In the Office of Student Services, we talk a lot about time management. There never seems to be enough hours in the day, and we often feel overwhelmed by growing to-do lists and multiple advancing deadlines. Sheila Reindl, associate director of the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC), summarizes this concept well. “To manage our time well, we need to attend to both practicalities and perspectives,” she says. “Practical strategies matter. At the same time, when we recognize strategies as good ideas but then don’t use them, it’s worth considering the mindsets, assumptions, beliefs, and core commitments that influence our relationship to time.”
Reindl observes that, “Much of time management could be considered discomfort management and energy management. How can we create and cultivate habits, rituals, and orientations that support our spending time in the service of what matters to us? And how can we bear the uncertainty, doubt, and other uncomfortable experiences that are naturally a part of doing creative, intellectual work—and that can lead us to avoid engagement with our learning?”
Here are some time-management strategies for your consideration.
Do a Self-Inventory
Part of being productive and working toward your goals is knowing how you work best. Think through the following questions to evaluate what works and doesn’t work well for you.
At what time of day are you the most productive? (morning, afternoon, evening)
- Where do you work best? (at home, at the library, in lab)
- How much time does it take to perform a task? (reading, writing, research)
- Which assignments are you most concerned about?
- How do you prepare to do work?
- How do you organize your work?
- Do you procrastinate?
- Do you avoid the tough projects?
- What distracts you from getting work done? (social media, perfectionism)
- How do rest and nutrition affect your concentration?
Make a Plan
It is easy to become stressed out when you are trying to balance many projects and deadlines at once. Start by making a list of every task, no matter how big or small. Chart out the tasks, working backwards from their deadlines and adding them to a calendar. That way you will have a good sense of how to manage your time for each assignment or project far in advance of its deadline. Try keeping a to-do list with a mix of big goals and small daily tasks. This will allow you to prioritize which tasks need to be done and in what order.
- Be honest about time that is already accounted for—classes, meetings, appointments, commuting, meals
- Break down large projects into smaller tasks
- Take breaks
Develop a system that works for you. Make sure that you have your materials gathered and organized, so when it is time to start a project, you are not scrambling for missing pieces. Set up your work space for optimal productivity and make sure you have all your resources prepared. Also, experiment with tools to organize your literature, data, or lab notes to make them more accessible, including bookmarks for websites and organizing electronic files. Ask other students what organizational systems work for them. It’s worth the upfront time because being organized saves time later!
Still Struggling with Time Management?
Don’t worry, there are resources to help you talk through strategies.
- The Bureau of Study Counsel
- The GSAS Center for Writing and Communicating Ideas
- The Office of Student Services
Make sure to schedule time for taking care of yourself. Sleeping, exercising, and eating healthily are all important to your health, wellness, and productivity. Giving yourself a reward for completing one task can serve as good motivation to power through other tasks (an episode of a favorite show, a cupcake, or dinner with friends.) As Reindl advises, “We need to learn how to stay connected to sources of meaning, purpose, and vitality that help to fuel our efforts, especially when things get challenging.”
Ultimately, you can’t add more hours to the day, but you can try new approaches to managing your time.