When Krista, a student at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale), was in high school, she participated in a lot of activities. She was involved with the theater department for four years, all of the school musicals, the choir, the swing choir, volleyball, the BETA Club (a club for honor students), the ALPHA Peer Leader program, National Honor Society, History Club, Lifesavers Program, and Spanish Club. She also was a Climate Change College role model. Outside of school, she was an active leader of her church youth group. During the summers, besides working, she volunteered at a day care center and a nursing home. Through all of it, she maintained an A average.
What helped Krista juggle all of these activities was a set of time management skills. “The most important tool I had was a daily planner,” says Krista. “I wrote everything in it. Having everything on paper helped me realize what I was doing and when I was doing it. That way, if something else came up, I could see if I had time for it.”
Lindsay, a freshman at Tulane University (New Orleans), was the valedictorian of her high school class. Besides studying, she kept busy With poms, cross-country and track, Scholar Bowl, Spanish Club, piano lessons and voice lessons, Computer Club, the ALPHA Peer Leader program, BETA Club, and the National Honor Society. “The most important time management tool for me was a Day Minder,” says Lindsay. “Sometimes it could be hard to remember to write things in it, but once I got into that habit, it was a great way to keep my life organized.” Lindsay also found it helpful to have a calendar on her wall where she could write reminders to herself of upcoming activities and appointments.
Is It Time to Be Responsible?
Fortunately for Krista and Lindsay, they began learning time management skills in junior high school. By the time they reached high school, the habits were starting to pay off. However, for both of them, junior year was when they really started to see results. “My mother always told me how important time management was, but I really started to realize it in high school,” says Lindsay. “In my junior year, I started trying to take care of everything myself.”
Krista adds: “In my junior year, I was taking a lot of difficult classes and had a lot of extracurricular activities, so I had to learn to be efficient with my time.”
Taming Time at College
When you first start college, you have a lot more free time between classes, which can be a temptation if you don’t know how to manage your time. But you also have more homework and other activities. In other words, you don’t really have more free time in the end. So, you just have to organize the time differently.
“College can make time management more difficult at first,” admits Krista. “One reason is that it’s so easy to spend time hanging out with other students in the dorm or in your department. You have to take more responsibility for managing your time, because you have more of it.” Krista had to learn to say “no” to certain social activities and other events at first, so that she would have enough time to study and sleep. “Otherwise, you can get burned out, and then it becomes really hard to catch up,” she adds. “However, if you do learn to manage your time well your first semester, you will be able to do more fun things your second semester because you will know how to manage your time better.”
Lindsay has found that her Day Minder and calendar are even more important in college than they were in high school. “I’m glad I got into the habit of using these in high school,” she states. “I plan out when I’m going to get my homework done for each class.”
“I still use my planner to this day,” adds Krista. “I write everything in it.”
A Final Tip
“There are a lot of ways to manage time that can work,” says Lindsay. “Don’t be afraid to try different things until you find the ones that work for you.”
When Traditional Time Management Doesn’t Work
“People are different,” says Krista, a freshman at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale). “I am just naturally an efficient person. For example, anytime I started doing something, I always asked myself if there was a more efficient way to do it.”
Not everyone is like Krista, though. If you struggle with time management and efficiency, what should you do? Ann McGee-Cooper is president of Ann McGee-Cooper & Associates in Dallas and author of the book Time Management for Unmanageable People. She suggests that you turn what you think are weaknesses into strengths. Here are some examples:
* If you are creative: Half of the population is “left-brained,” and the other half is “right-brained,” according to McGee-Cooper. If you are left-brained, traditional time management skills may be easy. If you are right-brained, you may need to come up with more creative ways to manage your time. “If you’re right-brained, you need to learn to work with your gift, not against it,” she says.
McGee-Cooper, who is right-brained, admits that such people find it hard to follow routines. “They may create a routine, but when they break it, they will feel like failures,” she says. “The solution is to find ways to thrive on change. Keep experimenting until you find a system that works for you. For example, it may mean taking breaks from studying once in a while, then coming back to what you’re doing.” Another thing that helped her in school was using different colored highlighters. “I found that I remembered more this way,” she explains. “I also liked multi-colored folders.”
* If you are social: McGee-Cooper is also very social, and this made it difficult for her to get homework done and other responsibilities fulfilled. “I solved this problem by finding a ‘study buddy,”‘ she says. Select someone who is good in the subjects you are not. Also make sure that the person you select has self-discipline, or you will both spend your time socializing, not studying. Become each other’s coach. “You can also combine fun with study,” she notes. “For example, maybe you can study 30 minutes, shoot baskets for a few minutes, and then come back to studying. However, remember to set a timer so that you do come back!”
* If you have a short attention span or have ADHD: McGee-Cooper has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). “In high school and college, I expected myself to sit and study for two hours,” she recalls. “I was never able to do that.” She soon realized that she would do much better with short blocks of study time, such as 15 or 20 minutes. She would focus for that time, then get up to do something else for a few minutes. Then she would come back to studying.
“Until I understood that, I felt like a failure,” she says. “I thought that I couldn’t stick with anything. I would study for a while, get up to do something else, then not come back. Now that I understand myself, it is easy and fun to go back and forth. When I am working, I work for a little while, then get up to water the plants or make a cup of tea. Then I can come back and focus again.