So you’re in college now, and maybe you’ve found that even without seven straight hours of class a day, it’s still hard to get things done. Maybe you’ve got other commitments that keep you busy, or maybe you just haven’t built effective habits and don’t have the motivation to start big tasks.
On the other hand, maybe you think you’re moving along just fine – either way, you can benefit from these helpful time management tricks. Some are just tips, some are entire time management methods, and some are tools to help you out along the way.
1. Get it out of your head
The most essential part of good time management is to get your engagements out of your head and into a system that you have easy access to. Personally, there is no way I could keep everything I need to do memorized and not miss things. You have a lot of different obligations in college and it is important that you record everything you need to do for each of them, and also to keep them well organized. Here’s a few different ways you can do this.
Paper planners were and are still a great way to keep a calender and a record of all you need to do. Planners keep everything in one spot, and you can take a planner everywhere you go depending on its size.
However, this is College Info Geek – we like to use a little more modern approach.
Keep it online
There are countless web apps out there offering time management systems. The trick is finding one that integrates everything that has to do with time management; here’s the system I use that works extremely well for me.
The base of my system is firmly rooted in Google Calendar. I have a different colored calender for each different “part” of my life – class, work, events on campus, other events, homework, etc.
This works really well for me because I can take one look at the calendar and get an idea of where my time will be going for the week. Google Calender is my calendar of choice because it integrates so well with Gmail, so I can quickly add events as they come into my inbox.
For my to-do list I use Toodledo. Toodledo edges out competing to-do web apps like Remember The Milk and Tada Lists for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, everything is done from one screen; I don’t have to go to multiple pages to set up multiple lists like I do in Tada Lists. I can just add a task and tell Toodledo which folder to put it in and then give it a priority. Secondly, I like Toodledo because it integrates with the next program…
Pocket Informant is my mobile time management command center. I have an iPod Touch, and since I spend about 95% of my time under the cover of wifi, I’m constantly connected to the internet.
Pocket Informant is hands down my favorite calendar/to-do app available. While the full version is a little expensive, there is a free version available for you to try out if you have an iPod or iPhone (Pocket Informant is also available for Windows Mobile and Blackberry, and is coming soon to Android).
Pocket Informant syncs with both Google Calendar and Toodledo to create the perfect time management environment for when I’m away from the computer. I can view everything offline when I have no internet connection, and I can also create tasks and events. When my iPod gets a connection, the program will sync with Google Calendar and Toodledo and add any tasks or events I created to them.
Pocket Informant also has a powerful and easy-to-use interface that takes full advantage of the accelerometer. The calender portion of the application offers List, Day, Week, and Month views; the List, Day, and Month all look identical in portrait and landscape mode.
However, week view offers two different modes of viewing. Portrait mode gives each day of the week a box on the screen that displays a list of that day’s events and tasks; touching a certain day will bring up a hybrid week/list view as well.
In landscape mode you get a view very similar to Google Calendar; there are seven columns for each day of the week and each event is shown graphically in its time slot.
Pocket Informant also offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to tasks. The app offers three methods of task management: the Franklin Covey method, the Getting Things Done method, and the Toodledo method.
By default the Getting Things Done method will be selected; I find that method to be overkill for me, plus I love being able to sync tasks to my desktop, so I use the Toodledo method. I’m not familiar with the Franklin Covey method, but it’s nice to have another option.
Hopefully my method has at least given you an idea as to how to start building your own task and event management system. Let’s move on to some other tips.
2. Minimize Distractions
If you’re like me, your computer is a huge distraction. There are plenty of good ways to keep your computer from distracting you (turn it off, set it on fire, give it away), but what if you have work to do on your computer?
We are definitely part of a “multi-tasking” generation; that is, we pride ourselves on being able to manage a lot of things at once. This is especially true for out computers. I used to always keep Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, my RSS feeds, Skype, and other things open right alongside my homework.
Did it distract me? You bet.
