Thursday, 1 September 2011

Preparation for Life at University, Part 2 (Time Management)

In part 2 of our series of advice for adjusting to Life at University we look at some simple time-management tools and how to use them.

Time Wheel
The one that I like to begin with is the time wheel.  This is a simple 24-part pie-chart divided to represent the 24 hours of the day. 

Step 1: Choose a colour to represent each of the main tasks that you do during a typical day (e.g. sleeping, eating, travelling, training, working, lectures, studying, socialising, reading, on internet, other leisure activities, quality relaxation activities).

Step 2: Now think about how you would spend an ideal day and colour complete the circle accordingly.  If you normally need ten hours sleep then fill in ten of the segments with the sleep colour.  If you have five hours of lectures a day then fill in five of the segments in lecture colour.  If training should take up three hours, then fill in three of the segments in that colour…and so on.

Step 3: Now think about how you spent yesterday.  Fill in another wheel based on what you actually did yesterday.  If you spent two hours on the playstation, then fill two segments in the appropriate colour.  This step can be repeated over a number of days.

Step 4: Compare and contrast your idea wheel (Step 2) and your actual wheels (Step 3).  This is a good way to work out where all your time is going.  Is your ideal wheel unrealistic and does that need to be adjusted, or are you spending time doing things that you don’t need to do.  Make a list of the things that you are wasting time on.  Some of the following tools and exercises will help you come up with ways of overcoming procrastination and time wasting.

The Traditional Diary
It sounds obvious, but don’t expect your brain to remember everything. Carry a diary around with you and write down important date including competition dates, meetings, exams, holidays.  This way you can make sure that you don’t miss important appointments or double-book yourself.  It also highlights busy weeks, and when you may need to do a bit of forward-planning and preparation.  Of course your diary doesn’t have to be a traditional paper one.  Electronic diaries work just as good.  Just be sure that everything is in the one place.

The Weekly Planner
This is my favourite tool of all, and each Sunday evening I take 20 minutes to fill in a new one for the week ahead.  If you week is reasonably structured (set lecture and training times), then you don’t need to do a complete new one each week.  Weekly planners both help you to get into a routine (set a plan, see if it works, adjust if appropriate, until you find a schedule that works for you), and organise your week.

When putting together a weekly plan, follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Put in all the immovable appointments (lectures, meetings, group training times).  Step 2: Add the things that you need to do at certain times, but which don’t have to be set (e.g. S&C sessions that you can’t do straight after a heavy training session and which have to be done when the gym is free; optional tutorials).  Don’t forget to add travel time if required.
Step 3: Add the rest of your training sessions at the most appropriate times.
Step 4: Add all other tasks that must be done in the week (e.g. weekly shopping).
Step 5: Add some recovery and relaxation time, and social activities if appropriate.
Step 6: Assign tasks to other blocks of appropriate time (e.g. course work may be assigned to a larger block of time while doing the ironing may be assigned to a smaller block of time.
Step 7: Work out the logistics and make a list of anything you need to pack the night before (e.g. if you are going straight from lectures to training on a day that you won’t have time to have lunch the you will need to pack books, lunch and training kit).

Prioritised to-do Lists
We’ve all done to-do lists at one stage or another and are great for keeping you motivated.  Usually these are simply a list of things that we need or want to get done as a particular stage.  Prioritised to-do lists are a slight adaptation of the traditional list.  They split tasks into urgent and non-urgent tasks, and low and high importance tasks.  This way unimportant tasks don’t get in the way of more crucial ones and everything is done on time.  Similarly lists of tasks can be subdivided into big and small ones.  Big tasks can be done during larger blocks of time, and smaller ones can be done during shorter time periods, or to get a break from larger tasks.

Monthly, termly, or three-month planners are a good way of identifying busy time periods, and making appropriate adjustments.  They differ from diaries in that they only contain half or full day events or tasks, and not every meeting and appointment.

Year planners wall charts work in a similar way, and can be used to plan your training year as well as your academic/work schedule.

In Summary
There are no quick or easy fixes to time management.  The main components are to set goals (what do you want to achieve with your time), and be organised (plan in advance, make lists of what is to be achieved).  Good time management takes practice, and different tools are appropriate for different people.  Pick what suits you best, and adjust as appropriate.  Each tool will take some practice before it is utilised to best effect.  If you are starting a new job, or going to University for the first time, it’s a good idea to get practicing straight away.  Don’t leave it 4 or 5 weeks until you get ‘settled-in’.  Being organised will actually help you get settled in to begin with.

Finally, things don’t always go according to plan.  In fact, they rarely do.  However it’s easier to adjust a plan than to make one up as you go along.  If one of your lectures is cancelled, you can do a task that you had scheduled later that day, or one that you were struggling to fit in later in the week.  Make the most of your time.

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