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Time Management

College life is fun, but it can also be very demanding. Most successful students develop a common skill—one that helps them get work done on time and excel both inside and outside of the classroom. What’s their secret weapon? Time management.

As you were growing up, other people took some or all of the responsibility for keeping you organized. Your teachers kept track of your work and monitored your performance. Your parents may have kept your clothes clean, stored all of your important records, made your appointments and made sure your homework got done. In college, you have to assume a lot of these responsibilities and more. You have to be your own manager.

Of all of the organizational skills you’ll need to develop to succeed in college, none is more fundamentally important than time management. Manage your time effectively, and you can balance a social life that is fun and exciting with an academic life that is successful and rewarding. Manage it poorly and you can fall behind before you can say, “What time is it?”

Making a Time Management Plan

How well do you manage your own time? Do you sometimes feel like your time is managing you? What can you do about it? Creating a time management plan is work, but it’s probably simpler than your easiest homework assignment. And the more work you do up front, the less you’ll have to do later. Let’s start by looking at how you spend your time now.

Be Your Own Detective

First, you want to do some self-analysis. By monitoring how you spend your days, you’ll get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses in managing your time. This simple three-step process will help you see how you use your time over a long stretch—including when you tend to work best, and when you may tend to run into trouble.

Winners Aren’t Perfect—Just Persistent

Keeping a journal on how you spend time is an excellent way to learn about your patterns and trouble spots. For some, however, the journaling exercise itself becomes a lesson in needing to get organized. Forgot to make entries today? Left your notebook in the car? There are lots of reasons why some of us have more difficulty remembering things and staying organized, but all of them can be overcome with practice.

If you miss journal entries, don’t give up. Just get to your notebook ASAP and write as much as you can remember. As long as you’re reflecting on how you spend your time, you’re on the right track. And once you’re armed with a better understanding of how your time gets spent, you can begin the most important step in gaining control over it—advanced planning.

The Big Picture: Planning the Semester

Now that you’re acquainted with your current patterns, you can start finding more efficient ways of using your time. This three-step sequence will ensure that you’re fixed on what you intend to do, that the semester’s big events are accounted for and that major school-related and personal events do not conflict.

Set priorities and goals. In planning your time, you first have to think about what you want to accomplish and why. Using the same notebook you used above, make a list of all your priorities and goals for this semester. List all things big and small. Make sure your goals meet these standards:

Collect the big dates. Now start building a calendar for the semester. Start by checking out your school’s academic and events calendars. Then add dates from your class syllabi, including exam dates and major deadlines. Next, make a list of all personally important dates: birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, special events or trips. Combine the two lists, noting which dates overlap.

Build the calendar. Put all of the deadlines, due dates, exam times and important personal dates into one calendar. You can purchase a calendar or build one easily yourself, with a month to a page. Mark in red all days that contain multiple items, two or more consecutive important due dates and any double-exam days.

The Daily (and Weekly) Grind

Seeing the big picture won’t do any good unless you manage your time on a weekly and daily basis, as well. We suggest making a weekly calendar and daily to-do lists. Try these simple steps:

Keeping Tabs on Time

Now that you have all the pieces, it’s time to make it work. Keep your calendars and to-do lists in places (such as above your desk) where you will see them often. Keep tabs on your “red-letter” days, and prioritize your task list. Commit to doing the most necessary and important things first. You may need to call friends and family to see if you can rearrange dates to accommodate your school schedule—call now, before you get crunched. The goal is to get as many days as possible out of the red.

Review your calendar every week to make sure you’re sticking to it. Revise dates as necessary and communicate changes to everyone involved. Note your habits, both good and bad, and work to improve.
Tools for Better Timing

There are many resources and tools out there that can help. There is probably a time management tool already installed on the computer you’re using:


Calendars and Gadgets

Online Tools

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