When making the schedules and planners you will be using for your time management plan, it is important to realize that it is best to set timetables and goals that keep you ahead of schedule with your academic tasks. It is not enough just to stay caught up; you will want to stay ahead of the curve for a couple of reasons. You do not need to work to get way ahead of class requirements; if you want to do so for personal reasons and can make it work, that is certainly an option. Generally, though, you will want to shoot for staying two or three days ahead of schedule. This is not hard to do, so long as you plan for it when making out your daily and weekly schedules and planners.
The first reason you want to stay ahead-as opposed to simply up to date-on your studies for your classes is that life is unpredictable. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow, and things have a way of popping up out of nowhere, demanding your attention. If you get sick for a day or two and cannot study, you will still be in good shape when you recover, right on track with the rest of your classmates. If your power goes out for several hours and wipes out a night of study, do not worry, because you will still be caught up on your schoolwork. If your boss orders you to work on your night off, it is no problem; you can handle it because you have made a point of staying ahead of schedule.
The other main reason for working ahead of your class requirements schedule is to allow yourself to have some flexibility from time to time. If your boss asks you to work your night off, and you could use the extra pay, accept the extra shift if you are ahead of schedule. If some of your friends are planning a surprise birthday party, you will able to attend the party without falling behind on your classes if you have already prepared for upcoming classes. If someone offers you a free ticket to a concert out of the blue, you can go and have a great time if you are caught up with your work with no anxiety about getting a bad grade. There are many other kinds of situations which could come up that will make you glad you have taken the time to stay ahead of schedule. Most of your time during the week should be spent working on your studies and other obligations, but it is certainly nice to know that you can blow off some steam from time to time and not have to worry about the consequences. By staying a couple days ahead of your class requirements schedule, you will be ready when you want to take a break or when circumstances force you to adjust.
Have a Study Place Free from Distractions
One of the most critical tools of your effective time management plan is having a designated place where you can study that is quiet, organized, and free from distractions. It is fine to study on the fly, whenever you can find a suitable spot between classes or at other times, but you should think of those study times as bonuses. You must have a designated work area for nightly study. One of the main reasons is psychological: Whenever you enter your study area, you will be thinking that you are there to study, not play. Just as you act differently on the job than you do when you are away from your job, you will also tend to associate certain behaviors with your designated study area.
For most high school students and college students who live at home, this will be a desk either in their bedrooms or another room of the house, while for most college students, it will be a desk in their dorm or their bedroom in a shared house or apartment. Unfortunately, life is not always that simple. If you share your house or apartment with several other people, family members or otherwise, it may be difficult to maintain a quiet environment in which you can study effectively. If you are able to choose your own living arrangements, this is something you will want to check before signing any lease or rental agreement. If you are going to be rooming with a houseful of other students, make sure that they are as committed to studying as you are. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a very unpleasant situation.
If you are not able to create a study space in your own living quarters that is quiet and free of distractions, then you will need to seek out another space that is reasonably close. For some, this might be a friend’s house or dorm room, but for most students, the best bet is the public or campus library. In some ways, going to the library is even better than studying at home, but some students think lugging books, computers, and other study materials back and forth is too much of an inconvenience. On the other hand, there are a large number of tables, chairs, and cubicles, and almost all libraries now have wireless Internet access. Plus, you will not have to worry about peace and quiet, as these are required at libraries. Ideally, your home or dorm is the most convenient place for you to study, but if that does not work, use the library as your designated study area.
Use Rewards to Motivate Yourself
One of the key aspects of any time management plan is keeping yourself motivated over the long haul. A semester or school year can seem like a long time when you are halfway through, and it can be easy to become ambivalent, leading to slacking off, which in turn leads to less than stellar academic success. In another time management tip, we explained that you should regularly focus on your ultimate academic or career goal in order to stay motivated. Another important way of maintaining your motivation and staying on course to achieve your goals is to reward yourself on a regular basis when you meet some of your goals.
Some students are already involved in a motivation system based on rewards, thanks to their parents. If they do well, achieve a certain grade level, make the dean’s list, etc., their parents help them pay for school, make a car payment, or pay for other expenses. Unfortunately, most students are not in that situation. Your parents encourage you, their belief in you spurring you along, but if you are like the majority of students, your parents are not in a position to help you out much financially. Besides, true motivation comes from within. When you set up your own reward scenarios, it is much more satisfying, and you are training yourself to be motivated from within, instead of from an external source. This is a character trait that will serve you well your entire life, not just during high school or college.
The rewards you set up for yourselves do not have to be expensive (which is a good thing for most students!). In fact, they do not have to cost anything at all. What matters is that the reward you choose to give yourself for acing a mid-term or staying on top of your assignments for three weeks in a row is something that you care about. If that means splurging on a new outfit-and you can afford it-go for it. Maybe celebrating means taking a few friends out for a pizza, taking a weekend road trip with some buddies, or just giving yourself a day off when you do not think about schoolwork at all. Turn into a couch potato, and veg out in front of the TV for an evening. Buy yourself a new mp3 player. Rewards can be all kinds of things; it does not really matter, as long as it is something important to you. They are your rewards, so you decide what is appropriate (so long as it fits your budget). Whatever you decide on, no matter how big or small, you should reward yourself on a regular basis for meeting short term and medium term goals. This is a crucial part of sticking with your time management plan.