Christopher L. Hockey
There I was, having just eaten dinner and realizing that I had less than twenty-four hours to go before my capstone paper was due for my History of Africa class. This paper was the only grade for the class and all I had done was some research. I still had thirty pages that needed to be written! How was I going to get this paper done?
I came to the realization that I was going to have to skip some classes and work through the night. I kept my roommate up with the click clack of the keyboard and worked through the night with breaks only to replenish the caffeine in my system. Morning came and I still had work to do.
I contacted my other professors letting them know that something came up and I wouldn’t be in class. Thankfully, I was in good standing in my other classes and could afford to miss one class. I snuck in a twenty minute nap and kept working. I finally finished about thirty minutes before the deadline. Exhausted and not terribly proud of myself, I trudged my way to class to drop off the paper and committed to never working like this again. After all, there was a small likelihood that I would get a decent grade; I was hoping for just a C to keep my GPA respectable. I went back to my room and slept for a long time. Imagine my amazement when I received my grade for the paper (and ultimately the class) and there was an A- staring me back in the face! How could this be possible?
My experience illustrates a very important lesson. Best practices do not always yield the best results. Logic would tell us that to manage a thirty-page paper would require the student to spread out all the tasks over the semester and do a little bit of work over a long period of time as opposed to a lot of work over a short period of time. The problem is that time management is a personal thing. Everyone works differently and excels under different circumstances.
The important thing to remember about time management is that there is not one method. Everyone must find what works best for her or him. There are some strategies that have been used for years and others that are new. While there are multiple perspectives on how best to set personal and professional goals, there are three general themes that influence the development of personal time management plans: identifying priorities, managing time, and managing energy.
The concept of time management is actually personal management. Where you are going or what you are trying to accomplish is more important than how fast you get there. Personal management demands organizing and executing around priorities. One thing to watch out for on your college journey is something called time famine. Time famine is the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. This happens often to college students and without warning. This was certainly the case with my paper. I certainly felt overwhelmed with thirty pages to write and not a lot of time available to write it in. However, there’s one really helpful aspect of time—you always know how much you have in a day. You know that in any given day, you have twenty-four hours to accomplish everything you need to do for that day. With that knowledge in hand it becomes an easy task to make smart choices when planning both the schedule for the day, as well as the energy needed to complete the tasks.
The objective of successful time management is to increase and optimize controllable time. Once you have a schedule made, don’t change it unless something of some serious urgency comes up. However, while managing time is challenging enough, there’s another concept out there about the management of your energy. Think of energy as money and time as what you’d like to buy. If you’re too tired (or energy broke) to be productive, it’s hard to accomplish (buy) everything on your schedule. Luckily, at the age of twenty-two, I had lots of energy and stamina to pull an all-nighter and finish the paper. If I tried to do that today at thirty-five, I would be asleep on my keyboard after a few hours. In order to always have enough of time currency, it’s important that you are physically energized, emotionally connected, and mentally focused on your purpose.
While an understanding of these general principles is essential for the development of sound time and energy management strategies, it is also important to focus on practical strategies that can be implemented to improve the college experience. The first recommendation is to know who you are and how you work. In this step, you need to examine all aspects of your current time management skills. Take a look at personal practices such as where you work, how you organize information and course materials, how current and future assignments and projects are prioritized, how commitments are balanced, and lastly, how you prevent burnout. Once you have taken stock in your current practices, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to improve.
Even today, I try to space out large projects and assignments and find that I am not as focused or motivated. I struggle to complete the task and when I do, it never feels like I did it well. However, when I revert back to that practice of waiting until the last minute, I am focused, energized, and motivated and the results have been very positive. In my own doctoral program, I have begun assignments a little too close to the deadlines but they ultimately get completed and I continue to be amazed at the high marks I get back. What does that tell me? It tells me I thrive in high-pressure situations where I have to focus intensely on one thing and stay focused for a long period of time. Is that method for everyone? Certainly not, but it works for some and it may or may not work for you. You must examine your own work habits and practices and look back at times that you have done well and times you have done poorly and identify habits that led to those results.
The next strategy is to create a personal time management method to help prioritize projects and activities. Try to identify and eliminate activities that may detract from effectively balancing your roles and responsibilities. In any given day, what are the most important things that need to be completed? What can be eliminated from your schedule that provides you the time you need to be successful? I like to think of this as the “five-year-old plan.” My five-year-old loves to play in the morning as her Mom and I are getting ready for work. The problem is that we need her to get ready for school, too. We put a plan in place that allows her to play in the morning, only after she is completely ready for school. You need time to play, have fun, and socialize, but it should not come at the expense of higher priority tasks.
The next recommendation is to focus on the process of energy management. Create goals focused on physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional renewal. These goals can include, but are not limited to: getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, taking small breaks during work sessions, eating healthy, exercising regularly, drinking lots of water, having a positive attitude, and practicing positive self-talk. Anytime I know I have a big work task or school task to complete, I am in the mindset of energy conversation—my energy. I make sure to get a good night sleep, eat my Wheaties, and think good vibes. These habits allow me to complete projects in a way that works for me.
Lastly, set up a reward system. One of the great things about creating prioritized lists of things that need to be done is the sense of accomplishment when you cross that item off the list. Once you’ve identified your major goals and tasks, identify a reward for each of these goals that provides an even greater sense of accomplishment. The reward should be personal and should encourage you to continue your good habits. What are the things you love to do? Write them down next to the major tasks and learn to practice delayed gratification by only doing those things once you’ve crossed the item off.
In conclusion, practical and tangible strategies for time and energy management can be the key to success for any undertaking. While each concept related to time and energy management is unique and provides a starting point for you to begin to develop strong personal management skills, these methods and ideas are not one-size-fits-all, and you need to explore the strategies and discover which components of each best fit your lifestyle and circumstances. Through this exercise, you can develop a personal management plan that is best suited to your needs and goals.