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Monday, April 20, 2015

Students Guide To Time Management

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“That’s when I take 15 minutes to eat lunch before I get back to studying Spanish until 1:30 when I head to class…” At this point I realized my little task of trying to help him study better was becoming something a whole lot bigger. It was something that I’ve seen a number of students doing and it makes it blatantly obvious the problem isn’t the student’s studying at all.

Some students get this time management bug. It causes them to schedule every minute of their day as closely as possible. While this can cause some short term gains in grades, and efficiency it’s usually a long term mistake. The students that end up creating these impossible to follow schedules usually end up driving themselves crazy until they give up on their schedule.

Schedules are okay. A loose schedule that says, “I’ll do this, then this around this time, and then this if I have time,” is reasonable. A schedule that requires you to stop and start tasks on a particular minute (or even with a 5 minute window,) is ridiculous. Sure, they help manage your time. The problem is that they completely limit your ability to manage your own life.

The Problems With Schedules

You probably already know that “time management” is a popular subject in adult non-fiction. Thousands of books are written on the subject every year. Each one of those books has hundreds of interesting ideas to improve a person’s ability to manage their time. I’ve spent way too many hours reading books on that subject. Despite all the time I invested, I never could feel comfortable on a schedule.

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Schedules are impossible to follow while keeping life in order. If you only have 15 minutes to work on something that requires 20 minutes then you’re given a choice, to keep your schedule and not complete it or to complete it and ignore your schedule. If you ignore your schedule, what’s the point of having the schedule? If you don’t complete what you need to complete then you’re going to have to pay the consequences for keeping your schedule. It’s a painful decision that virtually every major scheduling system requires you to make.

To some extent, it is possible to “kind of” follow your schedule. By nudging and adjusting your schedule daily, you can keep everything in order while adjusting your schedule to fit. That being said, a good portion of your day becomes a process of Frankenstein monstering your schedule from the dead. (“Oh I chopped 15 minutes here so I better plop 15 minutes here later in the day.”)

After a few weeks of following a schedule in that way, most people are driven completely nuts. It’s a mechanical, boring, and painful experience after a few weeks. Humans are not machines. We can’t continuously do the same thing over and over again without some major consequences on our mind. We need variety. We need spontaneity.

When it comes to time management, schedules are not the way to go.

Do You Even Need Time Management?

This is a question I consider fundamental. Time management is useful when you have a whole lot of important things going on in your life. It is significantly less valuable (and possibly harmful) when you only have a few things in your life because instead of letting spontaneity spark productivity, you end up forcing productivity into little time slots.

More often than not, a person looking for time management advice doesn’t need time management advice, he or she needs elimination advice. If you’re worked to the point that you’re unable to manage your time automatically and without stress then you’d do better just giving up doing the things you really don’t care about. Before proceeding with time management, make a list of the big things you need to manage. If you could eliminate one or two of them then time management is not the best solution.

Also, time management is usually a short term solution. Sure, you can learn lessons that can be used throughout your life but strong time management can usually only be held in cycles of high productivity. This comes back to the schedule problem, the longer you keep the schedule, the more difficult it becomes to follow it.

Ensure that any time management you use is temporary to keep yourself motivated. For example, manage your time closely until you get your grades back up to B’s, or manage your time just for the month of finals. These are practical time management goals.

How To Manage Your Time?


Yes. After all that hatred of scheduling I discussed, it’s still the most powerful way to manage your time. That being said, by the previous discussion on time management, I’m hoping you’ll realize you don’t even need time management. You just need what the next section in this article is about. Until then, for all those of you that really need time management:

Set up a schedule and eliminate the unproductive activities in your day or limit them to a small period of time in your day. Considering this schedule is temporary, don’t try and make it practical to follow long term. Instead make it at least a little bit uncomfortable sounding to follow. Cut out as much pleasure time as possible. (Trust me, pleasure time sucks when it’s scheduled anyway.) The less time you spend enjoying yourself, the less time you need to keep the schedule.

For studying, make sure you don’t invest more than a half hour during each study session. The efficiency of learning decreases the longer you’re studying. It’s better to do 2 half hour sessions than 1 full hour session. If you’re studying by the recommendations in this blog regularly, an hour of studying is usually excessive in any number of sessions. That being said, it can be useful if you haven’t been keeping up with a class.

Better Than Time Management

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I hope you choose not to manage your time. It can work short term but it’s kind of like a drug. Eventually, you’re going to hit rock bottom and hate everything about your life. That can easily lead to significantly worse problems than not following a schedule in the first place. There is a much better alternative to most time management problems: Passion management.

Passion management is focusing your life on the things that really matter to you. Instead of trying to make time for everything. Make time for the things that are most important to you. Then let as much of the other stuff as possible go. Instead of trying to get perfect grades in every class, fight to get great grades in the classes you love and okay grades in everything else.

That idea can scare a good percentage of the students thinking about college. It’s usually an irrational fear though. If you’re competing to get into Harvard or MIT then you’re probably right to be concerned. The difference between a top notch, big name college and an average college is a big deal. If you’re worried about not getting into a particular smaller named college then it’s probably a waste of your time. (Most employers don’t know the difference between average universities.)

Anyways, grades are an almost impossible to compete with standard. Points often come down to impossible subjective standards and teacher quirks. Sure, it’s good to get good grades but great and top notch grades require an absurd and usually excessive amount of time investment for the return.

Instead of managing your time. Manage the things you care about. Whenever you realize you don’t really care about something (and you don’t have an objective reason to worry about it,) slide it down on your priorities and spend less time worrying about it. That leaves you with more time to think about the things that matter.

Doing this, you can virtually live your whole life without “managing your time.”

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