If you’re someone who never seems to have enough hours in a day to finish what needs to be done, consider evaluating how you manage your time. You might not manage your time at all, which isn’t uncommon, and this could mean that you simply need to work on planning ahead more often. If you’re someone who makes lists and tries to think ahead, you still might be struggling to follow through on your plans. Whatever the case, it’s always a good idea to evaluate your time management techniques once in a while to see how you can improve them or what you can do to make them more effective.
1. Find out where you are wasting time
Everyone wastes time, but it’s important to be aware of when you’re doing it so that you can monitor the amount of time you spend distracted from getting things done. If you can figure out what your main distractions are or make a list of some things that you need to prioritize less when you have a lot of work to do, this will help you focus on what’s most important to accomplish.
2. Create a daily and weekly schedule
If you have a syllabus for your class or you know when you have tests and assignments due, make up a schedule for each week, breaking down assignments by due dates or dates to be completed. If you have sports or clubs, factor those in too. You want to write down as much of your weekly schedule as possible so that you can get a good estimate of how much time you’ll have leftover for work, studying, free time, and anything else each day.
Calendars come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re made specifically for different types of software. If you’re looking for a free calendar for iOS devices, Sunrise Calendar can be used on an iPhone or iPad, and iStudiez can be used on an iOS device, including a computer. It can also be used on windows computers, but you’ll have to pay $9.99 for it. If you’re looking for something for a windows pc, you’ll probably get the best result by using a calendar in your email. Windows Live, for Microsoft Outlook, and Google mail offer calendars that are easy to use, and, as they’re linked to your email, you’ll be able to access them on your phone as well. If you don’t see yourself using any of the options I’ve listed, shop around online for other calendars. There are tons of platforms to use that aren’t listed here.
3. Create a to-do list and add it to your schedule
In addition to any assignments you might have or anything happening routinely, keep a general to-do list of non-school-related things so that you don’t forget anything you’re supposed to be doing and so that you can factor everything you plan on doing into your weekly and daily schedules. A great platform for creating organized lists is Trello, which allows you to create lists and add or move around items. It can be used interactively with multiple people, so if you have a group project or a study group, you could easily make task lists, tag people on lists and list items, and communicate with comments on tasks. You can create any type of list you want, so if you have a “To-do” list and a “completed” list, you can move items around as you finish them. You’ll also need to sign up using an email, so if you have your calendar linked to the same email, you can get all of your notifications in the same place.
4. Say “no” to time commitments that you can’t fit in
Unfortunately, there is seldom a time when we can do everything that we want in a given day. Particularly during tests time, you’ll probably find yourself pressed for time with more commitments and plans than you can keep. To avoid the stress of trying to come through on everything, say “no” to some things in advance. Having a schedule will help you with this, as you’ll be able to look at your to-do list for each day and figure out how much time you’ll actually have for extra things. If you find your day is filled, including the free time you’ve set aside, don’t add on more to your day. Just say “no,” and you won’t have to feel bad for either backing out or ignoring your work to do it later.
5. Figure out what time of day you’re most productive
You’ll want to schedule homework and studying into your schedule at a time when you feel you can accomplish the most. If you work best at night, schedule a few hours spread out in the evenings. If you’re more of a morning person, set aside your morning hours for work instead.
6. Know your work/study habits.
Just like understanding when in the day you’re most productive, you should get to know your study/work habits so that you can use them to your advantage rather than trying to work against them. If you’re someone who needs a week to work on a lengthy assignment, give yourself a week. If you work better under pressure, spend your week focusing on smaller assignments closer to their due dates and tackle bigger projects as they come. Think about what sort of atmosphere you work best in, and try to find a space like it. You might prefer somewhere quiet, which could lead you to work in your room, but that also might lead to easy distractions or even falling asleep (guilty).
7. Set Time limits
If you leave yourself with four hours to do work one evening, don’t just add a block of time to your schedule that says “do work.” Make sure that you specify how much time you’ll be spending on each assignment you plan to work on. You could give yourself 30 minutes for math homework and then another 30 minutes to study for a math test, for example. Make sure that you follow your time limits fairly closely so that you don’t burn out doing one thing for too long or end up not having time to do everything that needs to get done.
8. Be realistic – some things take longer than others
If you have to write a two-page English paper and do five simple math equations, the paper will most likely take you longer. Don’t leave yourself 30 minutes for each task, as you probably won’t be able to finish them both within the same amount of time, and the paper will probably take you about two hours. Instead, think about how long each assignment should reasonably take you, including how long you need to study for each subject you might have a test in, and plan your schedule accordingly.
9. Set goals
Even if you’ve made a schedule, it helps to have goals in addition to deadlines. If you want to finish an assignment by a date earlier than when it’s due, that can be a goal to work toward. If you set aside a certain amount of time to complete tasks, aim to fit in one other task if you find you have the time. Anything that will help you feel more accomplished and positive will only help you keep working hard.
10. Don’t think about your entire to-do list. Just focus on the task at hand.
Even though you might have 15 things to do in a week, don’t think of them as a bundled package. If you think of them as individual assignments rather than as clumps of homework each day, you’ll feel much less intimidated by it all. Focus on one thing at a time, slowly chipping away at the larger to-do list, and make sure you’re always thinking “one down!” rather than “14 to go.”
11. Complete assignments in order of importance
While you have to finish everything at some point, it helps to give yourself some kind of order to begin with. Decide on an order of importance for assignments based on due dates/times, difficulty, or any other criteria, and complete work in that order. This way, you have a plan to stick to and can transition between assignments quickly without too much distraction. That being said…
12. Give yourself a break between tasks
Switching from one thing to the next right away can be exhausting and easily make you fed up with doing work. Instead, take small breaks when you finish assignments, but don’t let yourself get so distracted that you realize you’re still on Facebook 30 minutes later. The length of time you spend on each task should impact the length of your break, so the longer something takes you, the longer you can justify taking some time to relax. If you’ve just finished 15 minutes’ worth of math homework, you probably don’t need to take a 30-minute break before moving on. As a rule, I allot 10 minutes of break time for every hour spent on an assignment. Try to avoid social media while you’re taking these breaks, though, as you’ll probably find yourself taking a longer break than you might have initially intended.
13. Don’t procrastinate – start working immediately
It’s easy to get caught up in setting up your work, getting on a computer, or any other pre-homework rituals you might have. Instead of procrastinating, get started on your work as soon as you decide to begin, and don’t let yourself get distracted before you even accomplish anything.
14. Always take some work with you
If you’re leaving home for a few hours, take some work with you to do if you find you’re not doing anything else. If you’re on a bus or train, you can easily pull out a book or flashcards.
15. Make time to sleep
Although you need to finish your work, you should always make time to sleep well each night. If you’re tired at school or when you’re supposed to be doing work, you’ll likely be much less productive than if you’ve had a good night’s rest, so don’t forget to add sleeping to your daily schedule in ample supply.
Do you keep track of your daily and weekly tasks? What calendars or platforms do you use to stay organized and ensure that you're using your time efficiently?