I don’t believe anyone can “manage” time. Time will always proceed as designed. So rather than trying to manage it, learn to “harness” it for your best purposes.
Here are a few tips from my book “Working Smarter, Not Just Harder: Three Sensible Strategies for Succeeding in College…and Life” that will help you effectively “harness” time — by the semester and by the week.
Harnessing Time by The Semester
You should never stumble into a semester or quarter. Your planning should be intentional. Before the beginning of every semester, before classes begin or soon after, take the time to follow these steps:
- Collect all of your syllabi: Every class should have a syllabus, the document the professor distributes at the beginning of class containing the course outline, lecture topics, assignments and their due dates, grading policy, exam schedule and office hours. The syllabus gives you a valuable overview of your upcoming semester.
- Record dates in your planner: Record all critical dates for each class in your calendar. These should include the dates on which all of your assignments are due — problem sets, papers and special projects. Also record your exam dates, including midterms and finals. Be as descriptive as possible, so you’ll recognize the assignment at a glance.
- Identify and anticipate crunch weeks: After you enter all of these dates, step back and review your calendar. Are there any crunch weeks — weeks in which you have multiple assignments due? If you don’t plan for them, you can easily fall behind and never catch up! Once you identify the crunch weeks, you might want to block out preceding weekends so you can use that time to study, prepare the project or write the paper(s).
- Gather all of your required reading material: From the syllabus, find out which books and other readings you’ll be required to buy or borrow, and which are optional. Of course, searching online for texts may be ideal. The key here is to secure your reading material early while it’s still available at the bookstore, and to save money by shopping around for used copies.
- Form study groups: Reach out to classmates before classes begin, once you have a class schedule and know when your assignments are due.
Harnessing Time by Week
Each week, set your priorities and plan your work for the week ahead. I recommend that you take the following steps on Thursday night. This way, you can use the weekend to rest, catch up on your work and/or get ahead:
- Define your weekly “First Things First” goals: Begin planning for the week by scheduling your essential priorities, the “big rocks” that Stephen Covey described in his book “First Things First” as our essential human needs: to live, love, learn and leave a legacy. Scheduling time for sleep, exercise, interaction with friends and loved ones, and spiritual enrichment, for instance, should take priority over, say, your fluid dynamics problem sets.
- Post your deadlines and study-group schedule on your calendar: At the beginning of the week or at the end of the previous one, make sure you place all of your classes, exams and assignments due in the upcoming week into your calendar. Also, plug in your professors’ office hours, any scheduled exam reviews and your study groups’ schedules, if you haven’t already done so.
- Prepare your daily “to do” list: It’s not only important to know when the assignments are due but to start planning the work necessary to do the assignments. When will you work on your problem sets, research and write that paper or study for that exam this week? Place all of your work into your “to do” list, which should be organized by day. This will be your guide for the week. And be realistic about the amount of time the work requires.
- Go see your instructor or TA!!!! Schedule time to see your instructor and/or teaching assistant each week. If there are scheduled office hours, plug them into your calendar, even if you don’t know what you’ll discuss. Strengthening your relationship with your instructor is essential for learning but also for enriching your college experience and optimizing your professional and personal development.
Planning the work and working the plan is essential to “working smarter.” And these tips will carry you well into the workforce. In the meantime, stop trying to manage time, harness it!
You can learn more about how to “harness time” by picking up a copy of “Working Smarter, Not Just Harder”