Teachers all want their students to succeed and time management is an obvious factor. Still, as an academic drop-in facilitator for international and domestic students, I hear students regularly requesting advice on that very issue. They have no problem understanding entrepreneur Jim Rohn’s shrewd comment: “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” But they are far from always good at doing it! How can we help?
Motivation, skill, and action
I believe we must envisage a three-stage process. First comes motivation. Just worrying about time management does not automatically create motivation. Healthy motivation only comes after students stop blaming themselves and realize it’s reasonable to ask for assistance; especially when they know they are far from the only ones.
Next comes skill, which means self-reflection into the specific elements a given student wants to control better. Highly skilled time managers break challenges down into components. Thus, we should hear (and validate) student self-identified concerns and directly ask them which individual aspects they want to control better. Skillful analysis of what may be holding an individual back can help a student determine where to invest effort. But this will not come naturally. It can and must be taught.
Finally comes action, which means making use of time management tools and strategies that suit individual characteristics. However, the process must not be short-circuited. No simple list of potential tools and strategies will help students who lack one or both of the necessary motivation and/or skill to identify and implement what they need. Without that foundation, students may well not take such suggestions seriously. This post will go on to present sample tools and strategies that I’ve seen students use effectively, but experience suggests that first of all, motivation and skill must receive the attention they deserve.
Tools and strategies for time management
By tools I mean reminders for effective action. By strategies I mean routines that make it easier to carry out those actions once you have chosen them.
Here are a few valuable tools student can use:
- Your body clock: Listen to what it says! Psychologists often say many people are most alert in late morning and then in the evening, but what about your own peak mental time?
- A daily planner: Obtain the free planner most schools provide or set up a Google or Microsoft calendar. Also, for more individualization, you could try an option from SlidesMania. Consider your personal style and choose the best tool for yourself.
- Lists: If you are a ‘list person,’ there are tools for you! For general checklists, try Google Keep. Particularly, to list learning objectives try SMART Goal Template.
- Timing devices:Keep tabs on how long tasks take you and make sure you do not spend more than your budgeted time on a given project. You can rely on your cellphone timer or go for a productivity tracker like Toggle Track.
Here are some useful strategies for making your chosen tools work:
- Reliable planning habits: Always plan ahead. Do not leave any assignment/test/quiz to the last moment. Be sure to prioritize tasks according to their importance and check your daily planner regularly.
- Remember your own needs: Give yourself a break between tasks. Additionally, reward yourself for carefully monitoring your own progress and getting yourself back on track when necessary.
- Realism and flexibility: Make sure to set aside reasonable time for each goal and adjust when things don’t work out. Even the most careful person can be surprised by a task that is much harder than expected, or a friend who might need help. A ‘perfect’ schedule is not so tight that there is no room for adjustments.
Apart from the immediate goal of improved time management, I believe such resources can enhance a student’s self-esteem, reduce their stress levels, improve the quality of their work, and elevate their study/life balance.
In the comments section below, please share your own ideas/resources regarding support for student time management.