Time Management

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Properly managing your time is a skill that every successful student needs. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing ten of my most effective time management strategies. Let’s go!

1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET

First things first, get rid of the “I just don’t have enough time” mindset. Managing your time starts with taking responsibility for conquering the challenges in your life instead of giving up and resigning yourself to accept less-than-ideal amounts of sleep and/or study. In the following activity, I’ll show you that there is absolutely a way to fit rigorous studying into a balanced schedule.

There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s see how that time might be spent:

  • 40 hours at school (8 hours x 5 days) (**Post-high school students will likely only spend 12-18 hours in lectures every week!)
  • 56 hours sleeping (8 hours x 7 days)
  • 14 hours eating, bathing, etc (2 hours x 7 days)
  • 21 hours socializing, extracurricular activities, etc (3 hours x 7 days)
  • 5 hours commuting (30 minutes each way x 5 days) (**See Tip #10 to learn how you can make this time productive!)
  • 3 hours exercising (30 minutes x 6 days)

Add all that time together and you get a maximum of 139 hours spent on all of the essential components of a healthy, balanced life– regular exercise, a full 8 hours of sleep per night, plenty of time for socialization and hobbies, and so on.

But that still leaves 29 hours of your week remaining, which is the equivalent of a part-time job! Nearly thirty hours a week is more than enough time to finish your homework and studying, guaranteed.

So recognize that there are indeed enough hours in the day to get everything done while maintaining your sanity! Developing this mindset will empower you to take control of the way you spend those remaining 29 hours. Make sure to check in with yourself often. Be mindful of how you’re spending your time, and regularly reevaluate to see if you’re on track to hit your goals.

2. PLAN THE NIGHT BEFORE

Each day, invest a few minutes in planning to save yourself hours in execution. While you don’t necessarily have to do this at night, I find that planning the next day right before I go to bed helps me to clear my mind, sleep better, and wake up with a purpose so I can hit the ground running in the morning. Pack your bag, set out tomorrow’s outfit and/or gym clothes, and make a few preparations for breakfast. Then, take a moment to assess the day you’ve just had. What went well? Where could you have made better use of your time? Were there any tasks you didn’t get to that have to be finished tomorrow? Using your mental reflection along with the rest of the tips in this post, create a schedule or a to-do list for the next day.

3. PRIORITIZE

Once you’ve made a list of everything you need/want to get done, sort them by priority to help you direct your focus towards the right tasks. For students with academic obligations, there are three main ways to prioritize tasks:

  • Urgency: Check the due dates for your assignments and prioritize those that are due the soonest. Study for tomorrow’s test before you practice for next week’s presentation.
  • Significance: Prioritize assignments that make up a higher percentage of your class grade. If your English homework is worth 5% of your grade but the essay is worth 50%, place a higher priority on the essay.
  • Potential consequences: Let’s say, for example, that you will most likely end up with a B in science– you have an 83% in the class, your test scores have been Bs throughout the year, and it’s unlikely you’ll score high enough on the final exam to end up with an A average. But maybe in history class, you’re hovering at the edge between a B and an A, and if you study hard for the final exam, chances are good that you can knock your class grade up to an A. In this case, any amount of effort spent on the science final will probably result in a B grade, whereas studying for the history final could put you up an entire letter grade. Therefore you should prioritize studying for your history final over studying for your science final.

4. GO STEADY

While you should knock out your prioritized tasks as soon as possible, also try to work on something that is important, but not urgent, every day. Start on an essay that’s not due for another month. Review your flashcards daily so you’re not scrambling to cram the night before the test. This also applies to activities outside of school; I, for example, make an effort to write a bit of a blog post daily in addition to completing my homework assignments.

Making steady progress on long-term projects will prevent you from getting stuck always rushing to finish urgent tasks (“putting out fires”).

5. BREAK IT UP

When writing your to-do list or creating a schedule (more on that later), break up your assignments and projects into small, actionable steps to make them more manageable. Avoid vague words such as study, work on, or practice when creating the actionable steps. Otherwise, you’ll drift aimlessly through your work with no clear guidelines as to what exactly you need to do or when to stop. Here are some examples of how you might break up your assignments:

  • study for trig test –> watch lecture on module 4.7, complete review problems 15-35, drill unit circle flashcards 2 times through
  • work on history research –> find 3 primary sources from library archives, annotate article 1, annotate article 2, annotate article 3, brainstorm possible thesis statements
  • practice French –> complete demonstratives lesson on Duolingo, drill Anki deck 3 times, write 10 orignal sentences using new vocab

6. EAT THAT FROG

This tip comes from author Brian Tracy, who was inspired by the following Mark Twain quote:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

This means that you should work on your most dreaded task first, when your energy and motivation levels are highest. Your frog doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest task, just the one you’re looking forward to the least.

