Manage Your Time, Manage Your Life: 10 Simple but Effective Tips for Time Management

What is Time Management?

Time, unlike other resources such as money, is finite and cannot be gained; moreover, everyone has the same amount in a given day or week. Time is a funny thing- it inevitably passes whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. While some people seem to have more time than others, they do not- they are simply using and managing their time in a more efficient and desirable way.

Time management is a commonly used term and essentially refers to a person’s ability to plan and execute short-and long-term tasks in order to efficiently utilize one’s time. Since success in all domains of life hinges on getting things done and getting where we need to go within given time frames, time management is clearly an important skill set for personal and professional success.

Consequences of Time Mismanagement

Some people intrinsically have a better handle on time and know how to prioritize, plan, and execute tasks to meet internal and external deadlines and demands while others struggle every day. Unfortunately, being chronically late and mismanaging one’s time invariably carries various negative consequences such as poor grades, job loss (or lack of promotion and success), and relationship failure. Since time management is essentially task-management, those who struggle with these skills also end up suffering by simply never getting to the things they want to get to, despite having the same amount of time as the rest of us. This is a sad state of affairs; we all work hard and deserve to maximize the fruits of our labors, yet time mismanagement frequently prevents people from being able to achieve their goals and fully enjoy their lives.

Managing one’s time is therefore essential for managing one’s life; I have yet to meet an adult who struggles with time management and timeliness but doesn’t struggle with other aspects of managing their lives (i.e. money, job/career, friends, family, and romantic relationships, maybe even health). Again, a successful life (in whatever way one defines success) requires an ability to realistically plan and execute tasks in an efficient and timely way.

While people who naturally struggle with time management may always have to actively work on these skills to achieve success, with purposeful practice via strategies and internal and external reinforcement, vast improvement can be made. Some of the best strategies are the simplest – as they say, you cannot reinvent the wheel! So find the ones that work for you and stick with them.

Strategies for Successful Time Management

1.Wear a timepiece (Obviously! Your phone does not count- it is not on your body and can’t always be easily glanced at)

2. Set alarms:

  • Use multiple alarms if needed for various short and long-term tasks, as well as checkpoints and reminders

3. Make a schedule and stick to it…but know when to be flexible

  • Create a calendar and block out the time you need to complete a given task. If you tend to run late or behind in finishing, know thyself and build in extra time!
  • Flexibility is a must as life throws curveballs constantly- if one task or scheduled chunk of time gets interrupted, make sure you realistically look at when you can finish that task and reschedule time right away

4. Stay focused on the task at hand until it’s completed

  • One problem I’ve observed with people who are chronically late and mismanage time is that they will “bounce” from task to task, never really finishing one but starting several
  • This creates chaos and disorganization because several balls are now in the air, causing focus and efficiency to become lost
  • Use checklists to physically mark off each task as it’s completed and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked

5. Use task analysis

  • This consists of breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps that can be done individually
    • This allows us to complete a micro task and move on, rather than get mired down in the larger task which can cause us to lose focus and work inefficiently
    • Ex. Instead of “write research paper” as the task, break this large process/action into several smaller ones.
    • Again, this may seem obvious, but many people don’t break down these large projects into micro tasks, leaving them feeling overwhelmed with the large task and either send them into avoidance/procrastination

6. Keep a “Time Journal”

  • This is like a food journal and requires one to honestly track and record their usage of time to maintain accountability and notice patterns
  • (“Oh, I WAS 15 minutes late to that meeting…”)
  • Identifying our patterns allows us to find solutions and strategies to overcome
  • I.E. If you’re consistently 15 minutes late to meetings or events, start making your leave time 20 minutes earlier

7. Don’t over promise or overreach your ability to be timely

  • Overestimate how much time it will take you to get somewhere or complete a project and set low expectations for those you are meeting. Better to be early than late!

8. Consider those around you

  • This may sound like an odd strategy, but people who are chronically late often seem very focused on themselves and their own concept of time without really considering how social our world is and how hindered our ability to function becomes when we can’t seem to get things done and get where we need to be on time.
  • By thinking about how one’s lateness affects family, friends, coworkers, etc… we may feel an additional layer of motivation to implement the strategies that will help us become more timely, thereby making those around us feel more valued, respected, and satisfied.

