So you’ve entered college: congrats!!
But now you realize there’s a lot to learn about attending classes, keeping up with homework, and remembering every detail that goes into being a successful college student. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that other aspects of life, other responsibilities, also pull on your availability: for instance, you might need to work, whether it be full-time or part-time, some of us have family obligations, or church/volunteer obligations, some have children to care for, and let’s not forget that all important ingredient: social life. There are many more examples we can detail that pull on our time, so how do you become a successful college student when so many other things, besides the heavy load of college, demand your attention? Time Management.
The most successful students are not always the most intelligent. In fact, many “smart” students struggle when first entering college. However, it is the organized, hardworking student that succeeds most often. Steve Jobs wasn’t the smartest man to enter the world of computer science, but he had a vision, was driven, and knew how to get there. He understood the key factor of being organized. If this is one of your weakest traits, it’s time to change that and become organized.
So, say it with me for a moment: time management, time management, time management. Yes, that’s it: time management.
What is time management? Time management is the ability to organize every demand of your time in a meaningful way, so responsibilities, appointments, and events are met without issue. Many beginning college students brush off the importance of time management, and to their misfortune they discover how wrong they are. Time management is one of the most important ingredients to a successful college career (let’s not forget this skill will be required in any profession you choose, so it’s important to learn it now).
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1. You need an academic planner/calendar. THIS IS A MUST! Whether you use a scheduling notebook, a tablet/computer, or a smartphone, you must keep a weekly planner. You should start your weekly calendar before the first week of school and keep it up to date all year long. An academic planner or calendar is a planner that works around the academic year, so it starts in August and runs until the following summer, rather than the classic January to January approach. It offers you a daily/weekly/monthly space to write down everything that demands your time. It allows you to see what you need to do and when you need to do it.
*HINT: you should always be at least one week ahead in your schedule. And always be specific: don’t write “homework” write/type the exact homework assignment.
2. Read each and every syllabus for each and every class. Professors work hard on preparing syllabi, and they work hard on the tentative schedule that comes along with it. They use it too, and they normally don’t vary from the schedule unless it’s necessary for the class’s progress. Take the information, such as homework, readings, and other such assignments, and write them into your academic planner.
3. Keep a single notebook for each class to help keep a clear, organized way to keep notes and find information.
4. Use pockets of time. Have a doctor’s appointment? Bring that chapter you need to read. Doctors always make you wait, so why not use that hour getting your work done instead of playing on your cell phone? Be aware of pockets of time because if used wisely, they can save you time and stress.
5. Create baby steps. Have a midterm in two weeks? Break the material down into smaller time slots/sections to study for the midterm. Do not wait until the last minute: that is bad time management. If you use good time management, your study time will not only be more efficient, but you will actually recall and learn the material better.
6. Single-tasking vs. Multi-tasking: We all know that our modern world expects us to be brilliant at multi-tasking, and in fact, modern technology has helped to create that environment, in which we do several things at one time. We are often rewarded for being able to accomplish several things at one time: for instance, being efficient by picking up a package for our boss while taking a client to the airport. Multi-tasking can save time, and therefore, can be good time management. However, it can also serve as a hindrance to getting an important task done and done well. Sometimes, we need to single-task, keep our focus on one subject, one job, and give that our full attention. Students often suffer long stretches of time trying to complete homework, but with a closer inspection we find that, yes, they were working on their essay, but Facebook was open and waiting to be engaged by the slightest hesitation. The student then gets involved with Facebook and forgets the essay for an hour. Then they get back to their essay, but an hour has slipped away, and oftentimes the student thinks it’s the assignment causing their torture. When in reality, it is bad time management. If the student would have simply worked on their essay without disturbance, they would have finished much sooner. Therefore, if they had used a single-task approach they would have used good time management. Know the difference between single-tasking and multi-tasking.
7. Categorize before you prioritize, and then prioritize. You must categorize your priorities before you can prioritize. Determine where certain events, responsibilities, and assignments fall. For instance, create sections for those things that must be done ASAP. Then make a list for those things that CANNOT be missed; these should be your most important elements. Follow this with a list of minor responsibilities. This way you categorize your responsibilities, and now you can prioritize. What needs to be done first should come first, but do not forget the most important. So, if you have a quiz the next day it should get attention, but if you have a five page paper due at the end of the week, that too needs attention. This allows you to break down responsibility into parts, those baby steps, and helps to create a map to follow.
8. Use the carrot and stick approach. When writing out your weekly schedule, let your social life be a “carrot” for you. So, tell yourself if you get all your work done by Friday, you can see that movie on Saturday. It goes without saying that if you do not get your work done, you can’t see the movie, therefore applying the “stick.” This works if you stick to your guns and don’t cheat.
9. No excuses. Everyone is busy; you are not exceptional in this regard. Complaining about how busy you are will not help you manage your time, but managing your time will help you from complaining. And we all know where complaining and whining gets us, especially if it’s our fault for not planning correctly.
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Read all instructions for the exercise thoroughly.
Students struggle with resolving time management problems, especially with balancing school, work, and home schedules. In this group exercise, students learn to identify the problem, brainstorm options, and design a plan and backup plan. This COPE worksheet can be copied and used as a student handout for this activity. (Allow more space for student writing.)
C Challenge or Crisis (State the problem or concern in clear terms)
O Options (List as many options as possible. The most obvious solutions aren’t always the best resolutions to a problem. Be willing to explore ideas that are “outside the box.”)
P Plan (Come up with a plan A and a plan B. It’s important to have a backup plan because we often don’t think clearly when we’re under pressure or the stress created when our initial plan fails. Also, be sure to think the plan through to consequences, too; we don’t want to create a problem from a problem.)
