“Time management” is a misnomer. I don’t believe anyone can manage time. Technically, only one person in recorded (Biblical) history has ever stopped the sun from making its rounds (or the earth from rotating). And since no one besides Joshua has ever been able to do that, we can be assured that time will proceed as designed. So, rather than trying to manage time, you must learn to harness it.
Harnessing time is not an art, but a science. Over the next several weeks, as students flock back to college campuses, I’ll post blogs that detail how they can harness time over the first five critical weeks of the semester. The posts will give detailed advice on how to plan your work, make contacts, and to prepare for exams. Before I get started though, let me lay down six principles for harnessing time.
FIND A CALENDAR OR A CALENDAR APP THAT WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU
Your calendar app should not only enable you to easily enter appointments (classes, assignments due, holidays, etc.) but just as important, you should be able to capture your “to do’s”—that is, a list of the tasks that must be done and when you’ll do them (on what day) to stay ahead of your work.
I use TaskTask on my iPhone that’s linked to Microsoft Outlook, which I use for my calendar. You can use Google docs or any other app as long as you have both a calendar and “to do list.”
When I was in college, prior to the myriad of high tech devices available today, I used a paper calendar and notebook paper to record my “to do’s.” Whatever works for you, get familiar with it early in the semester. You don’t want to waste time fiddling with its features when you should be focused on your work.
GET AN APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF SLEEP
You need 7-8 hours of sleep every night to operate at optimal mental capacity. We often skip or shortchange this biological necessity by getting less sleep, then we drink coffee, espresso, Red Bull or some other stimulant just to stay awake.
When you skimp on sleep, you mortgage the next day, and you’ll need more stimulants to keep you awake. It’s a vicious cycle.
Researchers now know that our brains need adequate sleep time to consolidate all of the information it processed during the day. The brain actually encodes these connections into the long-term memory while we sleep. In fact, the more complex the material that you’re learning, the more integral sleep is at helping to solidify understanding and facilitating recall. Being rested also can lower your anxiety level as well, since getting sleep helps your brain to bridle your emotions.
EAT BALANCED MEALS
There is a direct connection between your diet and your mental capacity and health. Most college students choose foods that are heavy in saturated fat, sugar and other carbohydrates without balancing it with foods that are known to improve brain function.
Proteins such as those found in salmon, lean beef, eggs, and nutrients found in most vegetables such as spinach, have been found to boost recall and improve brain function according to Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind.”
CARBOHYDRATE OVERLOADS MAKES YOU “LOOPY”
Don’t go overboard on carbohydrates (chips, pastries, cookies, candy, and soda). They may temporarily satisfy your hunger pains, and even give you a short-term energy boost, but the boost will be short-lived. Truth be told, soon after the boost, you’ll experience a crash that’ll bring your energy level down below where you started. Then you’re forced to sleep anyway or, worse still, take a stimulant to keep you awake. My friend used to call that sluggish feeling, “loopiness.”
GO EASY ON CAFFEINE, SUGAR AND OTHER MOOD-SWINGING FOODS
I didn’t start drinking coffee until my junior year in college. Prior to that, I seemed to get by without it. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Coffee and other caffeinated stimulants like Red Bull are addictive in a sinister way. By regularly consuming them, your body craves more. The more coffee you drink, the more difficult it’ll be to wake up the next morning, thereby requiring more of it to get going.
If you don’t drink coffee or other stimulants like Red Bull, stay away from them. If you agree with me because you already drink too much, then try to wean yourself off of it completely, or limit how much you drink. Vacations or other breaks are usually a good time to rebalance your intake.
KEEP YOUR ROOM AND BELONGINGS ORGANIZED
If you have a messy room, it’s harder to be efficient with your work. Too much of your time will be spent looking for things rather than doing the work. I tell my freshmen never to keep your room more than 5 minutes messy. Say you get a call that an unexpected visitor is coming by to see you, you should be able to straighten your room in five minutes. If it’ll take you more than that to clean up your papers, put dirty clothes in a laundry bag or basket, or hang up or fold clean clothes, then it’s likely that you’re not optimizing your time because your room is messy.
More troubling, if you can’t find something—an old problem set, the solutions to an old test, your notes or a textbook, you’ll be tempted to skip the assignment or avoid reviewing that material.
An organized room makes you a master over your domain. Use a file cabinet for important papers. Label manila and hanging folders by subject or club. Use binders with subdividers so sections are clearly organized. If you have the technology, scan and organize your documents on your computer or a cloud service.
Bottom line: You want information easily accessible so you won’t have an excuse not to look something up. And who knows, you may impress your visitor!
MAXIMIZE YOUR PERIODS OF PEAK EFFICIENCY
You’ve probably noticed that your body and your mind operate at peak efficiency during certain times of the day. For me, between 4 and 8pm and 4am and 8am, if I’m writing, words just flow out of my mind onto paper with ease. On the flip side, catch me between 1 and 3pm in the afternoon and the opposite story emerges. I am dragging, finding it hard to concentrate and stay focused. It is during these periods that I write and speak like I’m drowning in molasses.
Our brains cycle through periods of high and low energy called ultradian rhythms. These fluctuations last for 90 to 110 minutes (Jensen, p. 49).
Do you know when it seems easiest for you to focus and learn, and when it’s the hardest? Even if you do, let me caution you, though. You may not have the luxury of working when you’re at your ultradian best. Your schedule may not allow it.
It’s important that you learn to discipline yourself to work at any time that your schedule dictates. However, if you can balance your work around these rhythms, then you’d do better to do so.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll provide specific instructions on how to harness time over the first five weeks of the semester. Stay tuned.