Don’t sit there looking at the frog and cringing. Just eat it. Take action. If you can get the most horrible assignment out of the way first thing in the morning, the rest of your to-do list is downhill from there!

7. USE ENERGY-BASED TASK MANAGEMENT

On a similar note, it’s a good idea to plan your entire day around your energy levels, not just the frog. I call this technique energy-based task management, and it can be summarized in three simple steps:

  1. Determine which time(s) of day you have the most energy. Are you a morning bird? A night owl? Do you hit a slump after lunch?
  2. During your high-energy times, work on the difficult, thought-intensive tasks such as brainstorming, writing, annotating, and active studying.
  3. During your low-energy times, take care of the menial things that have to get done but don’t require a lot of energy, attention, or skill. This includes tasks such as creating flashcards, cleaning the house, exercising, and running errands.

Energy-based task management helps you make the most out of your energy potential instead of wasting your peak productivity times on easy, mindless tasks.

Click here to read my full post on energy-based task management!

8. BOX YOUR TIME

If you’re someone who needs a bit more structure than a simple to-do list can provide, timeboxing may be exactly what you need! Timeboxing is simply allotting tasks to certain periods of time. I’d recommend using a digital task manager to do this (Plan is my tool of choice), but you can also use a table or spiraldex.

Here are some guidelines for using timeboxing to schedule your day:

  • Schedule your fixed times first. These are all of the events you’ve already committed to, such as appointments and rehearsals. It also includes the absolute essentials such as times for sleeping, eating, and taking breaks.
  • Use your priorities (Tip #3), frog (Tip #6), important-but-not-urgent task (Tip #4), and general planner/calendar to create a rough list of things you need/want to get done the next day.
  • Estimate how much time each task will take you. When starting out, you are likely to actually need more time for tasks than you estimated, so add some wiggle room to prevent throwing off your entire schedule. As your estimates become more accurate, try scheduling slightly less time than you think you need in order to challenge yourself to get things done more quickly.
  • Use energy-based task management (Tip #7) to place high- and low- energy tasks in their respective places on your schedule.
  • Batch tasks whenever possible. Group similar items together so you’re not constantly switching between unrelated things.
  • Schedule your downtime. Putting fun activities on your schedule will motivate you to stick with the plan and get your work done faster.

Timeboxing is such a big topic that I’ll most likely make an entirely separate post about how I timebox, so stay tuned for that!

9. LEARN TO SAY NO

However tempting it may be, don’t take on every opportunity that arises. Don’t let others pressure you into signing up to take all the hardest classes and joining a gazillion extracurriculars. Turn down parties and social obligations with people who are negative, draining, or simply incompatible with you. Reject activities that don’t bring you real happiness, such as TV, social media, or games on your phone. Watching your favorite show is a great way to unwind, but consider if your time spent scrolling half-heartedly through Instagram could be better spent hanging out with friends.

Know when to stop working. Particularly when it comes to organizing and other mindless tasks. Your supplies are never going to be 100% neat and your notes won’t be perfectly pretty. Let go of perfectionism. In my experience, the amount of studying required increases exponentially as your goal grade rises. While I always believe in working hard, the blunt truth is that at a certain point, straining yourself to get a certain score makes no difference. So don’t spend 10 hours studying to get a 100% if you can spend 5 hours to get a 95%. And learn to settle for “good enough.”

10. FILL THE GAPS

Look for little gaps of time throughout the day during which you can work on tiny tasks.

Take advantage of:

  • downtime at the end of class
  • breaks between classes
  • waiting in line/in a waiting room
  • workouts on a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or similar
  • commute time (if you’re driving, please be careful to focus on the road!)

The above are great times to:

  • start doing homework
  • drill flashcards
  • brainstorm new goals or ideas
  • listen to recorded lectures
  • listen to an audiobook or podcast
  • check/edit a completed assignment
  • update your planner
  • mentally rehearse a presentation
  • read a bit of an easy text

You can also put some homework in a clipboard and carry it around, filling out a bit whenever you get the chance.

A few minutes here and there may not seem like much. But even doing a couple homework problems at the end of class will make it easier to finish the rest when you get home, since you’ve already started. Plus, since the time quickly adds up but seems short and spread out, you can get a lot of work done without feeling like you’ve done any.

