Improve Your Time Management Skills
“I just don’t have enough time.” Does that sound like you? If so, read on.
Each and every one of us has 168 hours in the week to accomplish what we need and want to. In fact, common wisdom is that the busier one’s schedule, the more one is able to take on, because busy people use their time efficiently. Now that you’ve added school to your already full life of working, spending time with your family, and keeping up with your friends, you will have to manage your 168 hours a week more effectively than ever. We’ve got ideas to help you make the most of your time.
It’s easy to put off doing homework if you haven’t figured out when you have time to do it and what you have to do. Here are two strategies for tackling the mountain of homework and managing the many deadlines you have to do it throughout the term.
Make a Homework Schedule
Don’t wait for “when I have time” or “when I feel like it” to come around, because they won’t. (If you waited until you “had time” or “felt like it” to go to work, where would you be?) The best way to get inspired to do your homework is to set a schedule to do it, and stick to it.
- Designate specific times on specific days to do homework.
- Stick to your homework schedule like it is a paid job.
(Click here for more information on creating a homework schedule.)
TIP: Create your schedule with your family, or at least share your schedule with your them, so they can help you follow it. In fact, some families make “family study time” so that everyone hits the books together. If you still have trouble getting yourself to your desk, share your homework schedule with a classmate and ask him or her to check in with you. We all are more likely to meet our commitments when we are accountable to others. You can even “go virtual”--check out the free College Study Buddy app (versions for iPhone and Android).
Make a Homework Calendar
Making and following a homework schedule is an excellent start. However, it’s important to make a “master plan” that includes all of your work for the month, with the dates it is due. Otherwise, you might start on assignments that aren’t due until the next class session, and miss assignments that are due next week.
- Read your syllabi to determine what homework you have due for the upcoming month(s) in all of your classes.
- Break bigger assignments into manageable “chunks.”
- Schedule specific homework sessions to work on each assignment or “chunk”; write your schedule onto your homework calendar.
- Leave extra days, in case an assignment takes longer than you expected, or an emergency arises.
- Schedule time to socialize with family and friends.
(Click here for a calendar template.)
TIP: If you put your homework calendar on your phone or in your Google or Outlook calendar, you will always have it with you and you can set “alerts” to warn you when deadlines are approaching.
(Click here for more advice on breaking the procrastination habit.)
Create a Pleasant, Well-Organized Study Area
You’re more likely to do your homework if you have all of your books and study materials together, so that you can easily find what you need. You’re also more likely to do homework if your study space is peaceful yet motivating.
- Try to avoid studying in your bedroom--especially on your bed. (Your homework will intrude on your sleep, and your sleep will intrude on your homework.)
- Try to designate a space that’s truly yours, so that you can count on having it when you need it, and finding your materials where you left them.
- Create a space that is conducive to studying, where you can’t hear the TV and can shut the door to keep out interruptions.
- Use a comfortable but sturdy chair so you will sit up straight and stay alert, but not so hard that you will squirm or ache.
(Click here for more information on creating a study space. Be sure to read the whole page.)
Set Rewards for Yourself
Knowing that you have finished your homework and done it well is a significant reward of its own. But you might be even more focused if you give yourself a reward when you reach your goals. For example, if you accomplish your study goals for the day, watch your favorite show. If you keep your study schedule for a week, take a night off and go out. Give yourself something to look forward to.
Now that you’re in school, you’ll have less time but more to do--not only homework, but also submitting financial aid paperwork, paying tuition bills, arranging childcare, keeping the car gassed up for your drives to campus, and more. These simple strategies can help you stay organized.
Organize Your Year
Keep track of dates that important paperwork and other tasks are due--from filing tax forms and FAFSA Applications, to renewing your lease, and more--and put them on your calendar. If you use a paper calendar, copy over these key dates in the new year. If you use the calendar on your smartphone, you can easily schedule these events for years in advance. Make note of when you need to get your car inspected, your registration renewed, and your license updated. Don’t forget your medical exams. Include key dates in your children’s school year, and deadlines for scheduling their after-school and vacation programs.
Organize Your Day and Week
If you don’t use one, begin! To-Do Lists help keep items from “slipping through the cracks” and, because you can cross off items as they’re completed, also give a sense of accomplishment. To-Do Lists are even more useful when you prioritize them.
(Click here for more information on creating a prioritized to-do list.)
Organize Your Schoolwork
You probably already feel like you’re drowning in paper. Once your classes get into full swing, you’ll have syllabi, handouts, essays, notes, and paperwork to add to the mountain. If you don’t stay on top of the paperwork, you will quickly find yourself lost.
- Use a 3-Ring Binder with color-coded dividers and folders for each course.
- Keep a hole-punch or extra clear page protectors in your binder, so you can insert handouts in the correct place as soon as you get them.
- Keep a copy of the current course schedule in front.
(Click here for more information on organizing binders. Be sure to read the bottom half of the page!)
Create Extra Time
If you re-evaluate your schedule, you’ll probably discover that you could use your time even more effectively than you do now. Reclaim wasted moments to “create more time” in your day.
- Don’t wait “until I have time.” Use small pockets of time--on the subway, at lunch, during your child’s soccer practice . . . -- to read a couple sections of an article, or jot down an outline for a paper.
- Make blocks of time--go to the office early or stay late; get your groceries delivered and study when you would have been shopping; clean less, and study when you would have been doing housework; give up a television show and study when you would have been watching. (Click here for ideas on making more time.)
- Assess your Time Management skills, and adopt changes where needed. (Click here for free, excellent on-line resources; start with this Activity Log exercise to find out how you really spend your time.)
Final Thoughts . . .
There’s no denying that most adult students lead very full lives indeed: most work, have families, and serve their communities, in addition to going to school. However, there’s an old saying: “If you need something done, ask someone busy.” It’s amazing how much you can get done if you need and want to. The more efficiently you manage your time, the more amazed you’ll be at just how much you can accomplish. However, everyone has limits. Remember to schedule some social time with your family and friends and some down-time for yourself. Remember, too, that “something has got to give.” You might need to drop a commitment, or do your housework less thoroughly than you’d like. Don’t worry. You won’t be in school forever!
© Sherri L. VandenAkker, Ph.D.