Trying to balance all of your commitments, such as school, work, volunteering, sports, hobbies, and social life, can sometimes be overwhelming and very stressful. Time management is one of the most valuable skills you can learn in university, and is an important component to being successful. Time management is the skill of making smart decisions about how to prioritize and allocate your time in order to accomplish set goals. It is working smarter, not necessarily harder.
Learning many of these skills, such as time management, meeting deadlines, prioritizing, organization, and adapting quickly to changing events, are useful to put on your resume and will make you more successful at your job and life in general. Here are some tips on how to get organized, reduce procrastination, balance school and work, and manage stress.
Start a Calendar
There are tons of ways to do this based on what you prefer. You can buy a big erasable calendar from the bookstore, you can use Google Calendar, use the one on your Mac, or simply create one in a Word Doc. It is helpful to colour coordinate it to differentiate between your different obligations.
A calendar helps you to organize your due dates, appointments, and activities. Knowing your deadlines early on can help you see if you have any clusters you need to prepare for in advance. It also helps you to develop a timeline of when you should start studying for midterms or exams, or writing papers.
It is really important to fill-in your fun and social events in your calendar as well. This will help keep you motivated and look forward to something you enjoy doing, and therefore you can avoid the overwhelming despair that comes from looking at a month full of obligations. It will also make you feel like you have a more balanced life.
Weekly Reviews & Prioritizing
It is a good idea to have weekly reviews of your calendar, in order to adapt to coming deadlines. You need to build some flexibility in your schedule to ensure that you have room for unexpected events and when work takes longer than presumed to complete. You can assign a day of the week (i.e. Sunday night) to do this, or do it ever couple of days and move things around that have not been completed.
It is also important to prioritize your assignments and deadlines. For example, if something is worth more, or it’s an upper level class, or the prof/TA is a more demanding grader, you should start those assignments first. It is also a good idea to begin with what you think is the hardest, since you will be fresh and have more energy.
When it comes to little assignments, such as online participation or anything worth a small percentage of your grade (i.e. 1-10%), do them as early in the semester as possible. This way you won’t be overwhelmed later on in the semester when essays and assignments are due, or choose not to them at all, or do a poor and rushed job on them. Even small percentages add up and can significantly affect your grade. Doing them early also shows your prof/TA that you can manage your time and you are excited about the material.
“To Do” List
You can also make a simple “To Do” list for the day and/or week. Creating more workable plans by subdividing larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, can really help you complete your goals. You can even go down to the very ridiculous of small to help you get started and celebrate your accomplishments, instead of agonize over what remains to be done. And remember to celebrate your accomplishments by doing small things that make you feel proud and successful (i.e. as simple as crossing-off a completed task).
To give you an example, putting “Submit Essay” on your calendar is an enormous task and therefore you can put off starting it. Instead you can break it down to “research”, “make-up outline”, “write first argument”, etc. Then those tasks could be broken down further, for example “research” can be split into “review course readings on topic”, “find 5 really good journal articles”, “read the 5 journal articles”, etc. This way, it doesn’t seem so daunting and is instead a lot more approachable.
Dedicate Study Space & Time
Identify your best time of the day and days of the week to study. Are you a morning or an evening person? Do you prefer to study hard during the week and then take it easy on the weekend (a.k.a. the work hard, party hard system)? Or do you prefer to study on weekends? You should also find a dedicated study space that is free of distractions, so the UTSC library might not be your best bet. You can book study spaces in advance, find quiet coffee shops, lock yourself in at home, or find any personal spaces where you can concentrate.
If your willpower is low than perhaps a place without internet will be a good decision (to avoid the pitfalls of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). There is also software you can get to stop internet distractions. Some examples are:
- Freedom stops you from surfing the net for up to 8 hours (costs $10)
- Anti-Social blocks social media sites and others you choose (costs $15)
- RescueTime gives you a readout at the end of the day on your web activities, or in other words, the amount of time spent on each website. This is a great way to shame yourself into spending your time more productively. It’s also free for the basic version.
We all procrastinate and put off doing certain things, and then of course, regret it later. But why do we do this to ourselves when we should know better? The main reasons for procrastination are perfectionism, fear of failure, laziness, lack of information, or a lack of interest. Any of these sound familiar? Depending on what your reasons are, here are some ways to help either avoid or at least better control your procrastination.
Getting Started as Soon as You Can
Yes, the mocking blinking text line on an empty page is the most discouraging thing in the world, but you gotta show it who’s boss. Don’t be a perfectionist, you can edit later. A great strategy to start is to tell yourself to sit down and write/read for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes. You’ll find that once you get started, the anxiety is almost gone. Getting started early also has its benefits, as you will be able to get feedback on your assignment or at least address questions you might have ahead of time. Everyone goes for help the week before the assignment/midterm/essay. Don’t do this, you are better than that.