That’s all for today! I’ve got lots more advice to share, but hopefully these ten tips will send you on your way to becoming a time-management ninja!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Energy

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Our energy levels are constantly fluctuating throughout the day. One moment you’re on top of the world; the next, you just want to curl up and take a nap. This post will explain how to track your energy from day-to-day, apply this information to better manage your tasks, and increase your energy on the whole.

TRACKING ENERGY

Everybody has different times when they’re most and least energized. Perhaps you’re an early bird who’s most creative at the crack of dawn. Or maybe you’re a night owl who prefers to burn the midnight oil. Either way, it’s important to be aware of when your energy levels peak and dip so you can schedule the right tasks for the right times and increase your productivity.

The best way to find your “biological prime time”, or the time of day when your energy levels peak and you work the best, is by tracking your energy at regular intervals in the course of a day. There are many ways to go about tracking this, but my preferred method is to use a spreadsheet, which I’ll be showing you how to set up and use in this section.

Example spreadsheet

 

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Here’s an example of a weekly energy-tracking spreadsheet that took me less than 5 minutes to create using Google Sheets. The days of the week are listed across the top and each day has 7 am through 11 pm running down the side. In every hour of every day, I’ve rated my energy level on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the highest. I have daily averages under each day and hourly averages to the right of each time interval.

You could also make an analog spreadsheet by drawing a table on a piece of paper and carrying it around with you, but you’ll have to calculate your own averages at the end of this week. This digital spreadsheet automatically averages whatever numbers you fill in so it’s super simple to see trends in energy levels. Now I’ll show you how to make and use the same thing for yourself!

Make your own spreadsheet

The spreadsheet format is quite easy to set up, but to make it even more convenient, I’ve made a template that you can download and personalize to your heart’s content. To use this template, you’ll need a Google account and a few minutes to spare. Follow the directions below:

  1. Make sure you’re signed into your Google account.
  2. Click the picture below or on this link to take you to my Google Sheets template.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 6.02.52 PM.png
  3. Go to File and click Make a Copy. Change the document name if you want.
  4. You should now see a new spreadsheet that looks like the picture below. Don’t worry about all the #DIV/0! errors. They’ll disappear as you add more data.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 6.02.52 PM
  5. Customize the spreadsheet to suit your needs. The template goes from 7 am to 11 pm because those are the hours I’m awake, but you may need to change the times if your schedule is different. You can also change the days of the week at the top if you’re starting this spreadsheet later in the week. Double-click a cell to edit the text inside.
  6. This spreadsheet runs for 16 hours every day, but your day may be shorter. To delete rows, right-click the gray number on the very left of that row and click Delete Row.
  7. If your day is longer than 16 hours, you’ll need to add more rows. To add rows, go to a row that’s directly above or below the new row you want to add, right-click the gray number on the left, and select Insert 1 Above or Insert 1 Below as needed. When adding rows, you must apply a new averaging function to your new row. To do this, drag and highlight horizontally from the first day of your week to the last, click the sigma symbol on the far right of the toolbar, and select Average. Do this separately for each new row you add.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 6.04.29 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 6.05.01 PM
  8. If you have questions about setup or experience technical difficulties, please send me an ask on Tumblr and I’ll try to help.

Now your spreadsheet is all set up and ready to use! Every hour, go to the appropriate cell and rate your level of energy on the following scale: 1 = Braindead, 2 = Tired, 3 = Eh, 4 = Just Peachy, 5 = TOTALLY AWESOME.

To help you remember to rate yourself, I recommend downloading the Google Sheets app on your phone {iOS//Android} and setting repeating hourly alarms on your phone. It’s fine if you miss a few times, too– blank cells will be excluded from the daily and hourly averages.

Fill out the spreadsheet for at least a week, but 2-3 weeks is ideal. You can keep adding more columns to fit the duration of your tracking. The more weeks you have, the more accurate your data will be. After you’ve finished your spreadsheet, continue on to the next two sections to learn how to analyze your data and improve your energy levels!

EXPLOITING ENERGY

Now you can use the data from your spreadsheet to figure out when your energy levels are the highest and lowest. Knowing when you tend to be most and least productive will help you determine which tasks to do at which times, a technique I’ve dubbed energy-based task management.

Analyzing the spreadsheet

To find your “biological prime times”, or peak energy times, look for averages that are a fair amount higher than your daily averages. To find your low energy times, look for averages that are a fair amount lower than your daily averages. My daily average was around 3.5, so I chose 4.5 and above to be the cutoff for my peak energy times and 2.5 and below for my low energy times. This is all fairly subjective though, so it’s up to you to decide what counts as high and low for you.

