At some point in the year, just about every student I work with will comment about having deadlines that they are struggling to meet. For many it is just a short term challenge but for a few it can become a cause of stress and anxiety that impacts on the academic and extra-curricular work together with their relationships with those close to them.
In this article I will pass on some of the tips I use to try and help students manage their time to get the work done.
When people are feeling the pressure of deadlines it can be easy to focus in on the most immediate task, or the one that they are most concerned about. My first tip is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Your first task should be to identify what time you have available. Each day you will have things you have to do, attend school, eat meals, go for tuition and so on. Around these set items you can set the agenda of what you are going to do.
Start by drawing a chart, on the left hand side list the days of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, across the bottom mark off the time in half hour blocks, starting from the time you usually get up and finishing when you usually go to bed. Once you have done that block out the times that you have regular commitments, I suggest using different colours for different activities. If you have a set pattern of homework you can add that in. You should also add some time for relaxation before you go to bed. Having done that you can clearly see what time is left for you to do your other work.
If the pressure you are feeling is linked to a specific task or focused around a particular time then your next task should be to build a ‘to do list’ and then prioritise the tasks on it. List all of the tasks you need to complete, together with their deadlines. Once you have built up your list, allocate them to the free time you have identified from the chart you have produced.
2. Break up big tasks
It is natural to feel daunted when presented with a piece of work that you know is going to take a considerable amount of time. Being asked to write a 20 page research paper for two months time might be overwhelming, being asked to take a week to write a one page outline of a question you would like to find the answer to, is probably no so worrying. Take the same approach to any big tasks.
Think about the task as a whole and then break it down into the different steps you need to complete to get it done. Working backwards from the deadline for the work to be completed set intermediate deadlines for each step. When you have done that put a note of the deadlines for each step into a calendar to help you keep on track.
3. Avoid Distractions
We are all surrounded by things that will distract us, mobile phones, television, social media and many more. Eliminating these distractions can make a big difference to our effectiveness when we sit down to complete a task. Here are a few tips:
Find a space where you can work uninterrupted, ideally a room by yourself. Put a notice on the door to let people know that you are working and don’t want to be disturbed.
Put your mobile phone in another room, if you can’t do that then turn off the sound and put it as far away from you as possible.
Go to the settings on your computer and turn off notifications, you can always turn them back on when you have finished your work.
If you have a set time when you need to finish your task, use a simple alarm clock that you can set for five minutes before you need to finish.
4. Give yourself a break
Very few of us can sit and do one task for hours on end, so don’t try to! Take a few minutes out every now and then, it doesn’t have to be for long but it gives us time to think, have a stretch and come back with greater focus than if we just tried to push through. Some people advocate that we should build five minute breaks in every half hour, I prefer to be a little more spontaneous.
5. Don’t procrastinate
Procrastination is when you put off doing things that you know need to be done. There are many causes of procrastination that previous tips can help with but it could just be that the task does not interest you such as a homework assignment for your least favourite subject. If that sounds like you then try this.
If it is something you don’t want to do, make it the first thing in your day. There are a couple of reasons why this works. Firstly we are generally most productive at the start of the day, we have had a good rest and we have not been distracted by the multitude of things that we have to deal with during a normal day. The second reason is that we know that once we have completed the task we will be rewarded by moving onto other activities that we are more excited about.
Some final thoughts
Getting the things done that you need to get done is not always easy but getting into some good habits early can really help you throughout your life. There is no single answer, a technique might work for one person, but not for another. Take the time to try different approaches and find what works for you and your situation and don’t forget to reward yourself for the improvements you make.
Now is a great time to start.