Using your free/wait time productively
Don’t avoid studying because you don’t have a large chunk of time. 30 minutes a day adds up to a lot over the course of the semester. You can use breaks between class, bus rides home, waiting for appointments, have a working lunch, etc.
If you really cannot resist procrastinating, make it useful and practical. Productive procrastination is useful work that doesn’t involve a lot of thinking and/or it’s something you enjoy doing. For example, when writing an essay you can take a break to do your work cited list. This way it is not left until the end and it gives you a pause from writing. You can also watch documentaries related to your essay or class.
Another example is to get together with classmates for study sessions or brainstorming for essays. This is a great opportunity to have a discussion and bounce ideas off one another. But, be careful to stay on topic at least majority of the time and be careful in choosing academic buddies. Some can provide you with false information (and seem very certain about it) or be overly distracting.
Reading newspapers and opinion sites can be entertaining, you’ll be in the loop with what’s going on in the world, and it could be useful for future examples in your courses and papers. TED has amazing talks and presentations on a variety of topics./
Postponing unnecessary activities until schoolwork is done
This is probably the hardest thing to do in time management, but you have to learn to say “later” not “no”. This means sticking to your calendar and planned “To Do” list, and rewarding yourself after work is completed. This is why it is also important to fill-in your fun events on your calendar, so you have something fun to look forward to and you will be less inclined to procrastinate when friends come calling.
Balancing Work & School
School costs money (actually it costs a lot of money), so some of you may have a job in order to help you pay for school and/or bills. Whether it’s a job (or perhaps volunteering), you have to remember that school should come first. It doesn’t make sense to work to pay for school, while doing poorly in school because you are working too much. It is also rare that the job you have can give you experience relevant for your degree. Keeping this mind, here are some things to consider if you’ll be working while you are in school.
- Choose a job that’s flexible (in terms of schedule) and secondary to your studies. Know yourself and be realistic when it comes to work.
- Communicate your school schedule (especially deadlines and exams) to your employer as soon as possible, so you can take time off or change shifts well in advance.
- Find a job closer to school/home so that you can cut down on commuting time.
- Keep work and school separate, don’t worry about school at work, and don’t worry about work while studying. You can even use work as a break from school.
Working while at school also means you have to avoid your guilty pleasures even more, because your leisure and free time is reduced even more. However, it is important to remember to maintain healthy social relationships with friends and family. They can act as your outlets to complain about your troubles, and reenergize you with fun activities. You also don’t want to neglect those that care about you most.
Although this stressful schedule seems overwhelming, know it can be done. However, if your school work suffers as a result of working, look into other options such as scholarships, bursaries, or loans you can pay after you finish school or work during the summer. Make an appointment with Financial Aid to see what you can be eligible for, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Stress is a really important factor to consider, especially during periods of deadlines and exams. Here is some feel good advice to put you at ease and let you know you are not the only one who’s under pressure and freaking out to meet deadlines.
- Be flexible and not too hard on yourself if you fall behind. Build some flexibility in your schedule from the start so you don’t get stressed out. The most important thing is to prioritize!
- Remember there is always tomorrow, build on your successes and don’t quit time management because of a bad day.
- Always think positive.
- Most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is different and has different strengths, responsibilities, and interests. Don’t let the successes of others bring you down, or the failures of others give you a fall sense of superiority and security. Do your best for yourself, and what you feel proud of submitting.
Here are some simple ways to help you cope with stress, but remember to customize those to your own life and interests.
- Find an activity that relaxes you and reenergizes you, like yoga! However, doing this shouldn’t make you feel guilty, and make you think how this time could be spent on doing school work. Enjoy it and remember that you deserve some down time.
- Take time for yourself, and do something you enjoy. That might be reading for pleasure, watching a movie, doing crafts, or organizing activities with friends or for the school.
- Do a physical activity, especially one that gets you out in the fresh air. Endorphins, endorphins, endorphins!
- Get enough sleep. This is fundamental for your health and reenergizing your body and mind. Of course, there will be days where you will be short on sleep, but it’s important to recuperate and sleep-in the following days.
- Know the signs of burning-out. Know yourself, and know when to call it quits. Your health is the most important thing, and doing poorly on one assignment, one test, one class, isn’t the end of the world.
Health and Wellness offers a safe space for students to discuss any issues they may be facing whether it be academic stress, or events in their personal life. All students at the University of Toronto Scarborough have access to counselling services if needed. If you are struggling with academic stress or personal issues, please reach out and visit Health and Wellness on campus.