was in high school, her grades were always better in the fall when she was competing on the swim team than in the spring when she didn't know what to do with her extra time. Similarly, the first-year baseball players we had in our fall classes were lost when fall practices were over, and they had vast chunks of time they didn't know how to manage. And students consulted for this article agreed. "Believe it or not, my secret is to stay busy. I feel like the more down time I have, the more I procrastinate. I worked my entire college career, and it forced me to manage my time effectively," said one student, while another stated, "I find that if I have nothing to do on a certain day, I am less likely to get things done. If I have a set schedule and a set place to be, I make sure I have things done in order to get the next project done or go to the next event I have for the day." Not only will involvement in campus activities or a job make you a better time manager; they will help you build your resume with experience and well-roundedness that will impress employers.
Final Thoughts on Mastering Time Management
You might just be amazed at how much more you can get out of your time by monitoring your productivity and using every block of time more efficiently. The best students have mastered the art of making the most of each minute.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.