As we start a new semester, I remember the beginning of my college career. About my freshman year, one thing is clear: I had much shame in my game. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. I thought I was starting off perfectly. I had my schedule written down in the planner I was given at orientation. Once I got the syllabus for each class, I wrote down the due date for every assignment. I even arranged colorful tabs in a three-ring binder – one color for each class – to keep all my work organized.

Off to a Great Start…or Not?

These were great first steps, but then the semester started and things got ugly. My backpack was too small for the binder and my books, so my beautiful tabs became fossils in the strata of papers in my car. My planner became a coaster. I rewrote due dates on the back of an envelope in my backpack. Even if that would have worked (it didn’t), I never planned time to work on the assignments. I scraped by in this fashion through the first two semesters, but it wasn’t pretty. I learned from these mistakes (and many others like them), and what I ended up with was decent time management skills. I’m living proof that it can be done, and here are six tips to get you started.

Look where you already manage your time well.

Believe it or not, you already manage some areas in your life well. You don’t forget to watch your favorite TV show, or fail to recall that you have tickets to your favorite sports event. I don’t know a Jedi mind trick that will help you think of homework as recreation; however, looking at the ways you remember your leisure activities may give you some ideas about how to remember your learning activities.

Plan for what you NEED to do and what you WANT to do.

Indulge me in a simple math problem. You may have heard that for every hour in class, you should plan to spend two hours per week outside of class on preparation (studying, reading, writing papers, etc.). If you’re taking six credits, you need to schedule 12 hours outside of class, which means you have to devote at least 18 hours per week to school. If you’re taking more than six credits, that time allotment increases. When you consider you have only 168 hours in a week, you can see your available time shrinking before your eyes. Does this mean you just won’t have time for fun? Quite the contrary. Planning time for self-care and rest is just as important as planning time to study. So, by all means – indulge in that “Family Guy” marathon. Just plan for it.

Keep your eye on the prize.

Practicing effective time management skills is a habit, and, like many good habits, you’ll need to find personal incentive. Ask yourself: Why do I want to manage my time? Maybe you want to have more time to spend with your family and friends. Maybe you want to sharpen your skills for an intended job, or for your current job. Or maybe you just want to stop feeling so stressed out. Whatever your motivation, keeping specific goals in mind while inspiring change in your life will help it seem less like work, and more like an opportunity.

Strive for moderation.

Let me dispel one myth. It’s not possible to manage your schedule perfectly all the time. Life is messy. Kids get sick. Cars fail to start. Work shifts get rearranged. When our best-laid intentions unravel, we may find ourselves stuck in a state of overwhelm, and we feel as though we’ve failed. But effective time management isn’t about absolutes. Knowing what is on your plate will help you know what must be taken care of right away, and what can wait for another day.

Don’t commit—at least, not right away.

It’s counter-intuitive, but the best way to make more time is to take more time. It’s so easy to say yes—particularly to the things we find fun—and many times our schedules get out of control because we overcommit. Before you say “yes,” let “I don’t know. Let me check and get back to you” be your mantra.

There’s an app for that.

Information is growing exponentially, and so, it seems, has our need to keep command of it. Since it’s unrealistic to expect that our brains will be able to hold all of the things that we need to remember, it’s imperative that we use technology. The key is to use a time management system that fits what you are already doing. If your family makes jokes about your addiction to your iPhone, download an app on that. If your laptop has logged more miles than your car, find a software program you can use. If you prefer to have something that you can both write in and use as a coaster, a free (yes, free!) planner awaits you in the FRCC Student Center. Whatever you want to use is fine – just use something.

In reality, most of us, on occasion, demonstrate a liberal interpretation of time theory. We tell ourselves, “Oh, I’ll just get on Facebook for a minute.” We use words and phrases like “later” and “in the future” and the ever-popular, oh-so-indefinite “someday.” Even my most organized friends have proven Einstein’s theory — that time is relative to the observer – by logging on to Pinterest, and stretching 15 minutes into three hours. Ultimately, you don’t have to manage your time – but life is so much easier when you do.

What do you do to help manage your priorities and time?

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