You’d be kidding yourself if you thought it didn’t. Not only does frequently stopping to check social networks and other things waste time, but it also breaks your concentration.
I believe you actually waste more time trying to regain concentration after switching back to your work than you do actually engaging in the distraction! Plus, you retain less information if you are constantly switching your focus.
So, say you’re studying for finals and you need to concentrate. how do you minimize distractions when working on the computer?
Firstly, close the unimportant tabs in your browser and applications on your desktop. It won’t hurt you to be disconnected from social networks for an hour or two while you learn something worthwhile or get some homework done.
Some people advocate a “50/10” rule (or variations of it), where you work for 50 minutes and take 10 off. Personally, I like to just sit down and crank out my work to completion before going back to leisurely pursuits. Which method you choose will depend on your work style.
If you really have to, you can use an extension to force yourself not to get distracted. Check out the StayFocused extension in my Chrome extension guide for an example.
Social network updates are not the only distractions you face when doing computer work. There are other things that can pull your eyes away from that dry math assignment; I like to personalize my desktop with cool wallpapers and Rainmeter gadgets. These things can create clutter that makes it hard to work.
However, you don’t need to do away with the nice desktop enhancements you have; just use an anti-distraction program like CinemaDrape. CinemaDrape blacks out everything on your screen except what lands inside an adjustable window. Simply adjust the window to display only what you’re working on.
Computer distractions aren’t the only think vying for your attention; you need to address the things in your work environment as well. Are you studying in a room with a bunch of people? Personally, I can study with my friends in the room and not have much of a problem as long as I’ve got my closed headphones. For others, solitude may be needed. Gauge this for yourself.
3. Start Your Day Early
I’m serious about this one. Starting your day early can be an excellent way to squeeze more time into your day.
I find that both myself and most of the people I know don’t do much work during the late hours of the night. Yet almost all of them tend to stay up really late, tailoring their schedules so they can sleep until 9 or 10 a.m. every day.
I’m guessing that many of you do the same, so just consider what I’m saying here. How much do you think you could get done with a few extra hours in the morning?
Oscar, the man behind the blog Freestyle Mind, set his wake-up time to 5 a.m. for 30 days – you can view his conclusions here. In my own life I’ve found that getting up early gives me much more time, especially if there are things I have to do in the morning.
I take a military physical training class three days a week at 6 a.m., and after that I work at 8:00 until class starts at either 11:00 or 12:30; as a result I’m done with class and work by 3:00 p.m. at the latest, every day. I have from 3:00 until around 10:30 to do all my homework, attend clubs, and hang out with friends. All I need to do is make sure I go to bed at a decent time so I’m well-rested enough to keep up the routine.
4. Wring Class Out For All It’s Worth
The average college student spends between 2-4 hours in class every day, and many of them waste that time spacing off or only passively listening. Those who do have to make up for the lost time after class by studying extra-hard; why not learn all you can during the time you’ve already allotted to do so?
My method of paying attention in class involves keeping my writing hand going the entire time. During my first year of college I noticed that I was much more alert in the classes I actively took notes in than in the ones I just listened to. I also retained a lot more information.
You can squeeze even more value out of your classes by recording them. I advise making sure your professor is O.K. with this first (they likely will be), but recording your classes can give you another method of review come study time.
The more ways we process information, the better we retain it – so listening to a lecture over again before bed can be a great way to go over the material you’re studying. Another great time to listen to past lectures is during your workouts or when you go running.
5. Break Down Your Tasks
Ok, so sitting down to cross off “Write 8-page essay” from your task list may not be very easy to do. The solution is to break down those herculean tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
The Getting Things Done method of task management suggests that you break down tasks until each one can be performed in only a few minutes; while this may be extreme, it is an important time management skill to learn.
“Write intro paragraph” is a much easier task to get done, and crossing it off your list will motivate you to continue onto the next one. If you really want to get into this type of task management, Cal Newport’s adaptation of Getting Things Done for college students may be for you.
More time management resources:
Got another tip? Leave it in the comments!