Time management is a critical aspect of your university skills portfolio. There will come a point when you have a hell of a lot of assignments to do, and seemingly not enough time to do them in (which is probably now considering it is exam period!). If you have honed good tactics for time management, and excellent planning skills to plan your week, you will feel calmer and more in control when the manic period does come.
There are many, many techniques to manage your time effectively and get your task list polished throughout the day. I will outline a number of tactics that you could apply to reach this time management nirvana and become the most organised person on campus.
The very first things you should put into your schedule are the concrete, must attend permanent commitments of your week. This will include lectures, tutorials or any other task you may have. By doing this, you are able to see the gaps you have available and can manage your time around these tasks.
At this point, it is always helpful to consult your goal sheet. Your goal sheet indicates what you want to achieve over a set period of time. This may be study related, leisure related, travel related etc. etc. Your goal sheet will be the filter through which we view whether an activity is valuable or not.
You are able to look at the tasks you are doing that week and ask whether such a task is getting you closer to your desired goal or not. In the strictest sense, if an activity is not contributing to your final goal, then it is a waste of time. Simple.
This is why it is imperative to have such strong goals, as they are going to occupy the majority of your time. The process allows you to set milestones and achievements, and allows you to create a roadmap of success towards the goals. Your weekly time should be based around them. When creating a list of your weekly tasks, you should always have the question of whether the activity contributes to your goal or not. You are an adult, and can obviously decide to ignore this and choose to do non-goal-achieving activities -that is fine. However, the most ruthless and fastest way to reach a goal is to view all activities through this filter. Saying no to an activity as it isn’t value creating for you can be a liberating feeling, it will give you the ultimate sense of productivity, and more importantly, free up your valuable time.
This can be applied more than readily to university commitments such as lectures and tutorials.
If your goal is to achieve a 2:1, you may be able to view certain aspects of the course as a waste of your time – there will be certain lecture courses that only account for a minute portion of your grade which you deem unnecessary, and you do not attend these particular classes. Think carefully about this approach – even if a lecture course seems completely irrelevant on the surface, try to drill down and see whether there is any valuable information that you can apply elsewhere.
It may be worth turning up just for that.
University is full of deadlines. Dates for exams, dates for assignments etc. etc. These need to be factored into your schedule, with one minor tweak. For everything apart from exams, create yourself a shorter deadline.
Parkinson’s Law states that all tasks expand to fill the volume of time allocated for them.
If you have a month to do an assignment, you will most probably take a month. However, if you issue yourself with a deadline of 3 days, you will work your nuts off to get the assignment done in three days. Having killed off an assignment, you are free to accommodate any dramas that may occur down the road and require your attention. I suggest that you aim to do the vast majority of your work in one go. I would try as often as I could to finish an assignment in one sitting. How hard is it to get the motivation to start working?
Oftentimes, it is extremely hard to get going.
Why then, once you have got the urge to start, would you stop? Milk the crest of motivation for all it is worth and ride that pony all the way home.
With this ruthless attitude, you will give yourself no time to procrastinate; you will be focused clearly on the finish line.
The worry of Quality (Definition of Quality – read Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to contort your grey matter into all sorts of shapes!) always plays a part in approaching tasks in this fashion. If you complete the assignment in one chunk, rather than spend time over it, giving yourself time to think, won’t the quality be poor and rushed?
Pareto was an Italian economist who defined the 80/20 rule.
The rule states that 80% of a tasks value comes from 20% of the work. Just 20%! Pareto found that 80% of a country’s wealth is distributed amongst 20% of the population. He also found evidence of this law in his back garden – 80% of peas he grew were produced by 20% of the peapods.
That means, to get that last 20% of value, you have to spend 80% more time.
Is this really an effective way to spend your time? If you have honed good essay writing skills by learning this as an entity in itself, you will have process for writing a good essay every time your pen hits the paper. So your effort will most likely have covered that 80% value threshold in the first sitting.
The rest is just polishing the underside of the bannister (watch this video). Why do it? Nobody really notices your extra efforts anyway!