In my example spreadsheet below, you can see that I hit an energy peak (marked in green) at 9 am-12 pm and again at 6 pm-8 pm. I tended to have low energy (marked in red) from 1 pm-4 pm and 9 pm-11 pm. I had high energy throughout the day on Sunday and low energy on Friday.

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Energy-based task management

The premise behind energy-based task management is that you should schedule your most important, most creative, most energy-consuming tasks for your peak energy times. This sounds fairly obvious, but the vast majority of people don’t abide by this rule. Most people hit an energy peak, feel all motivated and revved up, and attempt to cross off as many things on their laundry list of to-dos as possible. Ticking off dozens of boxes might make you feel more productive, but using your peak times to do small and quick tasks is actually wasting much of the potential of your energy.

High-energy times

So what should you do during those biological prime times? Important, difficult, detailed, immersive, creative, and/or thought-provoking tasks, which might include:

  • brainstorming ideas
  • writing an essay
  • reading a novel for class
  • taking a practice test
  • doing homework for a subject you struggle in
  • conducting research
  • practicing a sport/instrument/hobby
  • participating in spiritual/religious activities
  • doing some active studying

Low-energy times

During low energy times, on the other hand, you should either recharge to get more energy OR take care of the small, relatively menial tasks so they don’t cut into your high-energy times.

Here are some ways you can recharge:

  • if you’ve been working for a while, take a break!
  • read for pleasure
  • exercise
  • take a shower
  • take a 10-15 minute nap
  • get a lightly caffeinated drink, such as green tea

And here are some small tasks you can take care of so you can save your high-energy times for more important things:

  • organize your workspace
  • clean out your binder or folders
  • type up and print handwritten assignments
  • update your planner
  • make flashcards
  • pack your bag and set out your clothes for the next day
  • run errands (groceries, pharmacy, bank, dry cleaners, post office)
  • do laundry
  • take care of phone calls or emails

BOOSTING ENERGY

If your energy levels are consistently low (i.e. below 3 on the 1-5 scale), you may need to be improving your energy in general. Ways you can feel more energized overall include:

  • Use the natural energy boosters everyone knows and loves– lots of water, good nutrition, and exercise. Don’t skip meals, try to limit sugar, and avoid heavily caffeinated drinks whenever possible.
  • Get lots of high-quality sleep.
  • Don’t fight your body’s clock. You may want to get up earlier because “the early bird gets the worm”, but if you’re naturally a night owl, struggling against your genes might do you more harm than good. This is especially true for teenagers, who are biologically programmed to go to bed late at night and wake up late in the morning.
  • Spend more time outside in the sunshine.
  • Take cold showers.
  • Laugh! Sometimes Buzzfeed videos and Thomas Sanders vines make it all better.
  • Cut out anything in your life that drains you emotionally. Deal with anger or stress by venting to a friend, writing in your journal, punching a pillow, talking to a therapist, listening to music, or creating art. Find emotional and/or spiritual fulfillment by reading good books, meditating, and hanging out with inspiring people.
  • If you lead a healthy lifestyle and still feel constantly tired, it may be worth taking a trip to the doctor to make sure your thyroid and blood count are normal.

Now that you’ve found your biological prime times, learned about energy-based task management, and improved your energy levels, you’re all set! Hopefully these tips will help you lead a healthier, happier, and more productive life.

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Defeating Procrastination

It’s 11 pm on a Sunday night, the big paper is due tomorrow morning, and you’re staring at an empty Word document you should’ve started working on two weeks ago. We’ve all been there. Here are some tips to prevent those all-nighters and help you kick procrastination’s ugly butt.

KEEP A TIME LOG

As you move throughout your day, keep a record of all your activities and the time you spent on them. This log can be on paper, on your laptop, or in your phone, as long as it’s within easy access all day. An example time log might look like this:

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Be honest about how long you spent on each task! At the end of the day, look back over your log and conduct a reflection and analysis. Ask yourself:

  • Am I spending too much time on tasks that could be completed much more quickly?
  • Am I wasting time on activities that don’t make me truly happy?
  • Am I prioritizing the things I value most (school, health, family, etc)?
  • Am I spending too much time on small, easy tasks to avoid larger, more difficult ones?
  • Am I focused intently on one task until it’s complete, or am I constantly getting interrupted?

After answering the five questions, I’ve marked up my example log with some reflections and comments:

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Although it’s probably not feasible to keep this time log every single day, I recommend trying it out for at least 3-5 days to give you a better idea of where your time goes and where your procrastination potholes lie.