9. Use friends, family, and professionals as accountability

  • Recognize enablers and ask them to instead keep you accountable
  • Set consequences for yourself
  • Heed natural, external consequences (“Oh, I missed hanging out with my family at the event because I was 45 minutes late, and that’s on me. Next time I need to be more timely and I’ll get what I want out of the situation- to spend time with the people I love”)
  • This sounds simple and obvious, but many of us don’t make the explicit connection between our actions and outcomes, and metacognitive messages like this can help us repattern our behavior and reinforce positive behaviors

10. If you realize that you are behind and will run late for a meeting or deadline, be proactive and let people know in advance

  • Lateness will still happen sometimes, even with the most effective strategies to mitigate time mismanagement.
  • Everyone knows they are running late or will be unable to meet a deadline before it actually happens, so let people know as soon as you see this happening. On a personal level, this allows people to modify their plans and expectations, alleviating potential upset. In regards to professional or academic situations, providing the advance notice can actually give you some breathing room to get done what you need to, such as receiving an extension on a paper or project due date.

No one is a perfect time manager, but if you find yourself chronically and consistently misappropriating your time and running late for life, there is hope! By implementing these simple strategies, and reaching out to a coach for help if needed, we can all achieve more productive and happy lives.

Tips for College Success

Even though I’m a bit late with this one (oops!), it’s never really too late to get organized, get prioritized, and get on track towards achieving academic and all-around success in college. Freshman year of college is an overwhelming time for even the most prepared of young students. The demands and workload are greater, and the accountability systems and oversight are fewer than in high school, so many new students are understandably overwhelmed. Add in the pressure of a new social life with far greater temptations, and college life can seem unmanageable and trying to navigate for new students.

However, with some simple tips (and then putting them into practice!), all students who want to achieve success can. Here is Part 1 of my tips for a successful college career:

1. Get acquainted with your school, program, and dorm

Every school is quite different in terms of how offices are set up, how and what services are provided, how information is disseminated, etc. The more you know, the more you can tap into all of those resources and maximize your experience and tuition dollars. Here’s how:

•       Attend all orientations

•       Walk around campus until you feel like you know it well (use a campus map!)

•       Spend time on the school’s website and platforms (e.g. BlackBoard) that you’ll be using and will be required to navigate effectively

•       Find out about services (career, tutoring/writing, accommodations/disability services, health center, counseling/psych, etc…) and locations of those services

–   Go right away to any offices or services that you need immediately (or know you will need in the future)

–  Many schools have different tutoring centers for different subject areas. Some will have a science specific tutoring center that is separate from writing help, for example. Find out what these services are and where on campus they are located, and don’t wait to go if you need help as appointments are generally required and are usually booked on a first come, first served basis

–   If you have a documented disability, go to your disability services office immediately AND tell your professors right away

2.  Be proactive with academic planning

As I said recently to a college student (who wanted to not make a plan and instead see how things would “pan out”): Panning is not planning! As in, don’t just go through the motions with a wait and see attitude. I’m not suggesting that plans will not change or that all will go according to your plans, but making plans that are real but flexible is a necessary task for academic success. Do the following things:

•       Meet your advisor and get to know her or him right away

•       If your advisor in nonresponsive, follow up via email, phone calls, and then showing up to their office to follow-up.

•       Some academic advisors are very active and participatory and helpful, others frankly are not

•       Go to the head of an office or department (or loop them in) if you are not hearing back or receiving the help you need from an advisor. CC them on emails and show up at the office to speak with someone

•       Take your school’s core requirements ASAP

•       Don’t put off required courses beyond a semester

•       But DO wait to take a specific class if you’re waiting for a specific professor to teach it

•       BUT…Don’t rush to declare a major

•       Take different classes and explore your options. This is the time to do that!

•       Plan smart:

•       Don’t overload your schedule with too many challenging classes in one semester

3. Manage your time

I know, this one’s easily said, but not so easily done for many. However, it’s a worthwhile endeavor as scheduling, planning, and prioritizing are critical for success and a less stressful experience in college and beyond. College is much less structured than high school and there are no parents or teachers to hold you accountable in that way. College assignments are not broken up and checked the way high school assignments and readings are, so it can be easy to fall behind. Find pragmatic, day-to-day strategies such as setting a timer, that work for you. And utilize metacognition and goals to guide you towards intentional, realistic behavior. Some strategies for time management include:

•       Create your own pacing schedule with reading, break up large assignments into smaller ones, and set due dates for yourself

•       Use a planner/calendar religiously

–      Find a system that works for you: get a weekly/monthly planner from the store, use the calendar or an app in your phone or tablet, etc…

–      Always have that calendar with you and check and update it daily

–      If you need more structure to your daily schedule, use an hourly calendar to block out your day

•       Have a long-term and a daily to-do list that you constantly update

–      2x per day is reasonable: morning and evening

•       Be realistic with your time goals and expectations for what you can accomplish

–      If you notice that you have a tendency to underestimate how long projects or tasks will take, take that into account! Add on an extra hour or day (whatever) to your initial estimate

•       Deadlines are real, even if you pretend otherwise!

