“Time is our most precious and fleeting resource.
We never have enough, yet we have all there is.
This is the time-management paradox” (Tom Reilly).
I love these words of wisdom and find my daily experiences reflect this sentiment. As a Learning Skills Instructor at Brock University, I often talk to students about “time management”. I hear about their struggles, their confusion, and their ongoing quest to juggle and balance a multitude of tasks and activities—yet their loss as to how. As I listen, I see my past self. I know my own approach and attitude towards time management changed drastically over the years from an undergraduate student to a graduate student. So, I will often draw upon my past learnings and experiences, as I explore tips and strategies for time management, aiming to meet students where “they are at” and with authenticity.
In my early undergraduate years, I would say I had a patterned process—beginning as an “extreme optimist” and moving towards sheer panic. Each year as I was positively sure I could fit in every class, work, volunteer, and social activity that my heart desired. What was at the root of this philosophy? I was young and energetic and the world was my oyster. Saying “yes” to presented opportunities could open up new doors—new career paths. If I turned something down, I might lose out. So, I would pack my schedule full. Then, more often than not, only after I was deeply committed, reality would hit. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week. Try as I might, I could not alter this math. Yes, I had moved to that “place of panic” where I had no idea how I would complete everything. My solution? Head down—I would forge ahead hoping all would work out. Often it did (which allowed me to repeat this pattern for a few years). But, eventually the stress of the pendulum swing began to take its toll. I needed to discover a better way of figuring out the reality of time limitations.
Here is one of my favourite strategies which emerged —guided by the “experts”, and personally tweaked for different seasons of life. Over the years, during workshops and consultations, I often find that students enjoy hearing about this strategy. Some even return to let me know how successful it has been for them. The strategy? I like to call it, “creating a balanced weekly schedule”.
Basically, you take your computer, or a piece of paper, and create a blank schedule—Monday—Sunday, for every hour you are up. For the next steps, you can choose to use different colours, if you are a visual person like me. First, in one colour (say green), slot in all of your fixed activities for the week. For students this will mean their lectures, seminars, labs, and part-time work schedules. For the second step, you take a different colour (purple, sounds good), and block off the time you need to complete your university work (e.g. your times for reading, reviewing, studying, writing assignments, etc.). The general recommendation, which can come as a surprise to students, is to block off two to three hours for every hour of class (e.g. 15 hours of class = 30 hours of school work). Next, in a different colour (maybe blue), you schedule in time for balance (e.g. hobbies, physical activity, family and friends—all the things that make us happier and healthier in life).
During this activity, students may experience an “uh-oh” moment, when they realize they cannot fit everything into their schedules (“hello past-self”). I have met students who are working thirty hours a week in addition to taking five courses. (Yes, these students would discover not only could they not fit everything into 24 hours, but there was also little to no room for “blue” time, or balance). Rather than letting students panic, this is the moment to guide students to feeling empowered to make decisions which work best for their lives. “It is good when we discover the reality of time-math” (Usually at this point, I’ll make a quick analogy to my personal past). “There are just choices to be made. Some people may choose to work fewer hours at a part-time job. Other people may choose to do a course in the spring or summer, in consultation with his/her academic advisor, and fewer courses during the fall and winter terms. And there are other options too. What do you think will work best for you?”…
What is at the heart of the “Balanced Weekly Schedule”?
For me, it is allowing myself to live life to the fullest. When I know that the time-math works and I have created a healthy balance to my week, I can be fully present in each moment and not distracted by distance thoughts of, “How am I going to get everything done?” Is the schedule perfect? No. But it does allow me to better enjoy, even though it is momentary, that “precious and fleeting resource” of time.
What is your best time management tip for students?