At uni time management is everything, and we could all stand to be a bit better at it. Gone are the days when parents and teachers would schedule your activities, make sure you did your homework and force you to clean your room. Now it’s up to you.
Everyone has tips and tricks for how to best accomplish the goals they have set for themselves. It takes time to refine these techniques and utilise them in a way that maximises their benefits. So, for anyone looking for some mid-semester inspiration, I have compiled a list of some ideas that have stood the test of time for me. So, here are some of the techniques I use to manage time.
1. Wake up early
Confession: I really struggle with this one.
I’m a chronic night owl. I don’t know why, I wish it was different, but for some reason my body clock is just set to stay up late and wake up late. But I’ve learnt that waking up early is non-negotiable. Why? Because every time I wake up late, I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The solution is simple, the earlier you wake up the more time you have to be productive.
History is full of successful people who wake up early, from innovators like Tim Cook to publishing magnates like Anna Wintour. Many early risers use the extra hour or two in the morning for quiet reflection and organisational tasks. As a result they tend to be less stressed and much more capable of tacking ling high-pressure tasks.
2. Make ‘to do’ lists that prioritise tasks that are most urgent and important
This is a technique that one of my lecturers told us about and I’ve been using it ever since.
You have a million things to do. It’s overwhelming and you have no idea where to start. What’s the solution? Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States is the solution. Ok, stay with me.
Eisenhower developed a method of time management called the Urgent/Important principle. Put simply, it separates tasks into four categories that tell you the order in which you should complete them.
Important tasks are tasks that help us achieve goals. Urgent tasks are tasks that require immediate action. For example, a uni assignment that is due tomorrow should be classified as urgent and important, and needs to be completed immediately. According to Eisenhower, you should try and avoid dealing with tasks when they reach the urgent/important category. Ideally, you would operate in the not-urgent/important category, working on important tasks progressively long before they become urgent.
Unimportant tasks are mostly recreational and do not help us achieve our goals. They can be anything from watching your favourite TV show to spending time on social media. It is not that you cannot do these things, just that you should schedule them appropriately.
3. Schedule things at the time of day you’re most productive
We all have a time of day when we work best, or a time of day when you’re completely useless. For me, I know that past seven o’clock my brain tends to check out. At that point all I’m good for is watching TV. That is why it is important for me to get all of my work done in the earlier hours of the day.
Find a time when you know you’re in the right frame of mind to work and then make a habit of working at that time every day. Having a habitual work schedule helps you to maintain consistency and allows you to jump into productivity with improved level of focus. They say it takes twelve weeks for a habit to become entrenched, so why not give it a trial run?
4. Plan ahead
One strategy I’ve found to be helpful is to plan weekly tasks ahead of time. On Sunday nights I sit down with my weekly planner and organise my schedule in a way that ensures productivity. The first thing I do is write down all the things that cannot be moved around on my schedule; work shifts, classes, events, appointments ect. Then I look at the gaps in my schedule and list other tasks that I would like to get done at those points; assignments, cleaning, personal projects, other work.
There are many days when I do not complete all the things that I have scheduled, but I’ve learnt to accept that that is ok. Setting a high bar for what you want to complete in a day means that if you fall just below it, you have still achieved a great deal. This is where the prioritising I mentioned above becomes so important- tackle your most important and most urgent tasks first.
5. Work on large tasks a bit at a time
So, you have to write a 2500 word essay and for some reason you can’t force yourself to sit down and start. Maybe it’s because you have a million other things to do, or maybe it’s just because you can’t face the prospect of sitting at your laptop for hours trying to force yourself to write that perfect thesis. Have you ever had that problem?
I find that when I try to make myself work away at something for hours on end I am prone to mental exhaustion and the overwhelming desire to just give up. This is only compounded when you leave a large task to the last minute adding and immense amount of stress to an already difficult task.
To prevent this a technique I have found works wonders is to tackle larger tasks in small doses over a long period of time. Start you task way ahead of the deadline and do small pieces of work on it every day. Or, break it down into small slots of time, for example do half an hour of work on it every day- over a week that adds up to three and a half hours. Big goals are much easier to accomplish when you set yourself lots of small goals along the way.
FYI, this technique works for other things as well. For example, no one likes cleaning their entire house in one go. But 5-10 minutes of cleaning every day? Anyone can do that.
6. Find your limits
Wise words from a cultural icon.
No amount of time management techniques can compensate for an over-bloated schedule. You need to figure out what goals and projects are most important to you and then cut loose the ones that aren’t.
In the past I’ve been pretty good at this, but it was a lesson that I had to relearn just recently. I had to make the decision that my writing was what is most important to me and that everything else was just distracting me from my writing goals. It’s hard saying goodbye to things you may have already put a lot of effort into, but it is also very necessary.
When researching this blog I found that I’m not alone in practicing many of these techniques and it became clear to me that I have personalised them to my own goals and my own methods of working. You may not use some of these techniques exactly in the way that I have, but you may find it helpful to adapt and change the to fit your own lifestyle.
What are some of your time management techniques?