E Execute and Evaluate (Put plan A into action and continue to evaluate it to see if it’s working. Monitor the plan throughout the various stages, and if it isn’t working effectively, be willing to modify your plan.)
It’s the first week of classes. Julie is a single mother of two small children and is returning to college fulltime (12 hours). One child must be dropped at school by 8:00, and she can’t leave the baby at the sitter’s house until 8:15. She must pick up her oldest by 3:15 each day. It takes her 20 minutes to drive from the sitter’s house to the college. Here is her semester schedule and her reasoning behind the design of this schedule:
What problems do you see with Julie’s schedule?
George is forty years old and coming back to school fulltime. He has a 22 year old daughter who still lives with him, but she has an 8 – 5 job and drives her own (unreliable) car. It is week three of the semester, and his daughter has already called him four times with car trouble at 8:00 in the morning, asking him to take her to work. George has 8:30 and 10:00 classes each day because he works from noon to 8 p.m. He has missed four sessions of classes in the first 3 weeks of school. What is the problem, and what is the best solution?
Procrastination is when you put off tasks or responsibilities that are due or need to be done by a certain deadline. Oftentimes, we put off what we find boring or difficult. Let’s be honest, why would we put off something exciting and fun? So, if you play video games or watch TV rather than study for a midterm or write an essay, you are procrastinating. This can be a very serious issue because if you are struggling with a certain subject you might tend to avoid that subject. For instance, if you are having serious difficulty with English, you might avoid altogether writing the essay for that class. Therefore, procrastination is avoidance of something that troubles or scares us.
However, procrastination is not always bad. What? How can that be? For your entire life you’ve heard that procrastination is a horrible affliction. It can be, especially when we avoid responsibilities that need to be done, or worse, we fail to fulfill our responsibilities altogether. And yet, structured procrastination can actually help a student overcome a difficult issue or assignment. A student who uses structured procrastination is not lazy or passive, but rather an active procrastinator. An active procrastinator knows how long he or she needs to accomplish a goal or an assignment. They then create a deadline for themselves, and before they need to start working on the assignments, they do other tasks that need to be done, but also, keep in the back of their mind how to tackle the assignment. When it comes to time to work they have their thoughts together and attack the assignment. The key here is not to be passive but active, and know your own limits. Some students enjoy the adrenaline of having their backs against the wall when meeting a deadline. Others hate that approach and prefer to organize early the tasks at hand. Know how you are and be active in your approach.
To avoid passive procrastination use your time management skills wisely.
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Stress: it's an issue. When you add college to an already busy life, stress can build up very fast. So, we must control our stress. The number one thing to reduce stress is to organize your life. To organize is to prioritize and manage time. Therefore, you should have an active calendar so you can see what needs to be done and when. College is not a forced institution, such as attending high school, but it adds much stress because it takes a lot of work, which takes a lot of time, and that adds up to more stress. However, we all know the benefits of a college degree, so take a big breath and organize your time.
Time management is stress management. Avoid procrastination. Use pockets of time. Turn off Facebook, TV, and video games, and get your work done. When you finish your work, give yourself a treat: update Facebook, watch The Walking Dead, play your favorite video game. We all have work that we don't like, but don't avoid it. Get it done so it doesn't haunt you. Get free, people!
Sleep. The number one factor besides time management is sleep. We fail to sleep well as Americans. Get good sleep and your life gets better, quickly. You should create a routine for sleep and stick to it. Get the required amount of sleep your body and mind need. Do not eat junk food and try to go to bed. Try not eating after 7pm. Do not watch TV until the last minute and try to go to sleep. Turn off all technology at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Avoid alcohol and drugs, even sleeping pills. Work out until you're exhausted. You'll sleep. Read that textbook until you can barely keep your eyes open. You’ll sleep. All of these factors aid in positive sleep. Be proactive with your sleep patterns.
Health. Being healthy has proven over and over to reduce stress. You can do so many things to get healthy. Work out. Meditate. Take long walks. Sit quietly. Mow the grass. Clean the house. Be active. Eat healthy. It not only affects your physical wellbeing, but your emotional and psychological wellbeing as well. Avoid people, things, and activities that stress you out. Don't let them drag you down, man.
A positive attitude. Positive activities and reinforcement reduce stress. Stop doing negative activities. It just keeps piling up. Try using the carrot/stick approach here as well. Instead of looking at all that homework as an obstacle to time spent with friends, start thinking of homework as steps on a ladder that will make you a success, and when you finish it you can go hang with friends because you did all your work and you feel good about it.
Finances. Finances really cause stress: especially when there is a lack of it. We all need money, and it can cause so much stress when we can't pay the bills or our kids go without. Like college, organization is the key. There are always strategies to help with finances like decrease spending, create a system, avoid credit cards, and create a plan (a financial goal). List out all of your expenses, and then list your monthly income. See where you can make changes. You might need to decrease spending, or shift priorities. Maybe you can make extra payments on a credit card. Whatever your approach, only you can control your financial peace of mind. So be proactive.
Work and school. Many of us need to work to go to school. Be careful not to take on too much. You have to find balance. It could mean cutting back on work hours or cutting back on school hours. Balance.
Family. Believe it or not, family can cause much stress. Sometimes they are so supportive they drive you nuts. Sometimes they are not supportive at all. Sometimes they always seem to need you to do something for them, etc. Communicate with your family. They are your family after all, and they love you. Communication is key. And that goes with professors too. Let them know when you need help.
You time. Always find time for yourself. Give yourself some time to breathe and enjoy life, even when you're crazy busy. Just stop, look around, take five minutes, do something that makes you happy. Life is short; don't make it all about stress. So laugh and smile. Laughing helps everything. It reduces stress big time. And who doesn't like to laugh?
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