–      Don’t stick your head in the sand if you find yourself getting behind. It happens, it’s almost expected during freshman year.

–      Do reach out for help- talk to your professor ASAP, reach out to your advisor if needed, and seek help from a tutor or the writing center.

–      I’ve seen students be afraid or ashamed to speak with a professor if an assignment is late, missing, etc. Remember: This happens to most students at some point, so you are not unique or special because of this and no one will remember (or care).

4. Stay organized

Again, easier said than done. But I firmly believe that anyone can stay organized if they’re willing to put aside time each day or week to do so.

•       Go through your school bag 1X each week- file away papers in proper binders/folders, recycle garbage papers, make sure things are neat, clean, and follow an order that makes sense

–      Don’t throw away old work or tests. File them away – just label each file or notebook with the class and semester

•       The syllabus is your main set of guidelines, due dates, and schedule for each class. Use it religiously, bring it with you to every class, and write down ALL changes to the syllabus on the syllabus- because it WILL change

•       Keep your desk/workspace neat. A few times a week, go through all papers and books and again, put them in the correct binder, folder, or recycling bin. Sell back (or donate, if you’re feeling giving) old books that you’re certain you will not need again (I suggest holding on to books relevant for your major)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve gleaned some practical strategies for college success- comments are welcome! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll address procrastination, self-advocacy, how to navigate group projects, and more!

Does This Make Sense? A Thinking and Reasoning Strategy

Some of the best strategies to help students get motivated and become more focused are the simplest. As they say, you can’t reinvent the wheel! I strongly believe that metacognitive strategies are very effective as they get students thinking about their way of thinking. Research shows that being able to define objectives helps individuals improve in key areas such as decision making, planning, and any action that has a purpose (which is, or should be, most of them). One simple strategy that gets students to focus directly and deliberately on the intentions behind their actions is AGO: Aims, Goals, Objectives; this strategy was developed by Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking and one of the most celebrated intellectuals of our time. AGO is a simple strategy that “makes sense” while teaching students to think about what they’re doing and if it “makes sense” (and of course if it does not, we teach them how to make decisions that are in line with their AGO). This is one of life’s most basic yet underutilized lessons and one of the reasons, I imagine, why de Bono is a major proponent of teaching thinking skills in school.

For a quick semantic clarification: Since aims, goals, and objectives are closely related and often used synonymously, this strategy defines Aim as one’s general direction, Goal as an ultimate destination, and Objective as a recognizable point of achievement along the way.

One critical role of a coach or parent is to help students concentrate on the general idea of “purpose”, since without a sense of purpose, all actions are either reactions to a situation or matters of habit or imitation. When I reflect on all of my students, past and present, the ones who have been most aware of their AGO (even if we have not explicitly engaged with this specific strategy) are the most motivated and vice-versa, and therefore are generally the most successful. The intention of this type of strategy is to directly instruct students on how purpose is distinct from reaction and habit and how by acting with intent, we can create our own success. Our educational system is unfortunately structured so that students are often looking to adults, or the “authority”, for the “correct” answers or ways of doing things without doing any thinking of their own, regardless of whether there is a single solution or correct answer. Teaching and modeling metacognitive and other thinking skills promotes just that: thinking. Developing thinking skills enables us to become rational, resourceful, purpose-driven, problem-solving human beings. Students will not only be able to correct their own thinking and behavior through this type of strategy, but they will be able to develop stronger interpersonal connections as they begin to understand what guides people’s actions in general. People who engage in metacognition are more able to identify what is guiding others’ actions (are they behaving rationally and with AGO in mind?) and choose their actions accordingly.

I once believed that due to the complex metacognitive nature of this strategy, it was best applied with students in older grades – when they can understand what it means to let purpose direct their actions. I have since changed my own line of thinking as I’ve implemented this strategy with children as young as seven and eight years old. I obviously modify my language to be age-appropriate and relatable for a younger audience, but I’ve found that children are very receptive to being empowered to think in these ways. While it takes some time to develop these thinking and self-monitoring skills, the younger we start students on purposeful behavior and decision-making, the more successful they can be. This strategy teaches students of all ages how to literally develop and maintain a rationale for their behaviors, which leads to rational behavior and goal-oriented decision-making.

DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats (1985) recommends the AGO strategy be taught via a series of simple steps:

Step 1: Introduce the idea of metacognition.

•   Discuss with students that as individuals, we must always be thinking about how we’re thinking, making decisions, and taking action.

Step 2: Define and discuss Aims, Goals, and Objectives with students.

•   Discuss the general idea of “purpose” and that aims, goals, and objectives are all benchmarks and indicators of purpose. Don’t let students get hung up on the semantics of each word.

Step 3: Whenever we go to make a decision or take action in some way, we must be doing so for a reason and with AGO. Direct students to always think: What is the purpose of their action/decision? What is the aim, the goal, and objective?

•   Discuss with students that decisions without a purpose or without thought to AGO often end up being detrimental to both the decision-maker and others (in small and/or big ways).

•   Hasty decisions often haven’t been reasoned through. Teach students to think about AGO even when they feel pressed for time because time is saved and efficiency is gained when we behave in ways that make sense because they are in-line with our goals.

•   If someone does not have or can’t state the reasoning/purpose behind their action or decision, they shouldn’t do it! Tell students to go back to the “drawing boards” in their head and re-thing the purpose of their action or get rid of it all together because it is a habit or reaction to something else.

•   The ONE QUESTION that I always have students ask themselves is, “Does this make sense?” They always know the answer and often can correct their behavior or thinking with little support once they have become stronger thinkers.

Step 4: Reinforce and keep practicing and modeling this effective strategy!

The Power of Games

Parents and educators sometimes forget that games are some of the best teaching tools that exist. While no widely agreed-upon definition of game exists, to me a “game”, in its most primitive form, is a teaching tool. Ancient societies used games to teach essential skills to their youth; many of these early games may have focused on developing hand-eye coordination critical for hunting, fighting, or weaving. Games are interactive, multi-sensory, engaging, and often fun. This is why humans have been using games to teach children for millennia.

Yet in our modern times in which we focus heavily on standardization of learning (especially with the new Common Core Standards) and rote, memory based tasks, we seem to be moving away from and forgetting about the great power of games to teach critical reading, math, thinking, and life skills to students.  Educators and parents, especially those struggling to reach disengaged or seemingly unmotivated learners, must remember that games can help students develop many types of skills, from social and interpersonal lessons of cooperation and teamwork to math operations, problem-solving skills, and early literacy development.

I especially like to use games with younger students and find them to be some of the most effective learning tools that exist. Children enjoy the very idea of playing a game; whether it’s rolling dice, picking cards, moving pieces across a board, earning points, moving one’s body, or placing tiles in spaces, the various aspects of playing a game are exciting and interactive. Games require the use of many modalities: players have to manipulate physical parts and pieces, communicate with other players, record data and/or scores, mentally solve problems, and visually keep track of players’ progress, to name a few. I commonly use simple board, card, and dice games to teach and reinforce elementary math concepts and phonics skills; children often become so engaged in the game that they forget that they are learning!

In fact, I do have one very clever 2nd grader who figured out my ploy and recently said to me, “I see what we’re doing. We’re playing a game but we’re still learning reading.” Nothing gets by this one, and how right he was! I asked him if he still thought the game was fun and wanted to continue playing, and he replied in the affirmative!

Many learning games are quick and easy to make up or put together using common household items such as flash cards, dice, a deck of cards, dominoes, paper and pencils. It is simple and easy to turn a boring, rote task, such as memorizing multiplication tables, into a fun and exciting game that will teach and reinforce the same skills. For example, I turn memorizing times tables into the popular game of War by using multiplication flashcards instead of a deck of traditional cards. Here are two websites with additional game ideas to get you started:

http://www.granby.k12.ct.us/uploaded/faculty/wyzika/Dice_and_Card_Games_to_Practice_Math_Facts.pdf

http://www.education.com

While I also like to recommend computer-based educational games for parents to encourage students to play instead of, say, watching TV, one of my favorite aspects of simple, non-computer based games is that they require us to unplug from technology and learn, connect, and have fun in a simpler and more hands-on way.

There are countless word, letter, number, and problem-solving games that will help students acquire essential academic skills, and I imagine it is a lot easier for parents to get their children to sit down and play a game than to sit down and complete a worksheet. So now that summer is upon us, use the power of games to keep learning over break and all year long!

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