The aim of managing your time is to spend time doing the things that help you achieve your goals and the things that you personally prioritise and value.
Time management is straightforward - but it takes time. This guide aims to help you prepare the ground for effective time management and then devise a workable system for yourself which meets your needs.
Preparing the ground
Before you begin to organise your time you need to think in a structured way:
Look carefully at your priorities
Identify what is important to you: friends? family? dependants? paid work? getting a good degree? socialising? your health? Rank them in order from 1-10. This will help you prioritise the time you give to things you most value and things which will help you achieve your goals. Then you can allocate a realistic amount of time to each.
Student A is enjoying his first year. He has a lot of friends and a great social life. But this doesn't leave much time for work. A is anxious and guilty about this and to avoid these feelings he spends even more time going out. Looking at his priorities helps A recognise that although his friends are important to him he also wants a good degree. Prioritising enables him to plan the amount of time he spends on work. He can now socialise without feeling guilty.
Identify your goals
Try to be realistic and definite about them. Identify what needs to be done, when, how, who by? Major goals often need to be divided up into several steps which can be redefined as short-term goals.
Student B is a perfectionist. She works all the time as she finds it hard to be realistic about how much she has to do. Her goals are vaguely defined as "I should work harder" or "I must do better". Because she feels that nothing she does is good enough, B doesn't know when to stop, so she ends up feeling overwhelmed. Identifying her goals enables B to feel more in control of her time: "I want to get a first - what do I need to do to achieve one" is more specific than "I must work harder". Being more realistic enables B to build in time to relax and she can work more effectively.
Look carefully at the way you work
A systematic approach will help you identify your strengths and help you identify where improvements can be made. Start by keeping a diary and include notes on: how long did it take you to get started? / did you prioritise? / did you put things off? / can you say "no" when you need to? / were you easily distracted by others? / is your desk always untidy? / are you able to focus and concentrate on the task? / do you make plans and lists?
Student C leaves everything to the last minute. For C this is an attempt to deal with anxiety about his work since it gives him no time to agonise about whether it is good enough. However putting things off is actually very stressful and C encounters difficulties over more complex, long term projects or if a last minute crisis occurs. Using a more systematic approach helps C feel more in control and as a result more able to deal constructively with his anxieties about his work.
Look carefully at where you allocate your time
Identifying how you spend your time can help you see if you use it productively. List the things you have to do, such as lectures, paid work, child care arrangements etc. Once you have established these fixtures note other activities you want to include, such as visits to the gym, breaks, meetings, study time and time with friends. Are you realistic about what you can fit in? Are you studying at the best time for you? Do you spend time worrying rather than tackling things?
Every day Student D means to get up at 8.00am and start work, but other things always seem more important. The longer she puts it off, the more huge and unmanageable her assignment seems. When D stops to look it is clear how much time she wastes. She also recognises that she actually works better at night. Restructuring her day so that she fits in other things in the morning leaves the evening free to study.
Organising your time
Finding enough time and using it effectively
Different systems work for different people but if you want the best out of yourself in the time you have available do give them a try.
- Start by buying a useful tool, a personal diary or organiser and use it.
- Allocate time every day to organise your activities and forward plan. Some students do this first thing, others at the end of the day. Divide your activities into categories. Then make a list and rank them in order 1-10 in terms of importance and urgency.
Defining what is important to you is crucial because good time management is spending time achieving your goals. Include time to relax and socialise: "all work and no play" will not help you meet your goals. If you build in time to have fun you will be more effective.
Reviewing the way you spend time may have revealed time wasted on tasks which were low on your list of priorities. Ideally less time should be allocated to those and more time to those items higher up.
- Look carefully at what must be done today, should be done today, could be put off until tomorrow or that someone else could do. Make planning your time a part of your routine.
- Get started and avoid procrastinating which can lead to increased anxiety.
- Create a work area which allows you to spread out, which is tidy, well lit and warm. This means that each time you return to it you are ready to start and feel more organised.
- Get into a routine of studying at set times. Others around you need to know when you are working and don't wish to be interrupted. It is useful to identify how much time you need for different types of work: writing essays or research need chunks of time, and a lot of concentration. Other tasks can be fitted in to odd moments or times when your concentration is poor.
- Break the task up into manageable portions so that you don't feel so daunted by it.
- Avoid spending an unreasonable amount of time on one thing at the expense of others. It is better to hand work in on time, even though it may not meet your exacting standards.
- When someone asks you to do something, see it in terms of taking time away from something else. Your answer might be "no", but you might meet your own goals.
- Avoid saying "yes" to something that is unimportant just because it seems far away. The same amount of effort will be needed whether the task is done today or next month.
- Tackle something you want to avoid now rather than tomorrow. This frees your mind and allows you to concentrate more efficiently.
- Reward yourself for time well spent by planning an activity you will enjoy.
- Decide a time to finish as well as start so you know when you are free for other activities.
- "I haven't the time" ...Try and think of it in terms of an investment for ever!!
- "I feel guilty unless I'm working" ....Taking time out will help you work effectively.
- "It's no good, it'll never work" ...Avoid abandoning your new efforts too soon. It is easy to feel disheartened, but keep going.
- "I'll do it tomorrow" ...Avoidance increases anxiety, so "just do it".
Try to remember: the aim of managing your time is to spend time doing the things that help you achieve your goals and the things that you personally prioritise and value.
- Manage your Mind Butler G and Hope T (1996) Oxford University Press
- Overcoming Anxiety Kennerley H (1997) Robinson
- The Good Study Guide Northedge A (1990) The Open University
- Principles of Stress Management Peiffer V (1996) Thorsons
- Understanding Stress Wilkinson G (1997) British Medical Association
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