ELIMINATE DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS

Turn off your phone and put it in another room or someplace you won’t be able to see it. Close all your email/Facebook/Tumblr tabs. If you need to focus intently for a longer period of time, consider temporarily deleting all the social media apps off of your phone so you won’t be tempted. For your computer, use website blockers {Chrome//Mac//Windows} to block distracting websites (or the entire Internet).

Basically, make it as difficult as possible to impulsively scroll through your feed and get sucked into the “just one more post” vortex.

GO ON AN ADVENTURE

Reject the tradition that finals week means jam-packed libraries and overcrowded Starbucks stores. If you have the means of transportation, take your books and flashcards to a scenic, peaceful, inspiring new location. Cal Newport dubs this “adventure studying” and claims that studying in novel and beautiful places will enhance creativity, improve comprehension, and most importantly, be fun.

Here are some suggestions for adventure studying destinations that are sure to increase your motivation:

  • a park or botanical garden
  • the pool or beach
  • a little cafe far off-campus or in another town
  • the middle of the woods
  • a museum (make sure it’s not during peak visitor times!)

And now for the most cliché but effective advice ever…

JUST START.

Think about a big assignment or project that’s been scaring you. Then think about what your desired outcome for that project is. And then think of the very next step you need to take to move you just a little bit further towards the end result you want. Is it writing the first paragraph? Contacting a mentor? Finding a certain resource online? Whatever it may be, go take that first step. Now. It doesn’t have to be perfect— let’s face it, you could spend the rest of the day rewriting that first sentence and it still wouldn’t be flawless. But you’ll feel so, so much better just by beginning. So cut the excuses, start a timer, and go get that shit done.

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals

Whether you’re planning to pass a test, get in shape, or improve your business, the acronym S.M.A.R.T is a great framework to help you set effective, achievable goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

SPECIFIC

Clearly define your goal and the actionable steps you will take to achieve it. Who does it involve? What resources (time, money, supplies) does it require? What are the benefits of accomplishing it?

Not specific: I want to study for my History test.

Specific: I want to earn a 90% or above on my History test in order to get an A in the class. Today, I will gather all of my lecture notes and graded assignments from the entire unit and create a checklist of topics I need to know. Tomorrow, I will make flashcards for all the vocabulary words and dates of important events. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night until the exam, I will spend two hours reviewing my flashcards, creating mind maps, and revising my notes.

 

MEASURABLE

Create an easy way to track your progress and assess your success (hey, that rhymed). How will you determine how much you’ve accomplished? Your measurements can be qualitative (description-based) or quantitative (numbers-based). Review your progress every so often, and if you’re not hitting the markers you’ve set for yourself, consider making changes to your plan.

Not measurable: I want to get fit.

Measurable (qualitative): I want to fit into these jeans again. I want to reduce cravings. I want to learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables.

Measurable (quantitative): I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to do 50 consecutive pushups. I want to run a mile in 8 minutes.

 

ATTAINABLE

Make sure your goal is realistic. Evaluate obstacles you may face and decide in advance how you’ll deal with them. If you’re attempting a huge goal, break it down into smaller, more easily attainable milestones.

Not attainable: I want to run a marathon.

Attainable: I’m currently a total couch potato, so I’m going to start by running for half an hour three times a week, then gradually increasing my time and speed. I’ll sign up for shorter races before attempting a marathon. I know I won’t be motivated to run after a long day at school, so I’ll set out my gym clothes beforehand to make getting started as painless as possible.

 

RELEVANT

Does this goal take you closer to your ultimate goals in life? Will it make you happier, more fulfilled? Is it a good change to make at this point in your life?

Not relevant: I want to go to a prestigious college.

Relevant: My parents are pressuring me into going to this “name-brand” school, but it’s not truly what would make me happiest. The tuition would put a lot of financial strain on my family. I’d feel more comfortable attending a smaller school close to home with better financial aid. I might consider this prestigious university for my graduate degree, but it’s not the right place for me right now.

 

TIME-BOUND

Choose a deadline for accomplishing your goal. Give yourself a tiny bit of pressure to build motivation, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. Set check-in points between now and your deadline to measure your progress.

Not time-bound: I want to write a book someday.

Time-bound: I’m going to write and publish my book by the end of this year. I will brainstorm and research during this month, write the first section next month, the second section the next, etc. I will edit in December and have it ready to be self-published by December 31st.

Now that you’ve learned the five criteria for a great goal, review your goals (or set new ones!) and make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T. Best of luck!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia