Binging on caffeine and tearing through textbooks into the early hours of the morning is business as usual for most college students. But is the seemingly ubiquitous all-nighter just a routine part of student life, or is it merely a product of poor time management and procrastination?
There’s no doubt students of all age groups are busy people, between exams, papers, research and part or even full-time jobs. But even with loads of work to get through, there are ways to improve your work habits, and make the best out of the time you have to spend on it. Time management, for students especially, is a vital skill to know, and below is a list of the major key points you need to be aware of, and the little things you can do to make sure you get them right.
For more tips on this topic, check out this course on perfect time management. If you’re attending university, there’s this handy guide on managing your time specifically in a college environment.
There are different ways to stay organized in different aspects of your life, and they’re all important for maintaining a manageable lifestyle and study time. Let’s break it down.
1. Have a clean and organized work space. I know, I know! It sounds obvious, but having a space to study that’s free from clutter is one of the most important things you can give yourself if you want to maximize your productivity.
The cleaner your space is, the more focused you can let yourself be on the matters at hand. The less clutter on your desk, the less clutter on your mind! It also helps to start out with a clean space so you can have all the necessary study tools laid out in a neat, organized fashion. Taking that extra time to clean up, get organized, and make sure all your tools, notes, and books are easily accessible will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
2. Get minor tasks out of the way as soon as possible – focus on the big stuff. This includes things like marking important dates on the calendar, checking out required text books, and making sure you have all the necessary study tools and materials you need before it’s time to get serious. Be prepared!
This is very similar to keeping an organized work space, only instead of keeping a physical space free of clutter, you’re keeping your daily life free of clutter. The moment you’re presented with something small, get it out of the way right away. The small tasks are the ones that can pile up the fastest! Once a professor hands you that syllabus, go through it and mark all the important due dates, test days, film screenings, study sessions on your calendar. Order your textbooks as soon as you know which ones you need. Do it now, so you don’t forget about it later, when it matters.
Having a hard time keeping track of all these small tasks? Sounds like someone needs to…
3. Use to-do lists for daily and long-term goals. When you have a clear understanding of the work you need to get done on a daily basis, and a weekly (and even monthly) basis, it helps you better understand the scale and scope of the work you have set before you. When everything is laid out, you’ll have an easier time categorizing and prioritizing work by due date, amount of effort, and importance.
If it helps, you can also break down large goals into smaller ones that are easier to manage. Those big, daunting tasks become much more manageable when you understand the bits and pieces of work required to make the larger project a success.
If you have a large research paper due, set aside specific dates and times to spend at the library. Dedicate certain chunks of the week to researching specific topics, writing a specific chapter, putting together the perfect bibliography, revising the final draft, etc.
Not only will this help you with the project at hand, it will help make your time management skills stronger as a whole, because you’re learning how to get a feel for your own pace, and how to judge the necessary time commitments to get certain types of work done. This leads into the next tip, which is…
Understand Your Limits
You’re not a robot. With the amount of work you have to do, the amount of information you need to process, the number of tests you need to prepare for, you probably end up wishing you were a robot. But you’re not, and it’s important to remember your own physical and mental limits when preparing for those particularly hefty work loads.
1. Organize study time around what works for you. This sounds obvious, but there’s more to it than you may think. Ask yourself the important questions. Do you work best at nights, or in the mornings? Alone, or in groups?
Get a feel for the circumstances that help you be the most productive you can be, and try to plan your prime study sessions in accordance with those. If you’re not someone who can work first thing in the morning, spend the early hours of your day getting those smaller, mindless tasks we talked about earlier out of the way. Send emails, mark dates, go over your to-do list, take some time to wake up.
Similarly, if you’re not someone who can work late into the night, power through the day and treat yourself with a good night’s sleep. Which leads into our next important point, which is…
2. Be aware of your health, and make plans to maintain it. Again, you’re not a robot. You need sleep, you need rest, you need food, and you need exercise. No matter how much work you have to do, there is no reason to let your physical health and sanity slip because of it. I know you might think taking a break here and there might be a waste of time, but that’s only the case if you’re doing it in excess – that’s called procrastination.
However, if you can manage your break times as much as your study times, it will be much better for you in the long run. Letting yourself kick back one or two times during a long study session, grabbing some food and going on a quick walk will actually help you focus for longer periods of time.
In a way, you’re saving time by allowing yourself a quick break to re-energize and re-focus your mind, than you would be if you tried to power through your work with no relaxation in sight. That’s the perfect way to crash and burn, and end up being less productive in the long run. It’s no secret that a healthy diet and exercise are necessary to stay productive and focused.