Time Management

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Managing your time successfully implies you are accomplishing what is most important for you. When you don’t accomplish what you truly want, you may feel confused, compromised, and frustrated. Many people try to use time management techniques that work for others, only to be disappointed. Often this is because they don’t also identify the goals most important to them and gear the techniques toward those goals. Effective time management must include techniques for that work for you and are consistent with your goals.

Myths About Time Management

Before exploring specific time-management techniques, consider several common myths that contribute to poor time management and can undermine your efforts to establish and follow your priorities.

Myth: My life is completely controlled by external events.

Fact: You can have some control over many aspects of your life, but you are responsible for initiating that control. Learn to recognize what you can and can’t control before making your choices. Anticipate the future and clarify the external demands that must be faced. From there, it is easier to determine what can be done, and within what time frame, despite other demands.

Myth: I should meet everyone’s expectations.

Fact: The needs and demands of others may be inappropriate for you and your lifestyle. They may be poorly timed, not compatible with your values, or simply unattainable. By trying to meet the expectations of others, you may be neglecting your needs. Determine what your needs are and then consider what others expect of you.

Myth: I should have no limits.

Fact: We all have limits and failing to acknowledge this may cause you to strive for perfection. Perfectionists are especially prone to procrastination because it’s impossible to meet a goal to be perfect. For example, no paper will ever be completely flawless. The immediate consequence of turning in an imperfect paper may be brief, acute anxiety, but the long-term consequences of procrastination (academic or career losses and lingering self-doubts) are usually more harmful.

Specific Techniques

It’s important to develop your own style for managing your time and work, but some of the suggestions below may help you figure out what works best for you.

First, set yourself  up for success.

  • Use your biological rhythms to your advantage. Identify the times of day when your energy levels are at their highest and do your most important work at those times. For example, if you work best in the morning, do not plan all your studying for the evening when you’re not as productive.
  • Optimize your work environment. Keep things you need in your work area and make sure the physical environment allows you to concentrate. For example, some work best in a quiet setting while others work best with background music; some work best in clutter, while others need a cleared desk or table; some work best at a place reserved only for study while others work best at the kitchen table; etc. Find what works best for you!
  • Safeguard blocks of  work time. Protect your time by saying “no” to various interruptions, activities, requests, or persons. Some interruptions can be avoided by keeping in mind the following: (1) Arrange your work area so that your back is to distractions.(2) Close your door; open it selectively. (3) Find and use a special space such as a library carrel or an office where friends will be unable to find you.(4) Turn off your phone, or install an app that limits your ability to use things like social media or other apps. Return texts and calls when it is more convenient for you, perhaps when you take a study break.

Second, prioritize the things that are important to you.

Develop an overview of  everything you want to accomplish.Start by determining the time frame you’d like to work with (a semester, a month, a week, a day). Five goals for the week, for example, might include studying for an exam on Friday, spending more time with a friend you’ve been neglecting, exercising three times for half an hour each time, attending a club meeting, and watching a few episodes of your favorite show. Notice that the goals include not only academic responsibilities but also personal and social activities. Write each of your goals on a separate index card.

Organize your goals according to their priority. In his well-known book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey suggests using the table above and grouping priorities in terms of two dimensions: urgency and importance.

  • First, determine how urgent each of the goals is and separate them into urgent and non-urgent piles. From our examples, studying for the exam and attending the club’s meeting may be more urgent than socializing or exercising because they need to be done by a certain time.
  • Next, separate urgent items into important and non-important items, and, similarly, the pile of non-urgent items into important and non-important items. Then refer to the table. From our examples, studying for the exam may be both urgent and important and would fall under quadrant 1 in the table. Attending the meeting may end up in quadrant 3 in that it’s not urgent or important. Of the three non-urgent goals, let’s say socializing with the friend and exercising are important to you, so they would fall in quadrant 2. Finally, if you considered watching a few episodes to be both non-urgent and non-important, that activity would fall into quadrant 4.

By placing your goals in each of these quadrants, you can get a better sense of how to prioritize your time and energy. Obviously, quadrant 1 goals go high on the list. Less obvious, however, is the need to focus time on quadrant 2 than quadrants 3 or 4. Even if something is due “later” and isn’t as urgent, some attention should be paid to these goals rather spending too much time on goals that fall into quadrants 3 and 4.

Third, plan ahead according to your priorities—especially those in quadrants 1 and 2.

  • Make a long-range timetable. Identify academic goals and deadlines (dates of exams, dates papers are due, etc.) and make target dates for your non-academic goals. Next, determine the steps you need to follow to reach these goals. Segment larger activities into a series of smaller units (For example, some steps to writing a paper would be to collect research, make an outline of main idea, etc.) Then, make a reasonable timetable for accomplishing your goals on time.
  • Remember your day-to-day personal maintenance. Certain activities—if neglected—will throw your life out of balance and undermine your high priority efforts. Make sure you’re prioritizing activities such as sleeping, eating, socializing, exercising and doing laundry in your planning.
  • Plan each day and week as you go through the timetable.Consider each week as a subcategory to be planned, and similarly each day within a given week. Each day and each week, review your timetable. New, unexpected items will come up, but you can always adjust as needed. To avoid frustration, expect some unexpected things to happen. Plan in extra time and/or be ready to adjust your plan while still keeping your high priority goals in mind.

Fourth, avoid over-planning!

This may seem to contradict the advice above, but over-organizing can become a way to procrastinate. Beyond a certain point, adding techniques may simply create additional time problems rather than solving previous ones.

Want to Know More?

Lakein, A. (2002). How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.New York: Dutton.

Covey, S.R. (2013) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Greenberg, M. (2017, May 23). Five Tips and Skills to Manage your Time That Actually Work. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201705/five-tips-and-skills-manage-your-time-actually-work

Laura Vanderkam: How to gain control of your free time [Video file]. Retrieved from ted.com/talks/laura_vanderkam_how_to_gain_control_of_your_free_time 

Wunderlist: wunderlist.com (to do list and planning app available on a variety of platforms)

LifeHack: Top 15 Time Management Apps & Tools: lifehack.org/articles/technology/top-15-time-management-apps-and-tools.htmlanderkam, L. (2016, October).