You’ve probably seen them, those students who perhaps remind you of yourself in your first year of college: they come in late.
They spend ten minutes trying to organize their materials. When you collect papers, they don’t have theirs ready yet, saying they will get it to you “tomorrow.” They consult their day planner and then realize they have two big tests coming up this week and important appointments and practices to attend—at least they think so because they may not have actually noted them on their schedules or may not have noted them correctly. Sometimes they fall asleep in class, or they come up to you after class, desperate, looking for help, and then you learn they are taking eighteen units, playing a sport that requires almost daily practice, as well as working part time. You realize then you are dealing with a student with poor time management skills—they take on too many commitments and don’t know how to organize or plan their schedules to address all of those commitments. There are methods, however, to help such students, and most students, in fact, can benefit from instruction in managing schedules and time.
Principles of Time Management
Discuss with students their goals and priorities. What is most important to you as a student? Earning your degree as quickly as possible? Getting straight “As”? Working your way through college and graduating without debt? Taking part in sports, theater, and other extracurricular activities? Any of these are obtainable, but probably not all at once—someone who wants to take part regularly in sports or theater, for example, is probably not going to be able to take all the units necessary to graduate in three years; someone committed to getting straight “As” may have to take out loans because working long hours will usually result in fewer study hours and lower grades. Students must themselves then decide which are their largest priorities—grades, job, or sport. While one or two of these goals are certainly obtainable, not all are—at least, not at the same time.
Learn to say “no” to extra commitments
Some students wind up overcommitted because they haven’t yet learned to say “no”—“no” to serving on student council because they are already have a paid job, for example, or “no” to taking on a leadership position within their sorority or fraternity because they are taking eighteen units. They may even need to say “no” to their bosses on working extra hours because of their school schedule. Saying “no” is not a pleasant experience for most of us, but if done politely and honestly, it is better than the alternative of, for example, agreeing to work during the time of scheduled classes and then hope somehow this will somehow be all right (I have known students to do this.) Being upfront about what you can and cannot do results in fewer misunderstandings and less poor performance and hurt feelings down the road.
Budget time for daily needs
Again, students should recognize they are mortal and must budget time for daily needs such as eating and sleeping and then other regular if not daily needs of going to the doctor, dentist, maintaining a car, doing laundry, and so forth.
Not to do so may result in illness, a car that breaks down, desperate searches for a clean set of clothing—all of which take up more time than regularly maintenance of oneself and one’s possessions.
Build organizational skills
Time spent looking for lost books, papers, wallets, and keys wastes time. Getting lost and driving around aimlessly or looking for the correct train route also wastes time. This is time that can be better spent on studying, working, or building relationships. Therefore, students should keep reference lists or databases of such important information as phone numbers and directions regularly used so that time is not wasted on searching for numbers or getting lost. In addition, allocate a specific place for each item, and return it to that place when finished. Finally, keep a daily schedule and budget time for study, work, doing laundry, and so forth. Note important appointments and due dates so that they aren’t forgotten and then have to be rescheduled, which wastes more time. Organizational skills like these will help students throughout college and beyond.
Build in time for rest, exercise, and socializing
As important as work is, rest, exercise, and socializing is also important—regular relaxation and exercise being vital to physical health and socialization to mental health as we are beings meant to live in a community. In addition, it is through regular meetings, parties, lunches, and other get-togethers with students and faculty that students will make valuable connections and learn social skills that are arguably as valuable as the work and academic skills they are learning in class.
Teaching Time Management
Link to the curriculum
Learning about time management may seem to students initially as—well, a waste of time, particularly if they already feel they have good time management skills or that a content class is not the place to be addressing the issue. One way to address the concern is to connect the topic to the course content—either through readings and discussions that introduces higher level vocabulary and concepts or by demonstrating how managing time well can result directly in improved study habits and grades.
Discussion about time management can be teacher-led or small group. The topic is almost always interesting to students as we almost all have over–taxed schedules. Have students discuss priorities and methods they currently use for time management, and have them share their ideas and methods on managing time. Often this will result in students seeing gaps in their methods—indeed it’s common for students to see they have no real current principle of time management, and that it is itself a concern. Students also are able to learn from each other important methods of managing schedules that they had not thought of.
Teach the fine arts of scheduling, budgeting, and keeping databases of important information: students often have little or no experience with this, and showing students that the calendar application on their smart phones, for example, has an actual purpose and features that can really help them in scheduling, is often enlightening. Students often have never even used a more traditional paper calendar, such as a day planner, and keep their commitments on scraps of paper or in stray places in binders and wallets. Showing them how to organize all the material in one place will free up mental as well as physical space: there will be less worry, for example, about what may have been forgotten.
Activities and practice
Have students discuss with each other worksheets that assist them in setting goals, for example, or demonstrate through modeling and practicing setting up a schedule. Discuss common scenarios and then have students role play polite ways to set limits on all the people who invariably make demands on our time and human limits: family, friends, roommates, and employers. Having student practice will get them in the mental habit of setting priorities and scheduling time.
Learning time management and organizational skills isn’t easy, and in fact they are complex skills perhaps learned incrementally over a lifetime, not in one class.
But getting students in the habit of thinking of how to manage their limited time from the outset sets them on a course for success in the rest of college and their careers.