Time Management: Principles
Effective time management is different for everybody. Different time management approaches will work for different people, but there are some basic principles that are common to all:
- Avoiding Procrastination
Ultimately, good time management comes down to self-discipline. Without this you can become prone to procrastination or lose focus. A key to keeping self-discipline is balance. Don't overstretch yourself. If you do organise a schedule, be sure to factor in some relaxation/leisure time.
Different Reasons for Procrastinating
There are lots of different reasons for procrastinating, including:
- Boredom - what; you need to is so dull, so you put it off
- Difficultly - you don't want to make a start because it requires too much effort
- Stress - you don't want to think about the task because it causes you stress
- Fear of failure - you don't think you're going to make a good job of the task, so you put it off
- Perfectionism - there is so much to be done before you can do the task just right
- Self-sabotage - you don't think you'll do a good job, so you delay starting it.
Tips for Overcoming Procrastination
- Break down tasks into smaller ones. Big tasks are more difficult and daunting than smaller ones. Break big jobs down into as many smaller ones as you can.
- Start with something easy. Having broken down your big tasks into smaller tasks, start with one of the easier tasks - you'll feel a whole lot better once you've made a start
- Make it easier to keep going. Some people swear by taking a break in the middle of something e.g., writing a sentence or reading a paragraph. Completing the sentence/paragraph is an easier start that beginning from scratch, and once you have started work, you can keep going
- Prioritise and organise. A lot of procrastination comes from being disorganised - if you have a lot to do, you might not know where to get start. Follow the organising and prioritisation tips below and think about using one (or both!) of the matrices on the downloads page
- Be kind to yourself. If you've procrastinated in the past, don't worry about it. Research indicates that forgiving yourself after you make a mistake is more likely to lead to successful future work than judging yourself harshly about it.
See also the 15 Ways to Beat Procrastination infographic
If you want to study well, then you need to keep your focus. Focus is about concentrating on the task at hand and not getting distracted. Once you have decided what you are going to do and for how long, you need to ensure you can focus on the task at hand. You can keep your focus by (and yes, some of these things are easier said than done!)
- Avoid social media. It's hard to say no, but you can think about using an app that will block certain sites (see the Links and Resources page). At the very least think about putting your phone on silent or switching off notifications
- Think about your work environment - where do you work best: a quiet space on your own, or perhaps in the library or a coffee shop where there's comforting background noise? If you're studying at home, work out how to organise your study space to optimise study
- Think about what time you work best. Are you an early bird or do you work best in the evening? Organise your study around the time you are most mentally active.
- Take frequent breaks. Follow a schedule like the Pomodoro Method
- Give yourself small rewards for keeping focus (like scrolling through social media during your break, or a small bar of chocolate)
You will manage your time better if you can organise yourself. You can improve your organisation levels by:
- Writing everything down. Get a diary, a calendar, a planner, or something else you can use to note events, deadlines and other commitments. Make sure to write down these commitments. You now have a framework around which you can plan other events but do leave a little flexibility. With online calendars and planners, you can set reminders and receive notifications when deadlines approach.
- Organise your files - see the Filing page in the Study Skills Section
- For hard copies, have folders, ring binders or another physical method for keeping notes together. Label them.
- For soft copies, create individual folders for modules and assignments & think about using something like Google Drive or Dropbox to back them up.
- Give all files and folders meaningful names so that you don't waste time having to figure out what's in them
- If you have a study/work space, keep it tidy & have a place for everything.
- Take some time on a regular basis to update your files, your calendar/diary etc, and tidy your workspace
Some tasks might be more important than others. Some tasks must be done before others. You need to decide the order you need to do things, so you need to prioritise what you need to do. Think about how urgent things are and how much time you can spend on something. Remember what's important doesn't have to be the same as what needs to be done first. Things you can do:
Make a to-do list and estimate the time you need for each item on the list
Prioritise - figure out what things are more important and give more time to them. Consider using the time management matrix or the action priority matrix (see the Downloadable Resources page)
See if you can break down big tasks into smaller tasks. There's an old joke "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!". If you concentrate on each bite, eating the elephant won't feel so overwhelming.