Be ruthless in executing this law. 20% of the tasks you do to complete an assignment will create 80% of the assignments value.
20% of content learned and revised will create 80% of your test marks. The question is which 20%. Only you can get a feel for this, and experience and application will help you immensely.
Darts players often throw out a marker when they are aiming for the last double of the set to win the match. Jumping in and trying a method is your marker, you will then have feedback to tweak your throw and hit the double with your next attempt. If you never dive in and start, you will not have enough information to eventually get it right. It comes back to the recurring theme of experimenting with your methods, gauging the feedback, and tweaking to improve.
The 80-20 rule is probably the biggest time saving law there is.
Tasks viewed through this lens are easily trimmed of fat content, stripping the task back to its value producing meat. Try looking at everything you do in this context – the time you save will be immense. Never be tempted to go overboard and polish tasks relentlessly.
Good enough really is good enough.
When I started to employ this, I looked at my worst case scenario. If I achieved 70%, I would still get a first, but this was absolutely worst case scenario, but I could live with it. 70% is actually really easy to get, so I knew I could achieve this milestone with relative ease. I cut all my work down to the bare essentials. My grades, however, did not plummet, but remained in the high 80s and early 90s for a lot of modules. The process really did pick out the tasks that were most valuable to me, and focusing on these allowed me to be more successful, freeing up time for other pursuits.
Thanks to a 19th century Italian economist, you will have time to frequent the bar more often!
Double up on tasks
You may get the feeling, very rarely, that your time could be better spent elsewhere.
Some lectures represented this. The most value-creating activity, for me, was answering questions and applying knowledge. If it got to the stage where I thought a lecture course was stagnating and it wasn’t really directing me towards gaining the knowledge I required (i.e. if I felt that I could gain the knowledge more effectively elsewhere), I would use the time to answer tutorial questions. This was the best use of my time. I could identify the lectures that were going to be of little use well in advance, and prepare material to answer throughout the lecture. This was the most valuable way I could be spending my time, so I felt it was a no brainer.
Be ruthless with your time. It is your only true resource. If you feel that another activity would be more beneficial to your time, go ahead and do it.
If you have to justify your activities to anybody, prepare yourself with evidence! If a lecturer confronts you about your listless behaviour or absenteeism – point out your marks and explain your methods. Give them a run-down of Pareto’s law; tell them that their course isn’t in keeping with your long term goals.
They will be impressed at your purposefulness (or maybe not, but will have no comeback as evidence far outweighs opinion)!
Early to rise
The single biggest change I made at university was to get up early. No question. This is probably the idea of hell for most people. However, it made me so much more productive it was untrue. The issue with university is that a lot of students are first-time-away-from-home types, who have the freedom to do whatever they like.
This is fantastic and a great feeling, but, if you want to do well in anything, you need to create routine.
If every day changes, you constantly have to think about how you are going to approach the day. Whether to eat breakfast that day, when to study, when to go out, what time to shower etc. etc. Creating a routine eliminates most of the decisions you have to make.
Henry T Ford was famous for saying “You can have any colour car, as long as it’s black”.
The mentality today may not see the value in this, but humans are designed to procrastinate. If faced with choice overload, the default response is to go into shutdown mode and avoid the decision at all costs.
If you do not have a routine, you are faced with new choices to decide upon every day. This creates the perfect platform for inactivity.
By getting up a certain time every day, by showering at a certain time, by studying at a certain time, you are reducing the number of decisions you have to make, as it is already decided.Getting up early worked for me, as I could really get stuck into the day.
By 9am, I had done three hours studying on my free days. Do you have any idea how powerful that is?
Starting the day on such a positive note creates such a vibe for the rest of the day, that in the vast majority of cases, you cannot fail but to have a productive day.
Let’s face it; studying is probably the least enjoyable part of university. Killing this off as the first activity of the day is hugely rewarding and really takes a load off. You have all the time in the world then to pursue more interesting tasks. The default for most students is to leave this work until night time.
There are miles more alluring things to do at night.
If all you have to look forward to is sleep after hard studying, you start to resent it!
