I didn’t have it in elementary school, I certainly didn’t have it in high school, and only within the last two or three years of university have I even begun to grasp the idea of it. Perhaps one of life’s most important skills, it can mark the difference between a relaxed, stress-free pace of hour-long study sessions leading up to a test, and a frantic all-nighter of paper cuts and caffeine the day before. It can make the difference between actually completing an exam and not completing it, or between arriving to a job interview on time and showing up 20 minutes late. If you haven’t pieced it together yet, I’m talking about time management.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, the ability to effectively prioritize your time will always be important. In the context of university, however, there’s nothing worse than having an hour and a half worth of questions left on an exam with only 30 minutes left on the clock. Your answers suffer, your body begins to nervously contort in odd and unnatural ways, and in the end you’re left with a jumbled stack of sloppy penmanship, topped off with a sweat-stained circle where your writing hand was.
It’s unattractive, and it’s painful. So we’re here to help make sure that never happens to you again. As I said, I am by no means a master of the timeless art of time management, but I can tell you what has worked for me. York’s Learning Skills Services , which offer workshops on time management and other useful competencies, can fill in the rest.
Whether it’s studying for an exam, writing an essay, doing a lab or anything in between, the more often you commit your time to working, the less time it will feel like you’re working. The more you plan ahead and the earlier you start studying in advance, the shorter your daily study sessions can be.
If you have an exam coming up in two weeks, for example, and you begin studying right away, you can get away with pretty short intervals of focused study, whereas if you start preparing a week later, you will have to spend more time with your head in the books. For the mathematically inclined: Two weeks of studying one hour a day becomes one week of studying two hours a day, and so on.
Understanding the order in which a list of tasks needs to be accomplished is one of the most important elements of time management. The easiest way to explain this is to think of an exam. A typical exam is split into a number of sections, each consisting of a particular percentage of the final mark. Say you have a multiple-choice section worth 15 per cent, a short-answer section worth 35 per cent and an essay section worth 50 per cent. Seeing as how the essay component is worth the most, it would be wise to work on that section first, followed by the short-answer section and then finally the multiple-choice section. Besides possibly helping with your final grade, this approach also builds a sense of progress, as your getting the worst, or the most labour-intensive, task out of the way first.
Outside of exams, this concept can translate into understanding which project, reading or class in general is worth the most in terms of your time. Studying for a mid-term worth 50 per cent of your final grade might take priority over a weekly submission of questions worth 10 per cent. This is not to suggest that you should do one and leave the other be, but rather to remind you to take precedence and order into consideration.
This one requires a little self-discipline. The basic idea is to give yourself a set amount of time in which to accomplish a set amount of work. In the context of an exam, once again, it can translate into devoting a particular amount of time to each section. If it is a two-hour exam, for example, you could set aside an hour for the most substantial section, 30 to 45 minutes to the next most important area and then finally 15 to 30 minutes for the least substantial section. Obviously no one will be standing over you with a stopwatch keeping you on track, but just having a time limit in the back of your mind can help you keep moving in times of drag.
Applying this method to essays, to provide another example, might mean giving yourself deadlines by which to complete the different parts your essay. By next Wednesday, you will finish your introductory paragraph. By next Friday, the first body paragraph and so on. If you really want to push yourself, try throwing rewards and punishments into the mix.
Learn a due date? Write it down. Scheduled a group meeting? Punch it in. Finished a project? Cross it off. On top of the sense of accomplishment that comes with physically seeing your tasks drop off one by one, having your projects and dates written down can help you more accurately keep track of the ever-mounting list of things you have to do. No more of those “I completely forgot about that!” moments for you. In terms of where to keep your lists and schedules, suit yourself: most of us rely on our smartphones or laptops, but an old-fashioned notebook or agenda work just as well (some claim even better because of the physicality of writing with a pen, but the vote’s out on that one).
Take it from someone who has until this past year relied primarily on memory to keep everything in check that the improvement from simply writing things down is incredible.
That’s it from me. For more in-depth and personalized help, be sure to drop in on one of the many academic workshops hosted by York’s Learning Skills Services. To find the next available workshop on time management, check the LSS Calendar. I hope you find my suggestions helpful, even if not every one will appeal to you equally. Different methods are going to work for different people. When it comes down to it, you have 24 hours in a day. As a coworker of mine so neatly put it, “just do what you need to do to finish everything you need to finish.”