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picture of time troubles word cloudMany students have some kind of time troubles. They can be caused by overcommitment, perfectionism, or simple procrastination, and they can create a lot of stress and anxiety. If we don’t deal with them, they lead to missed assignments, low quality papers, and poor test scores.

Get a System

One of the most common “fixes” for time troubles is to use a planner, calendar, or journal. Students will pick one, use it for awhile, and then gradually many of them will stop. Why don’t they stick with it? It’s because calendars, planners, and journals are only part of the solution. Time management systems, whether digital (phone, tablet, or laptop), or analog (pen and paper), aren’t one-size-fits-all. Even the choice of digital or analog is based on what works best for the individual. So before you commit to a time management tool, it’s a good idea to figure out what your particular time troubles are.

I don’t have time!

Most of the students who come into my office tell me they don’t have time. There can be a lot of reasons students feel this way, but here are three of the most common, along with some suggestions for solving them.

Things falling through the cracks: Identify why this is happening. Have you included everything you need to accomplish in your calendar or planner? Put all your assignments, tests, papers, and projects on your calendar, and plan when you will start them so you are not working of everything at the same time. Prioritize what you have to accomplish, and watch for lighter time periods so that you can take advantage of slower times to get work done. It helps to keep a monthly overview calendar so you can plan further in advance. I keep yearly, monthly, and weekly calendars in my journal so I’m not thrown off guard when things get really crazy.

picture of a clock collageToo behind to catch up: Feeling like you can’t catch up can cause serious motivation problems, leading you to think, “why bother”, and give up. To catch up, try to figure out how you got there. Are you a procrastinator? If so, the key to solving these time troubles is to stay on top of your work so you don’t fall behind. This is great advice, but how do you get caught up so you can do that?

Start by breaking down all your tasks into smaller pieces, until you can find something you can do immediately. Keep working away at those smaller pieces until the tasks are done. I use pages in my journal to break down big jobs into smaller tasks, and then check them off as I complete them. It can be very motivating to watch yourself making progress.

If you’re not a procrastinator, you might be overcommitted. Try limiting your commitments so that you aren’t being pulled in too many directions. This may mean giving up some activities and interests for a period of time so that you can focus on getting back on track.

picture of book swirlOverworked: There will always be times when your classwork overwhelms you. Multiple tight deadlines surrounded by long reading assignments will leave you feeling exhausted. You know you have time troubles, however, when that feeling of overwork becomes normal, and you aren’t taking the time for proper meals or needed sleep. To combat this, start by making sure you are actually working during your schoolwork time. Try keeping a homework log, and track what you accomplish during your work time. Are you actually working as much as you think you are? You might need to eliminate any distractions that can eat away at your time.

Next, look at your weekly schedule and set dedicated work time and put it on your calendar. Then make a realistic list of what you will accomplish during that time and how much time you will assign to each task. Organizing your work time in this way can help you stay focused, and helps you stay within your time limits. When it’s time to stop, do it. Working to the exhaustion point doesn’t lead to academic achievement.

Identifying your time troubles and applying specific solutions will make using your preferred time management system much more helpful. The more helpful it is the more likely you are to stick  with it.