August 23, 2016

How I Manage My Time in College

When I was in high school, friends of mine would ask me how I managed my time so well. Three years later, as a junior in college, I still don't struggle with this. Last semester, I balanced five classes with an internship and a 9-12 hour work week; my assignments were complete 2-5 days in advance of the due date, I was getting my eight hours of sleep a night, and I was still living an actual life. This semester, I'm taking six classes, and once my job starts up again, I'll be working the same 9-12 hours a week. I'm also actively looking for another internship, intend to publish a blog post every day, Monday-Friday, and want to get more involved on campus. And I'm not worried.

Am I abnormal? Maybe. Probably. You could chalk up my lack of concern for getting everything that needs to get done, done, and done in time, to my being a perfectionist or an anti-procrastinator, but I really had to think about what to write for this post because how to manage my time is not something I really have to consider. If I was to offer tips, they would be the following.

+ Start outlining/brainstorming ASAP.

Seriously. When the professor hands out the writing prompt or dictates your next research assignment, immediately start thinking about what your angle can be and run through ideas in your head. Jot down whatever comes to mind, expanding briefly on those ideas with bullets or dashes or whatever you're into. Even if you don't look at your ideas again for two days, you wrote them down while your focus was on topic, so your slate is not completely blank. Now you can start knocking out the details.

+ Have a plan.

I'm lucky enough to have a job that allows me to get schoolwork done during off-hours, so I like to plan out which assignments I'm most likely to complete in between job tasks. I typically focus on smaller assignments, like article analyses or online accounting homework, than larger ones, like six-page research papers. Also determine whether you work best if you break a task up into smaller pieces or if getting it all done in one sitting is more productive.

+ Bring your materials with you.

What better time than an awkward gap between classes to work on that paper due Friday? But wait... in your mind's eye, you see the outline you made sitting on your desk at home. Don't be that person. Even if you are almost sure you won't have free time to work on something, if the materials you need are minimal and not heavy, just take them with you. You'll be so glad you did if/when you find yourself with some time you need to kill. 

+ Have a distraction-free place where you can get work done.

This is key. If I know I have a big essay due next Thursday, I'll go to my favorite coffee shop Saturday morning, order coffee and a muffin, and crank most of, or all of it, out in one sitting. This is probably not for everyone, but that's how I do my best work. Find where you do your best work, whether that's in a quiet library or at a corner booth of a café.

+ Set smaller goals/reward yourself for your progress.

As I just mentioned, I personally like to get entire assignments (or papers at least) done in one go, but another option is to pace yourself so that you can take breaks. Set a timer for 20-30 minutes and work as hard as you can in those 20-30 minutes. Knowing that there's an end should keep you motivated, and, when the timer does go off, you may find yourself so "in the zone" that you don't want to take a break. 

What are your time management strategies?

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