Deadlines slipping? Essays always late? Never enough hours in the day? Here's how we could all make better use of our time.
Time. We make it, waste it, kill it. It stands still, it flies, it's infinite. It runs out. Learning how to manage time is a skill essential to a successful career in any field, but it's also one you need to develop as a student. And if, as a student, you successfully learn to juggle essay deadlines, lectures and tutorials with an active social life and a part time job, you should leave university with some well honed time management skills.
Successful time management means you should be able to avoid working harder or longer to achieve your goals; you'll get there by working more effectively.
First things first
The best place to start on your quest to sort your time out is to identify areas where you waste time. Let's face it, you wouldn't treat your money like you treat your time. You might not want to admit where month's pay cheque (or this term's cash) has gone, but you probably have a good idea don't you? So have a look at your time in a similar way.
Think about the sorts of tasks you are spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy on. Ask yourself how often you say "I'll just leave that until tomorrow" (which inevitably never comes). Procrastination is a dirty word, but most of us are guilty of it to some extent. You have to keep reminding yourself that unpleasant tasks don't get better the longer you leave them. All the time you spend thinking and worrying about what needs doing could be spent getting a vast percentage of it out the way, never to be fretted about again.
So all this is easier said than done, right? Yes, admittedly (do you know how long it took me to get around to writing this article?). But there are a few tricks you can try to get yourself on the road to organisation, leaving a satisfactory amount of time for more favourable tasks.
Chop it up
David Stone, Managing Director of Spearhead Training Group suggests the Swiss cheese method for combating procrastination. "Swiss Cheese has lots of holes in it, so make holes in your larger tasks. Lots of little holes will help you on your way to completing your task." These 'holes' can take several forms; for example, you could make a list of all the research you have to do, make notes, arrange a meeting etc. "It's a type of active procrastination that'll help you reach your final goal," says David.
Once you've stopped wasting your time, you need to use what's left as effectively as possible. Start by making a plan/keeping a diary. Write in all the regular commitments that you can't change. This will give you an idea of the time you have to work with.
100 things I need to do today
The next step is that trusty old favourite - The List. Make 'To do' lists for today, this week and this month. Prioritise the tasks on your lists carefully. Mix in low priority tasks with more urgent ones otherwise they will never get done. Mix long term with short term, so that a task with a less immediate deadline isn't left to the last minute. It will be obvious if it has been rushed.
Something to bear in mind is that everyone has their individual attention span, don't exhaust it. Once you've worked for your optimum amount of time, 'reset' your brain by going for a short walk.
One of the most important things to remember when training yourself to work more effectively is to give yourself rewards. If you're finding it hard to get on with things, bribe yourself! When you have done so much work, you can watch Neighbours/have a game of tennis etc. Michael Morris, tutor for the Open University Business School and author of several Management titles, believes "The best reward of all is to take a big fat marker pen and cross the item off the list, savagely."
Make time for fun
Michael also recognises the importance of building in leisure time into even the most hectic of work schedules. "People who don't balance their lives, with time for others, time for themselves, for exercise and diversions often become progressively worse at their work and may even have a breakdown of some sort." So it's official, work hard, play hard and make sure your time is working for you.
Written by Sarah Myers
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!