Work Smarter, Not Harder: Time Management for Students

Baltasar Gracian allegedly once said: “All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”

Time is a great equalizer: we all have 24 hours in a day. As such, time management is a skill that we all know we should develop.

Good time management is one of the most useful skills, as it will be relevant at essentially every stage in life, whether you’re a student or the CEO of a company.

Here are four reasons time management is an important skill to develop:

  1. Effective time management allows you to work smarter, not harder. If you focus your efforts on specific tasks and understand your larger goals, you’ll accomplish more with less time.
  2. Managing your time can help ease stress. If you take the time to sit down, understand the actionable items you need to undertake to complete your goals, and set aside space in your week to accomplish those tasks, you will be left with less mental clutter.
  3. Managing your time frees you. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the things we are trying to accomplish that in an attempt to try and get as much done as possible, we neglect to take time for ourselves. This is a particularly ineffective long-term strategy, as it can quickly leave us feeling overworked, burnt out, and, ultimately, steer us further away from what we are trying to accomplish.
  4. Consistently practicing good time management strategies develops self-discipline, which in turn helps us eliminate bad habits, such as procrastination.

Make sure your strategy is right for you.

While there are many different time management strategies, it is important to find a strategy that is realistic and right for you. Not every strategy will be a great fit, and some may have to be adjusted along the way. Do not expect perfection right off the bat.

One major reason people give up on their time management strategies is because their expectations are too high. Such strategies result in idealistic schedules, which are often unrealistic because they have been developed when individuals have already fallen behind and are trying to catch up.

For example, while it is theoretically possible to study for six hours straight  and get through all seven chapters of your textbook and all 200 practice questions AND all of the lecture material for your midterm, it is highly unlikely that you will actually stick to this plan. (Believe me, I’ve tried… this example may or may not be based on a true story.)

Give yourself time to adjust to your newly-adopted time management strategy.

Sometimes, life is more than just the fine details you’ve scheduled into your calendar. Forgive yourself for any minor slip ups. If you find yourself veering too far off course, it’s perfectly acceptable to change your strategy.  Your life will inevitably change, and your time management systems will have to adapt. As the saying goes, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Take your time with your work and assignments.

While it can seem tedious or feel like you have no time due to an upcoming deadline, you will get more out of the assignment by taking your time.

Break down large, daunting tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can perform over a longer period of time.

When I was in my fourth year, I took a seminar course. This involved reading primary and secondary scientific literature and providing a critique paper based on readings. I would not have been able to sit down and write a full critique each week if I hadn’t broken down each paper into its individual components and tackled each component one at a time.

Even if the task seems insignificant to your overall assignment, write it down on your to-do list. When writing my reading critiques, I broke down my tasks into something like the following:

  • Read the primary and supplementary papers
  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Create an outline
  • Write:
    • Introduction
    • Body
    • Conclusion
    • Works cited
  • Review and revise

Make sure you give yourself enough time to complete tasks carefully. This is where prioritization becomes important. Once again, in theory you could write an essay in a night, but by spreading out your tasks over a larger stretch of time, you are allowing yourself the flexibility to take your assignment in a completely different direction, should you wish to do so. (You also free yourself from the anxiety of pulling an all-nighter!)

In third year, I was on a tight schedule, but nonetheless took on a research project. Come April, I was exhausted and procrastinating on writing my final paper. I ended up sleeping four hours over a total of two days to get my final paper to my professor by the deadline. I like to call this time in my life my “this is fine” moment.

If I had taken the time to sit down to make a plan and asked for help as issues came up instead of trying to manage everything on my own, I would have gotten more sleep and significantly reduced my stress levels. In short, do as I say and not as I do.

In conclusion

Time management is something we all say we will work on in the future, but there is no time like the present. This week, challenge yourself to consider what your goals are and start making a road map for the upcoming months.

Check back soon, as I will be sharing some more tips, methods, and strategies for productivity, time management, and scheduling!

In the meantime, here are some helpful resources on time management:

York University: University Time Management

Entrepreneur: 15 Time Management Tips for Achieving Your Goals

University of Kent: How to Manage Your Time Effectively

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