For as long as I can remember, I’ve always immersed myself in the world around me by throwing myself into a plethora of activities while attempting to maintain a strong academic record in school. It started when I was a child and I was competitively performing in multiple styles of dance, while also working diligently on all my school assignments and trying to be a star student. Back then, my time was divided simply: weekdays were for school work, and dance was for the weekends. But as I got older, I started diversifying my interests, and by the time I finished high school, I was involved in ten different activities, on the executive board for three, and also maintaining straight A’s.
When people ask me how I do it all, I often joke that I’m apparently not happy unless I’m doing 10,000 things at once. But you want to know the real secret? It’s because I’ve learned how to manage my time. College doesn’t have to be super stressful, and I luckily was able to have a great first year because I knew how to find pockets of time to get everything done. Here are my 10 time management tips to have a stress-free year.
Personalize Your Planning System
When it comes to managing your time, the true key is to have somewhere to write everything down. There are so many different options to planning your time, from full-on written agendas to the various apps on your phone (like the good old Calendar app), to even a simple notepad.
During the school year, my planner is literally my life (I love this one from Target). I bring it with me almost everywhere, and I’ve always been able to get things done when I have somewhere to put all my tasks. Recently, I’ve also been using the Notes app on my phone, as it’s more portable and always with me to write down any passing thought that I have. At the end of the day, try a few different planning methods until you find one that works for your lifestyle.
As someone who has a hard time saying no, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the activities and tasks I’ve agreed to do. Especially in college, when there are so many different extracurriculars and opportunities to explore your passions, many students find it difficult to balance their time between their school-work and the responsibilities that come with being involved. Always remember it’s better to do one thing well rather than 10 things at a mediocre level. Stick to two to three extracurriculars max at one time; this way, you can be involved in the things you’re passionate about, but also have time for all the other things you need to get done, too.
Figure Out The Time You’re Most Productive
Has anyone ever told you that no matter who you are, you’ll end up becoming a night owl in college because you’ll end up procrastinating on all your assignments? Yeah, apparently they have never met me, because once the sun goes down, so do I. No matter how much I wanted to be a night owl, I will never be able to stay up past 1 a.m. doing homework.
I’ve been a morning person for years, so in college, when all my friends stayed up trying to frantically finish their 8 a.m. assignments, I was already knocked out by midnight (and therefore the subject of considerable envy from my roommates). I learned that rather than trying to align my life with their schedules, I had to stick with the one that made me most productive. I would wake up as early as I could in the morning and use whatever time I had during the day to get my work done. More often than not, I was able to finish my work by at least 9 p.m., which honestly made me a lot less stressed than I could’ve been. It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out when all your friends are having late-night study sessions together, but trust me when I say that not only will you have plenty of time to hang out with them without assignments hanging over your heads, but you’ll end up being less stressed overall and find more time to relax.
Let’s say you’ve tried to cut down your commitments as possible, but you’re still faced with a bunch of to-do’s that all seem important to accomplish right now. This is where prioritizing comes in. In order to be the most efficient with your time, you have to learn how to pick which tasks are more important than others and complete those tasks first. If you’re faced with finishing a 1500 word essay that’s due tomorrow or watching the season finale of your favorite TV show, the essay definitely should take precedence. You can always reward yourself with that TV show after you’re done with your assignments. However, if you are supposed to start a project, but find yourself re-organizing your desk drawer for the millionth time this week, you’re not being productive—you’re procrastinating. Learn the difference and you’ll be golden.
Use “Dead Time”
One of the best tips I ever received was to make use of “dead time” during the day. “Dead time” is basically the time that you spend aimlessly that you don’t initially consider valuable, such as traveling between classes, your lunch hour, or the few minutes before a club meeting. In fact, most of the time we spend these precious moments mindlessly scrolling through social media, not realizing how much time is actually going to waste. Instead of letting time fly by unused, take advantage of these small pockets of time and review material or complete small tasks that don’t require a lot of time. I usually use this time to go over flashcards for an upcoming exam, reply to urgent emails that come up or do a quick catch-up call with a family member or friend. This way, you don’t have to spend time later doing these small tasks, and you’ll be surprised to see how much you get done with just those few minutes each day.
