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Time Management / Self Management

Thoreau wrote, “Time is but a stream we go a-fishin’ in.”  The question is what would you like to catch in the stream of time — fish both sparkling and nourishing?  Ideally you’d like to get a great education, earn good grades, have an engaging social life and be involved in meaningful and productive extracurricular activities. You may even want to save the world.   At the same time you’d like to pay enough attention to your friends and family members that they don’t feel you have abandoned them.

Already the list sounds stressful and it is still broad and generic.  Your to-do list can become a monster from which you flee into random, unscheduled, stress-releasing, and probably time-wasting activities.  If it all seems impossible, why not just have fun?    Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.”   After you’ve wasted hours, your desk is still piled with work, your to-do list still glares.   The time goes away, but your responsibilities do not.  It is best to stay on track but schedule in some recreation and relaxation.

Concepts of time divide into two broad categories.  On the one hand are the observable, natural elements of time such as the lunar month, the solar year, the solar day, and the seasons.  The semester and the academic year, on the other hand, like the hours and minutes of the clock are man-made concepts.  Both hands of time are spinning and slipping away.

We do not manage time; we manage ourselves within time.  We learn to organize our efforts to get what’s expected of us done in the time allotted.  But individuals vary along a great productivity continuum and true progress often evades external evaluation.  Some of what passes for progress is movement in the wrong direction.  A speedy multi-tasker may actually be accomplishing less than the original thinker pondering big questions.  

Each of us has an individual work rhythm, pace, and style, but the high level expectations of college work force many people to fall back and reevaluate their habits.   If you are now thinking about time management, chances are you sense you could be using your time to better advantage.

The Three Tiered Schedule Suggestion 

  1. At the beginning of each semester, once you have been given the syllabi from each of your various courses, sit down and mark on the monthly calendars for the whole semester the dates due of all papers, projects and tests in all your classes.  Then, using the academic calendar from the academic affairs office, make note on your monthly semester calendar important dates such as the end of the add-drop period, the last day to drop a class, breaks, etc.  Add to these dates any known personal and family obligations during the semester.  Work back from the big deadlines and shade in the ideal study or work periods before the due date.  For instance you might look at your Seminar syllabus and save the major part of the weekend before each Seminar paper is due to devote to writing the paper.   You might also be able to block out your reading.  By this time you will know what texts must be read and by when.  Map out goals about when you will tackle and finish each text.  The creating of your semester calendar should take only an hour or so, but will save you a great deal of stress and confusion later on.
  2. The second tier of schedule breaks obligations down into what you hope to accomplish weekly.  Set aside a regular time at the start of each week to look at your semester calendar and assess what must be accomplished in the upcoming week.  You might make copies of your weekly schedule, which includes all your fixed appointments, classes, etc.  Each week, take a copy of your weekly schedule and fill in the additional tasks and responsibilities of the unique week. Block your time out as specifically as you can.  Your weekly calendar will make it very clear what has to be accomplished in order for you to stay on your grand plan for the semester.   One advantage of this system is that you can see fairly soon in the semester if you are beginning to fall behind.
  3. The third schedule tier is the daily to-do list. Take a few minutes each morning or in the evening prior to set a game plan for the day.   Think of this as the corral for all the day’s expectations and commitments. Put on it all your appointments and obligations as well as the studying you hope to accomplish.  The best to-do list is very specific and prioritizes the projects, perhaps categorizing the list into A, B, and C priority projects.  If you have to let something slide, obviously let slide a low priority project, one that can be carried over to the next day or to the weekend.

Some amassed suggestions from time management experts and college resource centers:

  • To start, chart your actual use of time for a week.  Be honest about how each quarter hour of time is spent.
  • Analyze and evaluate this charted use of time.  What are your five main time wasting activities?  What positive rewards do you get from each?  Do not eliminate the activities that calm and renew you or release your pent up energy.  Get rid of the truly mindless time-wasters from which you gain little.  What are your biggest distractions?  Who wastes your time?
  • Lay out an ideal weekly time schedule that makes room for at least two hours of study for every hour in class.
  • Commit all expectations and assignments to paper or an assignment book.  Do not trust that you will remember.  Create a system for organizing and remembering assigned tasks such as the three-calendar system described above. 
  • Set long-range goals as well as more immediate ones.  Write down your long-range goals; keep them where you can refer to them.  Make them realistic but challenging, clear, concrete, specific.   Why are you here?  What do you want to gain from this semester?  What do you want to do after college?  Plot the discrete steps to the realization of your long-range goals.
  • Organize your room, your study space, and the pack you carry. Keep things in consistent places.  Know where everything is so you don’t waste hours searching for misplaced books, papers, notebooks, etc.
  • Figure out which hours in the day and the week are your most productive study times and make the best use of these hours of greatest alertness, concentration, and receptivity.  For most people, the daylight hours are more productive for learning.  Socialize, exercise and relax in the times of day that aren’t your best for study.
  • Live a healthy life.  Eat regular, sensible meals— neither too much not too little. Do not skip breakfast.  Exercise at least three times a week.  Don’t burn the candle at both ends; practice sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed at approximately the same time each night and get up at a regular time.
  • Make use of small chunks of time that you might well be squandering now.  Utilize the odd fifteen minutes here and there when you are waiting for someone or for something.   Always keep a book with you or carry note cards of terms that need to be memorized if there is any chance you will be stuck waiting somewhere.  Be prepared to fill the previously wasted small slots of time with meaningful activity.
  • Divide big or challenging projects into smaller, manageable, progressive tasks.  The whole assignment may seem overwhelming and impossible, but once divided into smaller steps, a path opens through to the goal.
  • Anticipate.  Start projects, papers, and studying for tests well ahead.  Cramming is a stopgap method for passing classes when you have not planned ahead, but it is not the most effective learning tactic.  
  • Prioritize.  The tasks on your to-do list are not equal in importance or due at the same time.  Some readings can be skimmed; other texts must be read slowly in their entirety and even reread.  
  • Learn to say no.  It is impossible to do everything or to please everyone.  Do what is healthiest for you and for the meeting of your goals.
  • Overcome negative beliefs and negative self-talk.  Stop stressing and telling yourself you can’t get it done and just do your work.
  • Be flexible, neither too rigid nor too loose.  Let your schedules serve you, don’t be a slave to them.

Wisdom About Time 

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.” ~ Albert Einstein

 “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard 

“Time is making fools of us again.”  ~ J.K. Rowling

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  ~ Andy Warhol

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

“I wasted time, and now time doth waste me.”  ~ William Shakespeare

“Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can't afford to lose.”     ~ Thomas Edison

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”     ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~  Steve Jobs

“For disappearing acts, it's hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.”  ~ Doug Larson

“Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces, and which most men throw away.”  ~ Charles Caleb Colton

“One must learn a different... sense of time, one that depends more on small amounts than big ones.”  ~ Sister Mary Paul

“If you want work well done, select a busy man - the other kind has no time.”  ~ Elbert Hubbard

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”  ~ James Matthew Barrie

References and Resources for further study:

Anticipating and Planning for Courses

Overcoming Procrastination

Time Management  Bureau of Study Counsel, Center for Academic and Personal Development, Harvard University. 

Time Management  California Polytechnic State University

Time Management  SUNY Buffalo

Time Management  University of Minnesota

Time Management Video

To-Do Lists 

Quotations about time from:

Inspirational Quotes 

The Quote Garden

Wisdom Quotes