In the morning, you have the whole day left to get amongst it and do more fun things. Looking forward to a perceived more fun activity will spur you in to get through the hard times. The majority of time, I hadn’t come round from my sleepiness enough to even think about complaining, before I knew it I had started studying and was well on the way to completing a mundane task. The books were open and I was away!
Multi-tasking: Nothing to brag about.
I mentioned earlier the potential virtues of doubling up on tasks – be it tutorial questions in an unimportant lecture and other such time saving devices. This was due to a priority decision that the lecture WOULD NOT add value to our learning, and hence another activity can be incorporated to help with our time.
However, multi-tasking in the vast majority of situations is a sin. Do NOT give it the time of day.
Multi-tasking serves only to impair our concentration, enabling us to complete both tasks half as effectively. Now obviously, this is criminal when we are trying to study to the best of our ability, produce work of the highest quality and generally perform well. In tasks that require high levels of concentration, multi-tasking should not be tolerated. You merely serve to risk spending MORE time on the task in question, and also risk having to repeat parts of the task again due to inadequate quality on the first attempt.
When pursuing a task that you pre-identify as one requiring high levels of concentration to produce the best results, do your LEVEL BEST to remove all potential distractions.
If you live in a house full of other students, close your door and put a sign up – DO NOT DISTURB, GENIUS AT WORK. If the work can be completed without the use of the internet (I am a big believer in using the internet as a last resort – it is a form of laziness), then turn off the modem (is this anachronistic?), and use only the tools required. The temptation to idly surf the web and look at other people’s lives using various social media is too tempting.
In short, just get rid of anything that will prevent you from total concentration.
30 minutes of absolute undivided attention to a task is usually miles more beneficial than 2-3 hours of flitting attention. You want to get the best results for your time. Be ruthless and remove all distractions. This may be difficult at first, but set yourself rewards. If you complete 30 minutes unbroken essay writing, eat your way through half a tub of neopolitan ice-cream (obviously I do not condone such irrational consumption of such terrible food, even if the sugar rush immediately afterwards is amazing!). With a reward for your pains, the graft seems more palatable. Use intense concentration in conjunction with the shorter deadlines created utilising Parkinson’s law. You will be 10x more efficient.
Time management: Quick tips.
Here are a few tips to put into action – these gems should really get you as efficient as the Germans.
* Complete the worst task on your to do list as your first activity of the day.
* Use music – dance music for speed work, classical for concentrating.
* Four Quadrants – your to do list should adopt the four quadrant fashion.
– Split your sheet of A4 into four quarters.
– The top left quarter is Important and Urgent.
– The bottom left corner is important and not urgent
– The top right corner is unimportant but urgent
– The bottom right is unimportant and not urgent.
– Which is the most important?
– You were wrong. The top left should indeed be done first – but if you are –operating in this square, you are in fire fighting mode – the essay due for tomorrow, that exam to revise for tomorrow.
– The bottom left – important but not urgent – represents proactivity.
– Doing tasks that are important, but not urgent, means you are thinking ahead and being organised.
– Plan to do these tasks – the more time you spend being pro-active, the emptier your top left square will be.
* Parkinson’s law – set shorter deadlines
* Pareto’s law – 80/20 – eliminate tasks that do not create value.
* Early to rise – get up early and achieve more in the first three hours than you flatmates will achieve in the whole day.
* Same as – eat the same things for breakfast and lunch – variety is overrated and unnecessary in diet – eating the same thing over and over reduces the need for choice, reducing your need to think and reducing energy expenditure. You are free to concentrate elsewhere. For me – scrambled eggs on toast with lots of spinach.
* Exercise early – a 30 minute run will get the blood pumping and the brain ready for action
* Double up – do tasks like answering tutorial questions in lectures.
* One sitting – do essays and such like in one sitting.
* Electric blackout – go device free for a day.
* Time log – log all of your activities using one of the available time log apps on the iPhone.
Hopefully, there are more than enough tips here to help you save time at university and ensure that your work is completed and you are stress free.