As finals quickly approach, students are being inundated with essays, projects, and tests in the teachers’ mad rush to squeeze the rest of the curriculum into the back end of the semester. For most sophomores and many juniors and seniors, it’s never been more important to have good time management skills. The elusive question remains: how to develop them?
That’s the question I’ll try to address here today. It’s a little ironic, me settled into my comfy it’s-Thursday-and-there’s-no-homework-due-tomorrow bubble as I carefully ignore the ever-growing “Weekend Homework” pile at my back, but don’t worry about it: we’re ignoring it, after all.
In all seriousness, I hope my experience with time management will help you out. Remember that what works for me might not work for you — but you’ll never know until you try. And IMSA’s a learning laboratory, after all (okay, I can hear you all groaning… moving on).
- Keep a planner. If you take one thing away from this article, it’s this. There are too many assignments floating around, from trivial to 20% of your grade, to trust that it won’t be lost in your memory. Plus, these assignments are constantly cycling – some will go away tomorrow and more will pop up. Without a planner, it’s easy for that one assignment to get lost in the shuffle. Write assignments down as soon as they’re assigned and, at the end of the day, make a mental review to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
- Prioritize. Sometimes, you won’t have enough time to get everything done. In these cases, you have to prioritize. Even when you’re able to get everything done, prioritizing will help you know where to start and help you avoid the stress of working on an assignment too close to the deadline. The planner can be useful here, too. On weekends, for example, I write out all my homework in one big list. Then, I assign each assignment a number. The ten’s digit represents a due date and the one’s number represents the order in which the assignments are due. So, the third assignment due on Tuesday will be labeled 23. Then, I follow the numbers in ascending order, with some flexibility. I know that, no matter what, I have to finish everything beginning with a 0 or a 1, because those assignments are due sometime over the weekend or on Monday, respectively.
- Overestimate how long assignments will take. If you think an assignment will take 30 minutes, plan for it to take 45. Often, the work will take longer than you expect, so overestimating allows you to account for any uncertainty. Plus, you’re now more likely to finish earlier than planned, which can be a nice bonus.
- Find a rhythm that works for you. Every once in a while, I entertain the idea that I can be a time management god. My plan is to procrastinate but in reverse. As soon as something is assigned, I do it, even if it’s due in a week. I frontload all my homework and enjoy the respites this grants me later on. And inevitably, as happens every time, I burn out, and I’m more stressed than before. I need to pace myself, balancing my homework over longer periods of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is true for most people, but it’s not necessarily true for everybody. So, the key is to find the rhythm that works for you. If you find yourself unduly stressed even though you’re completing all your homework on time, it might be the cadence of how you do it.
- Think of your future self as a friend. This is a quick anti-procrastinator trick for whenever you need to force yourself to do an assignment in the moment. Whenever I procrastinate, I tell myself that I can just do it later. After all, I’m the same person, so I’m not hurting anyone by pushing it back a little further. Right? Maybe, but it’s not a useful mindset. Instead, think of your future self as a friend. They’re counting on you to get your share of the work done. If you don’t, you’re making a friend pick up your slack and do things you should’ve already had done. Think of how frustrated you’ve been with your past self when they didn’t do any work. Do you want to make your future self – your friend – feel like that?
Time management is a tricky business, and you won’t become master of it in a day. But, by being dedicated and hopefully by employing some of the strategies seen here, you can keep on top of the workload and not turn in your next essay two minutes before it’s due.