Every year, nearly three million recent high school graduates and older students enroll in a college or university. Sadly, though, one in four college freshmen will drop out of school, never to return. Not quite as tragic, but still extremely regrettable, is the fact that nearly a third of those who embark on the quest for a bachelor’s degree will take six or more years to complete it.
Many high school students also find themselves in similar predicaments. They have spent four years looking forward to attending an elite college, only to find themselves denied admission because of poor grades. In most cases, these students were smart enough to make straight A’s in high school, but simply failed to manage their time wisely and do the hard work necessary to achieve an exemplary grade point average.
For most people, going to college is the first time they have ever been completely on their own. Up to that point, they have had to follow the rules of the house set and enforced by their parents, as well as school rules, enforced by the administration. If high school-aged students did not do what was required of them, they typically experienced negative and immediate consequences. College, however, is a completely different world, where students get a taste of complete independence for the first time. There is no one who makes sure college students get out of bed in the morning or sees to it that they do their homework every night and restricts TV time until the work is done. There is no one to tell them that if they do not complete their science projects, they can forget the trip to California next summer. College students can sleep in and skip class all they want, and no one is going to call a truant officer. Going to college is a major life change, and many students fail to adapt to their new circumstances successfully.
Naturally, it is quite a shock for a teenager to move from a strictly controlled environment to one of relatively unrestricted freedom, and it takes most new high school and college students a little time to get over the initial shock. Happily, though, most of them soon adjust to their newfound freedom, and their school experience becomes a happy success story. However, others never do adapt to the changes in their lives, and their high school or college story is one of failure. What is the difference between these two types of students? It is very simple: the first group learned to manage their time wisely, while the second one never did. Time management is easily one of the most important skills a high school or college student can develop. Without time management skills, life in an academic environment will quickly become chaotic, and the student will soon be struggling to keep his or her head above water. It does not take long to fall behind, and once it happens, students can have a very difficult time catching up. Time management is not something that can be done a few times a week, like exercise. It is something that must be done constantly. Management must become a part of a student’s basic frame of reference. For many people, it will be a new habit, but there is no need to despair. Any high school or college student can learn how to manage his or her time wisely.
Time Management Tip: One Task
No doubt about it, life is hectic, and it seems that every week we have more to accomplish than the week before. Even as technology constantly brings us more time-saving inventions, it seems we get further and further behind. One of the common responses to this phenomenon is to try to do more than one thing at a time. Most people call this multi-tasking, and in some situations it is a great idea. Unfortunately, when it comes to really important tasks, multi-tasking does not appear to work.
The research is in, and study after study has confirmed what most people know intuitively: trying to do two or more tasks at once is not a good idea when one (or more) of the tasks is important. It seems the human brain is equipped to function best when focused on one task alone, and when we try to accomplish two things at once, we fail. Instead of doing one thing well, we wind up doing two things badly. TV shows, ads and movies may celebrate the hard driving multi-tasker as the person who gets ahead in corporate America, but this is not the case in real life. The person who tries to do several things at once is not likely to be successful at any of them. Driven people certainly do get to the top of the corporate ladder, but they do so by focusing intently on one task at a time.
When it comes to important tasks, you should do the same thing. For students, multi-tasking usually means trying to study while socializing, listening to music, watching a ball game, etc. Many students say that studying while doing other things does not impair their abilities to absorb and retain the material they are studying, but nothing could be further from the truth. Deep down, most of us know the truth, even without all the hard data that scientific research has given us as proof-it is simply not possible to think as clearly, or learn as much, while having our minds partially engaged on more than one thing at a time. Just look at all the tragic car accidents that have been caused by people talking or texting on their cell phones while driving. These kinds of incidents happen all over America, and if something as simple as talking on a phone can have such a negative impact on our driving abilities, it should be obvious that studying effectively with a TV or stereo blaring in the background is virtually impossible.
Make it a rule-when doing any task that requires focus and concentration, do that task and that task alone. Not only will you finish faster, you will get far more benefit out of the task than if you try to combine it with another activity. Do your homework, and then listen to music. Use your DVR to record American Idol or the ball game, and then watch the program when you have finished studying. If you are one of those people who finds absolute silence distracting, put on some classical music at a low volume or turn on a fan or a white noise generator. Part of your goal with time management should be using your time most effectively, and you simply cannot be effective at tasks that require thought and focus while you are surrounded by distractions.
Manage Your Time By Staying Organized
If you are going to manage your time effectively, it is important that you keep your study area, your living quarters, and your computer clean and organized. There is an old saying you need to adopt as your motto: a place for everything, and everything in its place. Why is this so important? Well, for one thing, a clean and organized study area is much more inviting than a cluttered, messy one. You are much more likely to “feel like” studying when your desk is both clean and well organized. A dirty, messy desk is not attractive, and it is very tempting to find something else to do instead of studying. This reaction is more visceral than conscious, but it is real; it is just human nature to feel more comfortable in clean, well-organized spaces than in cluttered, messy ones.
Another reason for staying organized is that you will save time by not having to spend a lot of time looking for things. Say you have got a big test coming up and need to make some notes in your textbook. You open your desk drawer to pick up your highlighter, but it is not there. So you dig through the drawer looking for it, but no luck. Next, you dig through all the drawers, but you still cannot find it. You remove all the scattered papers and books on your desk, but the search is fruitless. Finally, you give up and go buy a highlighter, because you really must have one. By the time you get back to your room, you have lost an hour.
The same thing goes for computer filing. Some students have never bothered to set up a computer filing system, which is not hard at all, and when it comes time to edit the paper they are working on, they suddenly cannot find it. This is even worse than losing a highlighter, as replacing a highlighter is lot easier than rewriting a paper from memory. Just as with your desk, your computer should have a place to file everything you need to save. It is easy to create a folder for every class and for other important material and then file everything you need as soon as you create it. You can store them all on your desktop or collapse all of them into a bigger folder for all things school related.
Key Management Tool: A To-Do List
After your daily planner, your most important tool will be a to-do list. At first glance, this might sound redundant. You might ask, “Are not a daily planner and a to-do list pretty much the same thing?” No, not at all. A daily planner, or calendar, is a broad guideline of how you are going to spend your day, while a to-do list covers the specific things you need and want to accomplish by following your daily schedule. Think of the daily planner as the frame and the to-do list as the picture inside of it. Each one is helpful on its own, but together they provide a combination whose sum is much greater than its parts.
Every night before going to bed, you should make a list of the most important tasks you need to take care of the next day. Of course, you do not need to wait until the last minute to start the list; you should be putting memos on your voice recorder or jotting notes on a pad or on your computer throughout the day when you think of a new task for the next day. At night you should organize these and add any last minute tasks you have come up with. Once you have your complete list, you will want to number them order of importance, and then decide which slot they are going to fit into on your daily planner.
Your to-do list should be the first thing you see when you go to your desk or turn on your computer in the morning. While many people prefer to create a to-do list using pen and paper, many people use their computers. Some type them up and store them in a file that is readily accessible on their desktop, while others type to-do lists and send themselves an email every night. No matter how you do it, a to-do list should be the first thing you check after you have finished getting ready for school. You should also take it with you wherever you go and mark off each activity as you accomplish it. It is important to keep in mind that you will not always accomplish everything on your list every day. Nevertheless, taking care of all the items on your list is a good goal to shoot for, and as you get better at planning and management, you will find yourself accomplishing more and more all the time. But do not be too disappointed if you have some tasks left over at the end of the day. Just carry them over on the next day’s to-do list.