Dear Ally,

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Intro to Time Management Woes

Dear Ally,

This whole week is fall break at my school, so it’s quiet here while students and faculty are off campus relaxing and getting caught up.

Time is similar to space in that they’re both finite and need to be organized, used wisely, and sometimes be multipurpose. One of the first steps to getting more of either is looking at everything you’ve got and getting rid of the crap that’s not useful or doesn’t make you happy.

As a professor, I see two main issues with which students with poor time management skills struggle. I see those who fail to meet deadlines because they lost track of the due dates, this is a lack or organization and planning, and students who never have enough time because they either lack efficiency, allow themselves to procrastinate, or are over-committed.

If due dates are sneaking up on you and causing panic, find a way to keep track and remind yourself. When I was in college, I used a paper planner and one of my favorite things about a new semester was writing down all the exam dates and assignment due dates in it. Now I use the calendar in Outlook, which I can view on a computer or my phone. I am grateful for the reminder feature of Outlook and the reminders app in my phone. Reminders from professors are a courtesy to students and should never be expected.


Once you have your tasks and corresponding due dates recorded, think about how long it will take to do them, always overestimating. Work backwards from the deadline allotting so much time per day/week to figure out when you need to get started. I give chemistry exams covering three chapters once a month. I recommend students study half a chapter a day and leave the day before the exam to do practice exams and one final overall review. To do this, they need to begin studying one week before the exam. If you have a large assignment, break it up into pieces and set due dates for the completion of each part. Set aside down time and time for yourself because you shouldn’t feel like you have to be busy all the time.

The best laid plans can go awry, if they are not or cannot be followed. Be sure you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew. If you’re sleeping less than 6 hours a night for more than 2 or 3 nights in a row, something has to go. You might have to say no to someone or temporarily cut out an activity. If lack of motivation is a problem and procrastination creeps in, reward yourself for meeting those due dates you set. I get M&M’s for grading.

If you’ve done everything you can to cut your schedule down to the bare minimum and there’s still not enough hours in the day, consider recording your usage of time for a few days or a week. You may find small amounts of time here or there that could be better spent add up. Maybe you get to class 10-15 minutes early and could use that time to complete a few homework problems. Perhaps you’re spending more time doing certain things than you realized. Every now and then I have to go on a Facebook fast and logout for a week or two.  If you still don’t find activities to cut, then you need to increase your efficiency by combining activities and multitasking. Smart phones can be a distraction, but they can also turn any time spent waiting into productive time, if you take advantage of study apps, like Brainscape, or if you can access course materials on-line.

Time management is a skill learned and developed over time. Many schools have time management skills workshops, so if you have the opportunity to participate in one, it will be worth your time. There should always be time to improve your time management skills.

Good luck!

Aunt Sarah


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