Friday, April 25, 2014

Beat the clock – achieve more through time management

cover story

Between working, studying, doing homework, preparing for tests, dining, exercising, texting, going through everyone’s Twitter feeds (because you simply can’t risk missing what the 1D guys had for lunch today), browsing the news every 10 minutes to make sure the world hasn’t decided to implode since you last checked, watching the latest episodes of Homeland, Modern Family, Pakistan Idol and a few dozen other series, and even occasionally sleeping, it gets hard to fit everything we want to do into our ever busy lives. It’s like we’re constantly running a race against the clock, and more often than not, time seems to be winning.

With everything that needs to be done, wouldn’t it be awesome if the day were a few hours longer? That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But unless we want to relocate to Venus (which doesn’t seem like the best strategy as far as our continued existence is concerned), we are stuck with the plain old 24 hour long Earth day. All we can do is make the most of it. And that’s where time management comes in.

Students often find it hard to keep up with the many requirements and pressures of their degrees while also maintaining an often deceptive semblance of sanity. And those who juggle many extracurricular activities with their studies can end up stretching themselves too thin. But figuring out how to make the best use of your time can reduce the level of stress in your life and help you achieve more. And it’s not as hard as it may seem. All it takes is a little planning and organisation!

Create an environment conducive to studying
Finding the right place to work or study can help you concentrate and focus on the task at hand, and hence allow you to finish your work more quickly. The ideal setting would be one where you can minimise distractions and avoid interruptions while you work. If you can’t find a quiet place, then a headset and a record of instrumental or meditation music might be a good option to reduce external disturbances; this will keep the noise out without being too distracting.
Your workspace should be tidy and have access to all the material you will require during your study session; grab everything you will need before you sit down to work instead of getting up every few minutes to find your notes or books. And it’s never a bad idea to stay away from temptations – cell phone, computer and Internet (unless required for studies; ideally, you can download and/or print the files or web pages you’ll need and log off), gaming console, television…staying away from the temptress that is modern technology for the duration of your study period can increase your productivity and in turn help save your time.

Think ahead
Try not to let things pile up. Yes, this seems like common sense, but it’s still one of the most obvious things that many of us ignore anyway. Have you ever waited till the eleventh hour to do a project or study for a quiz? Then you know why it’s a bad idea! It will be much better if you study from the start. Don’t wait till the week before the exam to wonder where your books are or the night before the assignment is due to start working on it, because then no amount of time management tips will help you get good results.
If you waste your time early on and save all your work for the last minute, then that will simply create an imbalance and add stress to your life. You don’t just have to manage the minutes and days but also the weeks and months. Keeping an eye on the exam schedule and what is due when during the semester will assist you and make you more productive in less time and with less stress.

Get organised
To best utilise the time you have available, the most basic thing you can do is create a to-do list, jotting down everything that needs to be done; then turn that task list into a schedule. You should ideally end up with i) a daily to-do list (breakdown of the day specifying what needs to be done and when), and ii) a monthly schedule (a broader view based on deadlines, exam dates, and other activities).
Set priorities, based on importance and urgency, and figure out a timetable that will allow you to accomplish all your study obligations, assigning specific dates and times to each task. Break bigger projects into smaller components to make them more manageable, and try your best to stick to what you have planned. That said, also leave room for contingencies; unavoidable, unforeseen events can create a dent in your schedule, so leave some flexibility in your plan to keep such things from derailing your studies and then creating a burden.
But your timetable shouldn’t just cover your studies. While you create your schedule, make sure you…

…balance studies and, well, life!
Overloading yourself with nothing but studies is no good. Allow yourself some down time in your schedule. Plan breaks between study sessions to revitalise your mind, then return to your books refreshed. After you finish a scheduled task, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. Spend time with your family and friends and make sure you don’t neglect your health. Take care of your body and mind. Eat healthy and don’t skip meals. Assign a few minutes every day to exercise. And if you want to spend your waking hours productively, then you have to get a good night’s sleep; a groggy mind will take longer to process something that an alert mind will grasp more quickly.

Carry your work with you. If you’re commuting to school or work, waiting for someone to arrive, grabbing your lunch, or just killing time between classes, you can be productive during this window by going through your notes or some other quick memory tools, like flashcards. Even if you’re watching TV, make good use of the commercial breaks; heaven knows there are plenty of them! By utilising these spare moments, you can not only save time, but also improve your retention through repetition. And maximising the time you productively use will also maximise your success.

Identify bad habits and rectify them
As you follow your schedule, keep an eye on your progress and also try to identify habits that distract you from your work and make you waste time as you go along. Understand when your pattern of behaviour is sabotaging your plans and chances of success. Have you been getting distracted by text messages? Do you keep logging on to Facebook every time you’re using your computer? Have you been skipping classes for unimportant reasons, and then spending days to catch up on your coursework? Do you jump at every invitation you get to go out? Are you spending hours researching a query because you’re too hesitant to ask questions in class? Or are you answering everyone else’s queries instead of focusing on your own revision?
If you are letting your habits drain your time, then rectify that immediately. Make a note every time you spend your efforts on a non-priority, and then try to eliminate that behaviour. It will probably benefit you if you learn to say no, and know when and how to say no, both to yourself and to others; you can’t accept every invitation or respond to every request for help, and you can’t give in to every temptation. Weed out unnecessary times drains and see the positive impact it has on your achievements.

Figure out what works best for you
Some people work better in the morning; others are more productive at night. Some prefer to study in the library; others prefer the familiarity of their own room. Study groups work for some students, while others find them inefficient. Everyone has their own way of doing things and their own preferences. You have to find your own optimum study method. If you do things a certain way just because you see other people doing it, you will end up frustrated and achieve less in the same duration. So, try different systems and see which one gives you the best results, then tailor it further to your preferences. Don’t get sidetracked by others; it doesn’t matter what system they’re using or how much progress they’ve made – just go with what works for you and stick with your plans.

And, no matter what happens, don’t panic! Just keep calm and carry on. Good luck!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25th April, 2014 *

No comments: