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Thomson Nelson > Higher Education > Canadian Criminal Justice: A Primer 2nd Edition > 

Time Management Tips

Being a good time manager will help you to be a successful student. Many successful students are involved in much more than just schoolwork, and are able to achieve a balance between studying and other activities. You will find, at different times in the school year, that you apply different time management principles depending on current needs. Here are some principles to help you manage your time effectively:

1. Set academic goals.
If you set clear academic goals you will find that it is easier to stay motivated to do school work, even when the going gets tough. Some of your goals will related to your future career, future educational plans, your current program of study, as well as to the day-to-day completion of study tasks.

2. Plan ahead and record important events.
One of the frustrating aspects of school life is that, often, deadlines all arrive together. There may be one week, especially around the middle of the term, when you have several big assignments to hand in as well as a number of mid-term tests to study for. If you have not planned ahead for such a situation, then you may have a very real problem.

If you want to keep deadlines under control, it is important to have a system for recording important test dates and assignment due dates. It is also just as important to record important personal or social events that will take additional time away from studying. Your system for recording dates should be easy to access, so that you are reminded frequently of these upcoming major events. Many students use a wall calendar above or on their desks. It is a good idea to record important dates in more than one way, for example, also in a day planner or on a weekly timetable.

3. Locate useful resources.
If you want to make the best use of your time you will want to know those people and places that can be useful resources if you need them. The obvious resource for a student is the teacher. Often, classes are large and you will find that you do not have much personal contact with teachers, however, many teachers set "office hours" for students in their classes. You can meet with a teacher during office hours to discuss any problems that you may be experiencing.

Colleges usually provide many other support resources. If students are good consumers of these services, this can make learning an efficient activity. Services can range from "help centres" for key courses, tutorial services, typing, computing and photocopying services, to counselling and library services. You should explore the resources that are available to you so that when you need to use them, you know where they are located and times when they are available.

4. Find and use a good work location.
One of the biggest time wasters for students is poor concentration. Students report that they spend too much time daydreaming or looking around to check out what is going on around them. It is very important to find a work location, or combination of work locations, in which you can concentrate and get work done. You know that you have an efficient system when you can both work hard and play hard. That is, when you spend time studying you should get through a reasonable quantity of work, without wasting too much time. Then you can feel good about spending time with friends or in other activities of your choice.

You will know what type of location works for you. Maybe it is the library of a study room in school or in residence. It might be your own room or even the kitchen table in the middle of a busy house. Some students require absolute silence while others like some noise and activity going on around them. You will have to make the right choice for yourself (see Distractions)

5. Know and use your "best times."
Are you an early morning person, a daytimer, evenings only, a midnight owl, or a little bit of all four? The early morning person is alert as soon as he or she wakes in the morning and can get down to work between 6:00 and 8:00 am. Daytimers are your regular 9:00 am to 5:00 pm people. They like to make full use of hours in between classes so that when they go home of back to residence they can spend most of the time relaxing. Perhaps the most common work pattern of all is that of the evenings only crowd. They get their best work done between 7:00 and 11:00 pm. Then there are night owls who only get going around 10:00 pm when others around them may be thinking of going to bed. In the quiet, early hours of the morning, the night owls are working away.

Only you can judge the time of day at which you are more mentally alert. If you can make good use of your best times, you can work most efficiently. If you claim to be a night owl, think carefully about your reasons for establishing this pattern. Many students fall into this pattern because they have a problem dealing with distractions. When everyone else is sleeping, many of the distractions are removed. You may need to rethink your management of non-studying activities.

6. Make "to do" lists.
When you write a list of tasks that you wish to complete you achieve three very important goals.

i) You track what has to be done. As you think about your goals, you itemize all of the components that are part of the end product. It is easy to run out of time if you underestimate what is involved in completing an assignment or learning a new concept by not making a careful evaluation of demands of the task.

ii) As you make your list you will naturally prioritize the items. What has to be done first and what can wait until later?

iii) By writing down the items you make a more concrete commitment to getting the work done. It is almost as though you are writing a contract with yourself. You intend to complete the items from the list.

At first, you may underestimate the time required for completing tasks. With practice, though, it is possible to make the lists specific to your needs with reasonable and relevant items. For the list to be most useful, it should be readily accessible and updated regularly.

One warning though— making lists does not get the work done. It is only the first step. A student may get sidetracked and spend hours of valuable time making lists and planning work, but never doing it, and that is not useful at all.

7. Flag start dates.
For big tasks, such as completing an essay or studying for an important test, you will need to plan very carefully. For example, if you have several big tests at the end of term, you may need to start your review several weeks in advance. When you have estimated how long the review will take, choose a starting date and record it on your calendar and also in your daytimer. If you plan your major tasks carefully and record starting dates well in advance, you will not find yourself running out of time or getting overwhelmed with major competing tasks.

8. Subdivide one large task into many smaller tasks.
Seeing a task as a major undertaking can be very counter-productive. For example, a student who was experiencing writer‚ s block had at the top of her "to do" list, #1— Write Essay. It was such an enormous undertaking that she had come to a complete standstill. Once she began to itemize manageable tasks for each week, she began to accomplish her larger goal. Being able to make small tasks out of one large one is an important part of effective time management.

