Time management is potentially the most useful skill you can attain in college. This skill spills over into all aspects of your life. It’s going to affect class, homework, social life, and your job. Social media can disrupt it, and students who work part-time seem to figure it out sooner.
There are an incredible amount of effective time management strategies. And while I don’t have any kind of special training in time management, I did get through my entire high school and college career with my homework accomplished a week ahead of time. I rarely had to do homework on Saturdays, and I never did homework on Sundays. Also, I had a part-time job, and I loved going out with friends. I participated in different clubs on campus and went to my fair share of parties. I’m not good at a lot of things, but time management is something I feel like I have down. I’ll tell you a couple of time management tips that have helped me tremendously.
Though this article is specifically about time management strategies for college students, I have used this method past college and still seem to accomplish everything I set out to do. Developing time management skills is something that is going to make your college life, and life beyond, better.
My Personal Time Management Strategies
Reminders and Calendars
How to manage time was something I began to develop in high school. My time management strategies have developed since then as they moved from a student planner everyone received in school to my phone. I now do everything on an app provided by my iPhone, but I’m sure there are plenty of apps you can get on an Android that will work just as effectively.
The app I use on my phone is called “Reminders.” Start by clicking the little plus icon found in the top right corner. A little menu pops up at the bottom; select “List.” I have created a list for every day of the week. There are things that I have to do daily, and there are things I only have to do on Wednesdays or Sundays, etc. Having a list for each day makes it possible for me to have those day-specific things always available and in front of my eyes.
For example, trash day is on Wednesday for me. I want to create more than one to-do list because I don’t want to forget about trash day, but I don’t want to have it sit there for an entire week. I also don’t want to have to remember it on my own each week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays hold my task to “Play the piano,” and Sundays hold my task to work on some family history. Those are tasks I want to accomplish, but I don’t want to do them every day. I just want to be reminded about them on the day of. I rather just put it on Wednesday and then be able to forget about it until the day comes. Each day holds my tasks that have to be accomplished daily.
For example, I put “Workout” as a daily task. As I accomplish them, I can simply click the open circle icon next to the task, and it disappears. When I get to the end of the day, I click on the “Show Completed” near the bottom of the application. It pulls up everything I finished that day so that I can once again click the circles next to the tasks. This causes them to reappear on the to-do list for me to accomplish the next week.
That will get you going for daily tasks, but what about tasks you want to accomplish once a week? I tend to put those on Sundays. Then whenever I find extra time throughout the week, I go and complete those as well. For example, I put meal planning under my Sunday list, but I usually accomplish it earlier in the week. By the time I get to Sunday, I don’t usually have much to do and I take it as a rest day.
Monthly and Annual Tasks
There are also tasks that come up that will only happen once a month or even once a year. Those tasks usually consist of doctor’s appointments, plans I’ve made to meet up with a specific friend, or times when I have family coming to visit. Honestly, they can consist of anything. They are things I definitely don’t want to forget though. They are also tasks that tend to get planned far in advance. Let’s say I schedule a doctor’s appointment for a couple weeks out. I don’t want to write “Doctor’s appointments 4:00 pm” on my Tuesday list and have to look at it for the next few weeks or try to remember which Tuesday it is. Instead, I put these events directly into my calendar app on my phone. As soon as something gets planned, it goes directly into my calendar app.
This is one of the conveniences I’ve found about doing everything on my phone. I used to have a paper planner that I loved. However, I didn’t always have it on me to write in these kind of events on the day they were supposed to happen. Essentially, this meant that things were forgotten, or I had to text them to myself so that I wouldn’t forget it later when I got to my planner. While it worked, it wasn’t the most convenient thing to do. I had a hard time transitioning to my phone at first, but I eventually grew to love it because I ALWAYS had it on me.
Sometimes, it can be annoying to go back and forth between your to-do lists and calendar on your phone. It can be easy to look at one and not the other and find yourself double-booked, or things can potentially fall through the cracks. In order to remedy this in my own life, I added the task of “Calendar” to my Sunday to-do list. Every Sunday, I go through the current week in my calendar and put it on my to-do lists.
For example, that doctor’s appointment that I didn’t have for a couple of weeks, as soon as it came up in my calendar, I would write it in for that Tuesday. When Tuesday came around, instead of clicking on the small circle next to that particular task, I would swipe the task right which allowed me to delete it altogether. That way, it wouldn’t show up again the next week.
The Five-Priority Rule
The five priority rule is actually the original concept that helped me to develop my time management skills. It’s where it all began for me. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s what it’s officially called, but I had a mentor teach it to me when I was really young.
This mentor told me a story about a company that was looking to improve its efficiency. They had spent a significant amount of money in an attempt to improve the productivity and time management schedules for their employees to no avail. They hired a new consultant under the condition that they would only pay him if he actually helped the company to improve.
Instead of teaching a system like the one I just described to you, this consultant taught the company to start the day out with a two-minute planning session. In this planning session, all you were to do was write the five most important things that needed to be accomplished that day. You get bonus points for putting them in order or priority too. Then you simply begin working on the first task, and you work and work and work until that task is accomplished and you move on to the next. If you got to the end of the day, you might find yourself with two more tasks that need to get accomplished and so you write those down for the next day.
Getting Started is Crucial
Instead of planning significant amounts of time trying to figure out what you need to do, you simply get started. And it made all the difference in my life. Not only did I manage to stay ahead in my homework, I have found that as a mother of two kids now, I can still accomplish a lot of my own personal goals while allowing for plenty of downtime at night. I can get stuff done in an organized and efficient manner. The five-priority rule eventually evolved to the strategy you read about above. And I found myself accomplishing far more than I ever had before. I also found myself with plenty of downtime and no stress because I knew what I was accomplishing. I knew I didn’t have a ton left to do. Also, I found myself not having to worry about things I was forgetting about.
One of the ways that this prioritization rule evolved for me was being able to switch back and forth between tasks that were available at the moment. For example, when I found myself having to drive somewhere, I knew that there were a lot of tasks on my list that I couldn’t do while driving. I kept moving down my priority list until I found a task that could be accomplished while driving. I try to practice something music-related three times a week. Often, I aim to practice the piano, but on particularly busy days, I pull up singing videos on my phone in the car to practice with instead. Though there are priorities ahead of my “music goal” on my to-do list, I’m able to transition between tasks and get far more done.
When you’re not immediately doing something, refer to your to-do list and keep moving down your priorities until you find something that you’re capable of doing in that exact moment and situation.
If my above strategy is a little too overwhelming for you at first, start with the five prioritization rule. It’s easy and you can do it; I promise. It gets rid of all the time wasted while trying to figure out what to start with, and it allows you to jump into a task with both feet. It also gets rid of all the time wasted on extra stress because you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Your own strategy will most likely develop from there.
How to improve time management is not only a useful skill but an individualized skill. Some people prefer the paper to-do lists, and others prefer something far less complex than the strategy I wrote about above. Any kind of time management strategies for students will be helpful though so start with one, and let it develop as you go on. Take some of the principles I’ve taught (at least the five priority rule), and let it start you out. It will vastly improve your quality of life as you find yourself with more accomplished and more stress-free downtime.