It’s an understatement to say that I had to learn to manage time effectively in the last two years at my college, recently ranked #1 for having students who study the most.
Heading into my third year and fifth(!) semester, I looked back at the times I made major mistakes and how I managed to climb out of those pitfalls. Here are three (four) things that I do.
1. Maximize calendar use.
I’m not a very organized person, but the one thing that I have had to learn to do in college was use a calendar for classes. My very first semester, my calendar was just that — classes. I have since evolved, and use my calendar a little differently. This is roughly what my calendar looks like on Sunday night.
The purple marks classes and brown marks campus jobs; both mark events that happen every week. Green denotes random events. Standard, right?
This is what it looks like on Friday night.
Blue denotes what I did during that time, which I add into the calendar every night, after I’ve done those things. I simply write what I worked on for which class, and mark for how long.
This not only helps me understand how much time I spend on each class or activity, but it also helps me understand where I’m wasting time, or how. If I start seeing big chunks of either blue or white, I can visually perceive that I’m maybe spending a little too long on something, or maybe not spending enough time on another thing.
Moreover, this helps me set priority to which to-do items I should be working on, which leads me to the next point.
2. Be a smart procrastinator.
I used to be in the habit of doing things the order they were due, and thought that this had to be the most logical way to do things.
It makes intuitive sense that if I have an assignment due tomorrow versus an assignment due next week, I should work on the assignment due tomorrow first. Some inverse function between time remaining and priority (more time = lower pri).
Except the function should be more like priority = (1/time remaining) + time needed to finish the assignment.
For starters, you should never be in the position where you haven’t even started on an assignment due tomorrow. Why?
- if you have an assignment due tomorrow that was assigned to you today, it is highly likely the assignment takes little time
- if you have an assignment that takes a long time, it is highly likely the assignment was assigned to you some time ago.
It’s essentially a vicious cycle. If you devote your attention to the things that are due first, rather than the things that take longer to do, you will run out of time to do what takes more time. And yes, this means I’m telling you to procrastinate, but procrastinate on the things that take less time.
Plus, the real magic of doing this is that you will almost never run into a situation where you are pressed by time. Compartmentalization works; spending 1 hour on a project everyday for a week is indeed different from spending 7 hours in one sitting. I sound like your old high school lit teacher, but that equation makes more logical sense to me than “don’t try to write this paper the night before.” At the least, this is how I found motivation not to “procrastinate.”
3. Have a morning (or night) routine.
Towards the end of last semester, I was in absolute shambles. There were things happening on campus that tore me down. Over the summer, I created for myself a morning routine to help me get back on track.
I’m someone who enjoys the quiet (or fun!) of the 2am night, but does better when I wake up at 5am. In other words, I have a morning routine. If you’re a night owl, make a night routine.
My morning routine sounds complicated but the goal is straightforward: get ready.
I wake up and do a quick workout or run. After a shower I make coffee or tea and eat a full breakfast. While eating, I spend 10–20 minutes doing something that activates my brain (like listening to a science podcast or reading the news attentively, currently I’m learning Hebrew on Duolingo). Lastly, I do something meditative or decompressing, like reading a daily comic strip or doing dishes (that’s just me, apparently) or prepping lunch.
This literally gets my body and brain ready for the day. But this also means I spend anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours preparing and getting ready for the day. Yes, this means I sleep early or sleep fewer hours, but it’s worth it. I feel awake, alive and ready for the rest of the day. Plus I’m also exhausted by 11pm and have a good night’s sleep.
I cheat sometimes and sleep in on weekends, but the morning routine stays the same. It takes the body 21 days to create a habit, so it gets easier with time.
For night routines, I would do something similar, except get everything ready for tomorrow before heading to bed so the moment you get up, you feel rested and not rushed to do anything at all in the morning. Get ready to be ready.
You may ask me: why be so anal? My answer: your time is precious, but it’s entirely under your control. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not surprisingly, most of that time is spent being idle. If you get your body into the habit of doing things on a regular basis, you spend less time thinking about what to do instead of actually doing them. You spend more time being more productive and healthy. Your body naturally expects to do things at specified times, and learns to expect time management. Sounds nearly crazy.
Bonus. Make plans for 10 years from now.
Once in a while, whenever it trickles into my head, I do this ritual that sounds ridiculous at first.
I make plans for:
today, this week, the next 2 weeks, the next month, the next 6 months, the next year, the next 2 years, the next 5 years and the next 10 years.
An example from today (times have been written in Korean):
Yes, the last section is for 10 years, and yes, it says be “fuckn famous” and “box in a match.”
The point here is that I make expectations for myself that are far too high. The things I wrote for today and tomorrow and this week are relatively reasonable. It definitely is just a to-do list of things that I know I have to finish. But as soon as it hits the month-level time frame, the content becomes ambitious: saving money, maintaining some ridiculous GPA, starting new projects. Under 6 months I have: find speaking opportunity. This is more of what I want to do to be the person I want to be in 10 years. Under 5 years I have a long term goal: find a second job involving the work I want to do for nonprofit. Again, long term goals, dreams, things I wish to be.
The goal of this exercise is to stretch my mind and consciously think about what the bigger picture of my life looks like. Especially during the school year, I get depressed by the routine and tedious tasks that never seem to get anywhere. This helps me take a big step back and rethink for myself where I want to be. It doesn’t matter if I don’t achieve these things; I write them thinking they are overambitious for the exact reason that I don’t want to feel pressured, just reminded.
On closing note, this is me and my life.
Time management is difficult. There are times when you simply cannot keep time under your control. In this way, time is a creature that is both yielding and stringent. When unexpected things come up, adjustments have to be made. Morning routines need breaking. Scheduling becomes a hassle and all you want is space to breathe. That’s why I think it’s more important to understand that managing time needs management on its own. No one method will be a save-all, cure-all method. I hope you the reader can take some things I’ve written here and apply bits of it to yourself, perhaps tweak it or make your own. In the end, you want to be less stressed, not more. Be happy, not worried.