9. Plan each day.
Although all of your time management planning is important, it is the daily planning that is most closely linked to getting work done. Each evening, you should think about the next day. How many classes do you have? What are the most pressing tasks? Do you have any non-school commitments? How is your energy level and what do you think you can realistically accomplish tomorrow? Ideally, you should set goals of what you‚ d like to get done, make decisions about where and when you are going to study, and locate any materials or other resources that you will need for the job.

If you have materials at hand and clear goals about what you wish to accomplish, you will find that it is easier to get started. You will not have to go through the step of asking yourself, "What shall I do today?" You will know where you have to begin.

10. Engage in time-saving tasks.
If you want to be a very efficient learner and use your time well, you need to think carefully about ways of saving time. There are many such ways and you will need to think about what is appropriate to your own situation.

One way to save time is to always attend class, unless you have a very good reason for missing it. It always takes longer to obtain and decipher notes from another student. You may miss key explanations or information about the course. Sometimes students will think that they can get the information just as readily from the textbooks, but these same students are often in trouble with their marks. Think through very carefully your decisions to miss class.

Another way to save time is to read through class notes within 24 hours of taking them. Check that you fully understand the ideas, that you have recorded the information clearly, and try to see how the details in the lecture relate to the theme or big picture. A little time in consolidation of ideas can save a lot of time in the long run.

11. Be flexible.
Not all weeks in the school year will be equally busy. However well you plan, there will be some weeks when everything falls ready at the same time. You may have several assignments due and tests to write with very little time in between. On the other hand, there will be other weeks without such immediate pressure. Some of the most successful students are people who can be flexible. If the chips are down, and if it is one of those weeks when the pressure is on, they can respond positively and put in that extra push that is needed. Some people thrive on pressure while others fall apart. It is critical to know your limits and to manage your time within those limits. Flexibility of effort within reasonable limits is typical of an effective time manager.

Being flexible, however, does not mean leaving everything to the last minute, followed by "all nighters" to catch up on work to be done. The successful time manager is the student who plans flexibility into his or her schedule.

12. Evaluate your progress.
If you actively plan your time, evaluation of progress naturally follows. As you plan each day, you will evaluate whether or not you achieved the goals that you set for yourself. Monitoring your progress and accomplishments is an important component of effective time management. If you are not happy with how you are feeling, or with what you are accomplishing, you may need to rethink your initial goals.

Source: From Joan Fleet and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1994), pp. 24-30.


Internal Distractions

You will lose concentration while studying if you are uncomfortable physically. You may be too hot, too hungry, or too full. The light level may be straining your eyes, or the position in which you are studying may cause your neck or back to hurt. Consequently, you may find that you begin to think about a whole range of different things, none of them associated with the course material. Setting the environment for study is important to managing concentration. Your determination to pursue your studying in an active way can be gauged by whether or not you can use some of the following self-management strategies to control internal distractions and increase your level of concentration:

  • Define a specific objective to be completed in a limited time frame. This can avoid the vagueness of an approach such as "I‚ ll do as much as I can on Tuesday evening." In contrast, saying "I‚ m going to read five pages of sociology and make up three questions" can give you realistic goals to work toward.
  • Set up a method of self-testing the work you have covered in any hour. Knowing that you have to self-test will keep your focus on the task. The self-testing activities will increase your ability to recall material.
  • When your mind wanders from the topic at hand, put a check mark on a piece of paper. Monitoring the number of check marks you accumulate over several study sessions will allow you to monitor whether or not our attention span is improving.
  • Try "thought stopping" when you find yourself daydreaming. Some reflection, especially if some personal emergencies are interfering with study, can be productive. However, if this happens too often, say "STOP" mentally and then redirect your attention back to the work you are doing.
  • Use problem-solving techniques to deal with a persistently disturbing thought such as "Should I be looking for a part-time job?" Try this approach:
      • Move away from your study task.
      • Decide what is bothering you.
      • Look at why the issue is nagging away at you.
      • List the pros and cons of possible solutions to the problem.
      • Decide whether you can handle the issue by yourself or whether you need to consult with others.
      • Plan when and how to deal with this particular problem. Make a note of it, and then return to your studying.

External Distractions

Although finding a time and place for studying with few distractions will not guarantee concentration, it can make it easier for you to control your attention. Most of us can focus on only one main train of thought at a time. In your study experience, how difficult do you find it to ignore the following distractions?

  • Hearing a conversation near your desk
  • Sensing doors opening and shutting
  • Hearing the radio or TV in the room
  • Noticing traffic outside the room
  • Hearing specific loud noises (e.g., a siren)
  • Being interrupted by someone

Students will have different reactions to the distractions listed here, although few can ignore being interrupted by someone. Students who regularly work well in a particular setting learn to expect to concentrate in that place. This also holds true for getting used to working at certain times of the day.
  • Maintaining concentration will be easier if you:
  • Clear your desk of souvenirs, pictures, etc. These can be extremely distracting.
  • Arrange your desk so that it faces a blank wall. Even your studying should be more interesting that a blank wall.
  • Know which libraries suit you. Experiment until you find the ones in which you prefer to study.
  • Have the right level of noise in the background. Some students claim that they work better with a level of "white noise"; others like silence. Try different situations.

From Joan Fleet, Fiona Goodchild, and Richard Zajchowski, Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students, Third Edition (Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999), pp. 47-49.

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