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Time Management – Work Smart, Maximize Productivity

Jae Chung


If you ask someone what good time management is, you’re likely to get a response along the lines of “the process of organizing and planning your time effectively between specific activities.” I like to go by a definition a bit cruder. “How can I work smarter, not harder, to get more done in less time.”

Photo Credit: Elegant Themes

There’s a common misconception that being busy is analogous with being effective. In fact, too often I’ve had students tell me they spent all week studying only to get less than desirable results on their exams, sometimes blaming the instructor for an out-of-left-field exam. But let’s take a closer examination of cases such as these:

“I had three midterms last week and I spent every day studying the week before. Why did I do poorly on all of my exams?”

Ask yourself these questions: How did you break up your time studying for three different exams? Were you constantly switching back and forth between each course? Did you have any other obligations that distracted you from focusing (club/organizations, house meetings, etc...)? Were you tired? Did you unnecessarily review stuff you already knew and glossed over the material you felt less confident about?

The result? The total raw hours of dedicated effective studying are nowhere near the perception of studying every day. The focus needs to shift from the simple act of studying to effective studying. The first step in doing so is to adopt good time management practices. Here are some tips for effective personal time management:

Spend the time to plan and organize

You’ve heard this a thousand times, but it is absolutely critical to plan your day well in advance. The preferred method to do this will differ among each student but organize in a way that makes sense to you. Prepare a to-do list or a general timeline of tasks for the day. Planning out your week over a 7 day timeline is even better and will give you the foresight to see how you can maximize productivity in each individual day. You can find a 7 day planner at the learning connection under weekly schedule.

Set goals for yourself

Goals give you direction. You want to have a clear direction of where you’re going otherwise you’ll be lost and valuable time will be spent trying to steer back in the right direction. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART). For more information, here’s a fun YouTube video describing what SMART goals are.

Photo Credit: Ohio Health

Create a micro-step for a procrastinated task

Sometimes we get bogged down because we just can’t get started. Have you heard of microsteps? Microsteps are small ridiculously doable steps. They are meant to be easy and not daunting. This makes that problem set you need to get done doable and then you realize the finish line isn’t so scary after all.

So let’s say you have a pset that you need to get done and you just feel so overwhelmed by the idea of even starting it. Think about one microstep you can take to get started. You might think, starting problem #1. Hmm… That seems a bit too big of a step. How about printing out the pset?

Taking small microsteps such as these will help you get toward that finish line. We don’t start tasks because we often feel overwhelmed and the task at hand feels so monumentous. By tackling the assignment through microsteps, you don’t feel overwhelmed and the finish line doesn’t seem so monumentous after all.

Next week: Test-Taking. Learn how to take the test, not let the test take you!