Hello there! So week four has now arrived, and it finally hits you, that oh-my-god-everything-is-due-next-week-why-didn’t-I-start-preparing-earlier realisation. Week five seems to be a pretty popular time for deadlines; at least for the business school — all four of my assessments are due next week *gulp*! So what better time than now for me to share some of my, ahem, wisdom, about time management?
I claim to be totally pro at this topic because for one of my subjects last semester I did an assignment where I tried different time management techniques over the course of five weeks. The sad thing is, I still ended up writing the report at 2am (oh, the irony). But along the way I still learned a few different techniques and found what works and what doesn’t work for me. So, here I am today to share some of my tips and experiences with you. Remember, everyone works differently, so what works for me may not work for you, but hopefully, some of these time management techniques I share with you might provide you with some inspiration or help you come up with some of your own ideas for managing your time!
1. Create to-do lists
This would have to be my number one tip for managing your time. Without to-do lists, I feel like I would go crazy because I can’t quantify the tasks I need to do. With all the tasks running around in my head it feels like an endless avalanche. This overwhelms me, and I end up eating a dozen MaltEaster bunnies and napping for three hours instead of doing something productive.
But here’s the important thing, don’t just create one to-do list — create a couple. I like to create one massive list that has every single thing I can think of that I need to do, whether it’s assignments, dropping an application form for something in, or even taking my clothes to the drycleaners. This to-do list isn’t time bound either. And when I say I put everything on there, I mean everything, not just study-related things. I find this really handy because it means that the smaller tasks I might need to do don’t get completely forgotten. Then, I also like to create a daily to-do list. This allows me to select a couple of things at a time from the bigger list, and balance everything with my studies. I often like to create my daily to-do list the night before, particularly when I have uni. It makes me feel a lot more prepared and in control for the day ahead.
2. “I’ll just do…”
Having to write a 2000 word report or study for a test that covers a whole month’s worth of topics is no mean feat. Leaving it until the last minute is often a very stressful and draining experience. You end up having to pull a late night to get you through the deadline, which throws you out for a good few days afterwards.
One good way to tackle this is to break down the task into small, manageable chunks, and set yourself deadlines for these tasks. For example, if you have a 2000 word report due, maybe aim to do 250 words a day over the course of a week, or do the introduction one day, then one body paragraph the next, etc. You can adjust this to go at your own pace. What I find good with this technique is that one day I may not be that productive and perhaps only manage to do 150 words instead of 250, but at least I’m 150 words up from where I might otherwise be. Plus, the following day I might find I can sit down and smash out 450 words quite easily. I call this the “I’ll just do…” approach, for example “I’ll just revise this part of the topic for the test tonight…” etc.
3. Time management matrix
The time management matrix is a table involving four quadrants:
||e.g. meeting immediate deadlines
||e.g. checking your emails
||e.g. Surfing the internet for no reason
According to Susanne de Janasz, the time management matrix involves differentiating between what’s important and what’s urgent. It’s based on the notion that we never seem to have the time to be able to invest in those activities that are important to us, because we’re always too busy rushing around trying to get through all of the urgent activities. De Janasz says that ‘the more time spent on important but not urgent activities, the better you will be able to manage your time’.
This is why the matrix is a good way for you to keep track of everything and find more balance. If you keep at it long enough, you may find that you can keep on top of your assignments so that they don’t become too ‘urgent’, so that you still have time to watch an episode of your favourite tv show or catch up with friends.
4. Find your optimal study environment
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s an important one. Try and find the environment that you work best in. Do you work better in the library at uni because home is too distracting? Or maybe you have another little nook at uni that you like to study in. Or do you have a good study space set up at home that works well for you? This can make a huge impact on the effectiveness of your study time.
Studying at home might mean you are constantly going away from your studies for a break and watching TV, grabbing something to eat, or playing with your pets (story of my life), so maybe it would be better to stay a couple of extra hours at uni to do some reading or smash out some of that assignment. Those couple of extra hours at uni may be more productive than at home, which means you can then go home and have a break and watch some TV without feeling guilty.
Other things to consider in your environment might be: do you study better in complete silence or with some background noise? Do you like to listen to music when you study? Do you need a clutter free environment? Thinking about these factors as well will lead you on the path to finding the best study environment for you.
5. Find your optimal study time
Now this one is a bit trickier, but if you can figure out your optimal study time, you will make life so much easier for yourself. Do a bit of trial and error by breaking your day into different sections and try studying during those different times, e.g. early morning, late morning, afternoon, evening, etc. If you can find the time that your energy levels are at their peak, study then, because otherwise you’ll be trying to study when you’re feeling sluggish, and you’ll end up wasting your peak energy. If you’re trying to write that introduction for your report at four in the afternoon when you’re actually a morning person, it could take you two hours instead of half an hour.
Being able to manage your time effectively is also a very important skill in the workplace, so if you can gain some good skills now, they will really benefit you in the future. Remember, no one is perfect, so don’t suddenly expect yourself to become totally perfect at managing your time. Like I said earlier, I’m certainly far from perfect at managing my time, but my view is, if some of these techniques help me get through one, just one assignment (or test) that little bit easier, then it’s worth it.
Hopefully you find some of these tips helpful. What about you? Do you have any other good tips about time management? Let me know in the comments!