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Time Management

Lost, yesterday, somewhere between Sunrise and Sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever. -- Horace Mann

Most of us have had the experience that Horace Mann describes above; we look up from what we're doing only to realize that two hours (or more) have passed without our even noticing. . . This experience of time flying by can be enjoyable when you're doing something fun, but can have disastrous consequences to schoolwork if it happens too often. So how can you make the most of the time that you have--planning for work and studying but also having fun? The key to this balance is in effective time management.

The first step to managing your time is in thinking about your priorities. What's most important to you? What are your goals (weekly goals, semester goals, college career goals, life goals, etc. )? The more specific you can be about your goals, the easier it will be to come up with a time management plan that will assist you in reaching them (and that you will want to stick to). For example, if your goal is to get all Bs this semester, you will likely want to set aside more study time than if your goal is to make a lot of new friends and only do the minimum schoolwork required to pass. Relatedly, if your goal is to become a successful business manager, you will probably aim for all Bs instead of lots of new friends.

Once you have defined your academic and personal goals, the next task is to determine the steps you will need to take in order to meet each of your goals. So, for example, if your goal is to get all Bs, you would break this down into steps such as: attend all classes, turn in all papers on time, study for a week prior to each exam, etc. Following this break-down procedure for each of the goals you have identified can help you see more clearly what you need to do in order to meet your goals.

Seeing the steps clearly can then allow you to think about how much time you will need to complete each of the steps. So, to return to my example above, if I decide that in order to get all Bs one of the things I will need to do is to study for one week prior to every exam, I might then take out a calendar, mark the date of the test, and schedule in two hour study blocks for each day of the week prior to the test. Allowing enough time and blocking it off in a planner would remind me of the test and of my goal, and would also ensure that I give myself adequate time and space to achieve it.

Sitting down and re-working your schedule can be helpful in this regard. This might mean looking at a week in your planner and visually blocking off times that you will be in class, at work, at home, etc. , as well as time that you want to reserve for studying, going out with friends, and free-time. If there are social events you know of, you can put those in your schedule too. Making this kind of schedule helps you map out when you will be busy and when you will be free. It is important to leave some free time and not schedule every hour--otherwise, you will either stick to your schedule and be miserable, or not stick to your schedule and not get any of your work done.

Part of the scheduling process involves estimating how long assignments will take you. Some people are good at making this kind of estimate and others have a hard time. A good way to do this is to read a chapter of a text book and then look at how long it took you. That way, next time you go to allot time to do reading for that class, you'll know roughly how much time to allot. Most of us take longer to read/study material that is harder and/or that we don't like, so you may want to figure that into time allotments as well. Also, many people find that there is a particular time of day that they are best able to concentrate.

If you know that you write best in the morning and read best in the afternoon, schedule your time and assignments accordingly. It is the rare person who concentrates best at night, and yet most college students plan to do their work in the evenings. One way to avoid this is by using any free time you have during the day to do homework instead of leaving it all until the evening. For example, if you have an hour window between classes every Tuesday, you may be able to get some reading done during that time. It is not always necessary to have a long chunk of time in order to get assignments done, and, in fact, most people concentrate better when their study intervals are short. (The average attention span is about 45 minutes. )

Once you've allotted study time and you're sitting down to do work, make sure you monitor your concentration level and attention span. If you feel like your mind is wandering off to what you had for breakfast or who might be online at any given moment, give yourself a 10-minute break. Giving yourself a break can help boost your energy, concentration, and motivation. You can use the break for anything you want, as long as it's structured in terms of length. Otherwise, a "short break" can easily turn into an all-night TV marathon, leaving you with lots of unfinished work.

After you've set up daily schedules for yourself for each week day (and also weekend days too, if you have a lot of homework to get done), the schedule will become a routine. There may be slight variations from Wednesday to Wednesday, for example, but for the most part you'll have the same times allotted for classes, work, studying, etc. Once you've gotten into a routine with your time it takes less effort to maintain good study habits.

By now it should be fairly clear how effective time management can help you improve your study habits and get more schoolwork done, but can it really help you enjoy your life? (After all, I did advertise it that way!) The answer is yes, effective time management can help you to enjoy your life more. Most of us have had the experience of doing something "fun", only to find that we're not able to enjoy it because we're preoccupied with thoughts of all the things we "should" be doing instead.

This kind of nagging thought and sense of shirked responsibility causes a low-level stress that interferes with enjoyment of daily activities and ability to be spontaneous and happy. If you have managed your time well and know, even if you haven't yet completed your work that you have allotted enough time to do so later, and you will be more able to enjoy your free time worry-free.

Another way that time management helps people enjoy life is by preventing people from overcommitting. If you have scheduled your time well and clearly (especially if you've done it visually on your calendar by blocking times off that are booked), you will be less likely to add "just one more thing". The tendency to overcommit causes a great deal of stress, resentment of others for asking things of you (even though you could say no), and less free time in which you could be doing fun things.

Having a regular schedule can also help you build in things like regular meal times and frequent exercise as well as study time and time with friends. Eating and exercising regularly both increase people's sense of mental alertness and concentration, and help release some of the energy that might otherwise leave you fidgeting at your desk chair, unable to sit still. Additionally, regular eating and exercise improve physical and mental health, both of which can further assist you in managing your time and achieving your goals.

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