Getting Organized: Time Management

study skills
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Does your brain look like this?  Then you need to read this post.

 
In this series on “Getting Organized”, I explore various study skills and strategies that can help students excel inside and outside of the classroom. In my last post, I shared some task management strategies and explored how you can apply them, and how they might keep you from getting overwhelmed when it seems like you are drowning in tasks.
 

Today, I want to talk about time management – the cousin of task management. Time and task management are equally important: it's easy to set deadlines, but another thing entirely to meet those deadlines.  To do it, your tasks need to be organized and you need to have a grasp on how you spend your time.

Here's one thing we hear a lot from harried students: “I have no free time at all, none! I don't even have enough time to think about all the free time I don't have!”

First, take a deep breath. Now, you have to admit that’s not entirely true--chances are, you're thinking about it constantly. I bet you’ll find some time if you stop panicking and just slow down a bit. Start by making a list of all your classes, tasks, appointments, social events, practices, rehearsal, jobs, etc, for each day of the week.

 

To Do

Schedule

Buy dad a bday gift

Schedule interview for internship

Rsvp to fall fling

Get a haircut

Mail in visa forms

Register for GRE

Call grandma

Return library books by Wed

Write article for school newspaper

Class M/W/Fri 10-12

Lunch with Mary on Mon

Sam’s bday dinner on Fri

Kickboxing class Tues/Thurs 6-7

Meeting with Professor Ping Fri at 5

Soccer club Wed 3-5

Study group Thurs at 11 for final on fri

Work with Eric on research paper Wed?

Meeting with tutor Tues/Thurs 2-3

Newspaper Meeting Tues at 7:30

 

Ok, done. Now, scan your list with a highlighter and identify the commitments and tasks that are essential and time-sensitive. You know that these commitments are set in stone so you should prioritize them:

 

To Do

Schedule

Buy dad a bday gift

Schedule interview for internship

Rsvp to fall fling

Get a haircut

Mail in visa forms

Register for GRE

Call grandma

Return library books by Wed

Write article for school newspaper

Class M/W/Fri 10-12

Lunch with Mary on Mon

Sam’s bday dinner on Fri

Kickboxing class Tues/Thurs 6-7

Meeting with Professor Ping Fri at 5

Soccer club Wed 3-5

Study group Thurs at 11 for final on fri

Work with Eric on research paper Wed?

Meeting with tutor Tues/Thurs 2-3

Newspaper Meeting Tues at 7:30

Date with Tom on Thursday

 

Let’s now consider the other, non-essential, events. These are the events that it would be nice to fit into your schedule, but won’t make or break your week if it doesn’t happen.

 

To Do

Schedule

Buy dad a bday gift

Rsvp to fall fling

Get a haircut

Call grandma

 

Lunch with Mary on Mon

Sam’s bday dinner on Fri

Kickboxing class Tues/Thurs 6-7

Soccer club Wed 3-5

Date with Tom on Thursday

 

Let’s think about how you make room for the these non-essential events: 

Are there events or tasks that need to be grouped together? Thinking about chronology sometimes helps build momentum and ultimately get things done faster. For example, if you have a test scheduled, book your study session and practice test so they are lined up right before the exam. Grouping these events together will make sure the material is fresh and that you don’t waste time going back to review stale concepts.

Are there appointments located in the same geographic area? You might be wasting time running between places. For example, I tutor 3 students on Wednesday in a short window. My lessons are lined up on the west side of Manhattan so I progress north without doubling back on myself, with very short intervals in between that allow me to commute.

Are you over-extending yourself socially? I find that I often overbook myself and rsvp to events that I don’t really want to go to. If you’re busy, then you need to prioritize your time. Time wasted going to something you don’t want to be at isn’t beneficial to you. The friend of a friend who invited you to their birthday dinner will get over it if you’re not there. Just be polite and decline with advance notice.

Are there periods in the day when you work best?

For example, I am most lucid in the morning, so I reserve the hours of 7-9AM to study. I like to work out in the evening after being seated all day and find that I get more out of my work out in the early evening. You might find that you can be more efficient about your tasks if you are choosy about when you buckle down.

Ok, now re-write all your tasks and to-dos by day. Make yourself a clear schedule for each day; this will allow you to focus in only on what needs to get done, but also ensure that you have time for everything! Finally, as with any busy period, whether you are deep in standardized test preparation or academic exams, giving yourself time to re-boot is as important as getting everything done. Being overextended, exhausted and frantic will stress you out and ultimately lead you to be ineffective. As you assess your schedule, make sure to pencil in “Me Time” to just screw around! 

It might look something like this and you might have to make some tough choices:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

10-12 Class

 

12PM lunch with Mary

 

3-5: Write newspaper article

 

5-7: Mail in VISA forms and register for the GRE

9AM Go to the gym?

 

11-1 Return library books and schedule interview for internship

 

 

2-3PM Tutoring

 

 

7:30 Newspaper meeting

10-12 Class

 

12-3 Work with Eric on research paper

 

4-7 Study for Exam!

11 Study group

 

2-3PM Tutoring

 

 

4-7PM study for Exam!

 

 

 

 

7pm kickboxing

10-12 Class

+ Final

 

 

Go to the gym?

 

5pm Meeting with Professor Ping

 

8PM Sam’s b-day dinner

 

Take the day off!

 

1pm Haircut

 

 

 

Call grandma

 

Buy dad a present

 

Since you have a test on Friday, it probably make sense to skip soccer practice on Wednesday AND the date with Tom (he’s not going anywhere) on Thursday to study. The good news is that you have a nice lunch scheduled with Mary on Monday, to expend some energy at kickboxing on Thursday, and you’ll ring out the week with Sam’s birthday. Not so bad and you got the essentials done after all!

It might get hard to keep all this straight in your head, so don’t forget to use your go-to task tracker to help you stay on top of it all. And if it all seems like too much, consider getting a tutor to help you stay on top of your classwork, so you can stop feeling quite so panicked about it!

 

Sophie holds an MPA in Public Administration from NYU and a BA in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College. Outside of teaching, Sophie has spent her career working at the intersection of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to promote access to healthcare, education and employment.

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