Make It a Date
Have you ever been given a project or essay weeks in advance to complete, but find yourself doing the entire thing two hours before it’s due? I’m pretty sure this problem affects students on a global basis. It can feel tedious and boring to start a long-term project a few weeks in advance (I, for one, have consistently convinced myself I only work well under pressure), but at the end of the day, you’ll end up feeling a lot less stressed if you space out your work. Plus, the finished product almost always turns out much better than if you rush it before the deadline.
One way to make sure you actually space out your tasks is to schedule in “appointments” with yourself to complete them throughout the week. For example, if you know that you always sleep until noon on Saturdays, decide to wake up at 10 a.m. so you can work on the project from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Record the date in your planner and try to stick with it and fully focus on that task for the entire time it’s scheduled. You’ll find that it’s a lot more productive to schedule in time to work, rather than trying to start a project at 9 a.m. three days in a row, only to complete one sentence by the end of each day. Remember, appointments make you accountable.
Batch Your Tasks
When you’re swamped with a million things to get done, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and decide you’re better off not starting at all, because how could you possibly get everything done with only 24 hours in a day? An easy technique to start checking off your to-do list is to “batch” your tasks, which essentially means grouping similar tasks together for a certain block of time, such as returning/making phone calls, sending out emails, reviewing lecture notes for different classes, etc. Grouping tasks and singling out a specific time to complete them helps to keep them from piling up and frantically jumping between them, which ends up increasing your productivity and minimizing the amount of time spent on each individual task because you’re already in the mindset to deal with that specific type of work. Trust me when I say this tip is nothing short of life-changing.
Mute Outside Distractions
An easy way to get off track and lose hours of time is when you’re constantly distracted by your surroundings, which include your phone and laptop. There have been many times where I’ve sat down to do my work, only to immediately get distracted by a notification that pops up on my phone screen and losing precious minutes of work-time. In order to avoid this issue, silence your phone, mute notifications, or even turn it off completely if it’s a huge issue for you. I personally put my phone on airplane mode so I can listen to music without being interrupted with texts or Snapchats. I also know many people like to use site blockers (like Self-Control or StayFocusd) that limit the amount of time they can spend on certain websites, or block websites for a certain period of time so you can’t accidentally spend two hours online shopping when you were supposed to be completing your online math assignment. Even though everyone likes to think they have the willpower to ignore any distraction that comes their way, having a little help has never hurt anybody, and it’s better to be honest with yourself and limit your temptations as much as possible.
Find Your Tribe
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past few years is that the people you surround yourself with really do affect you more than you know. Your friends will influence a lot of your decisions, and many of these decisions will affect how you manage your time. Even though your friends (should) only have good intentions for you, sometimes people can get carried away with the social aspect of college life and neglect their responsibilities. It’s important to find people who have similar values and goals that align with yours, and they should also respect you if you decide to make different decisions than them when it comes to how you spend your time. Finding people who encourage you to do well in school and live a balanced life will make life not only help you manage your time better but will overall lead you to have stronger relationships.
Schedule In “Me Time”
Finally, one of the most important things to understand about time management is that you have to make time for yourself. It’s easy to neglect your health when you’re incredibly busy, but avoiding self-care and ignoring your needs is a sure-fire way to burn out fast. While it’s important to be productive, always make sure you schedule some time to take care of yourself, whether it be hitting the gym, making healthy meals, or just taking a day to chill out and binge-watch some TV so you can relax. When you allow yourself time to relax, you end up being more energized and productive overall, so it’s a win-win! Always remember that all the time management tips in the world won’t help you if you aren’t feeling the best. Slow down once in a while and enjoy being young and spontaneous. You won’t get these years back, so make the most of the time you have.
What are your time management tips for the upcoming academic year? Let us know in the comments down below!
Opening image by Anna McLaughlin.