“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
- Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (2002)
When you're working on a project or an assignment, how do you make best use of the time available to you?
We could've given you ten tips, but to save you time, we've cut it down to nine!
What are the activities you need to complete?
Keep a list of the activities you need to get through. Give a measure of importance to each:
If possible, break larger activities down into smaller, more manageable sections.
Focus on the important activities.
Goals can be big (getting a First; becoming Prime Minister), or small (making a to-do list; getting out of bed in the morning).
Don't let your goals dominate you: If you're the sort of person who will be crushed if you don't achieve your goals, make sure the goals you set are achievable; keep them relevant and in line with what's expected. But if you thrive on reaching for the moon, then by all means reach!
Just as with the activities on your to-do list, try breaking your goals down into smaller objectives.
Image: CC-BY R/DV/RS
Is there an order to what you need to do?
What are the things you need to get done in order to achieve your goals? What tasks rely on other tasks? Plan out a logical order. What needs to come first?
What matters and what doesn't? Do you have to do everything on your to-do list? Do you need to achieve every one of your goals right now? Don't fill your time with unimportant tasks.
Match your priorities to your goals and think about what will help you to achieve them. What's important? What's urgent? What's both? What's neither?
We don't work within a vacuum.
What distractions do you have control over? Your phone? Your TV? Social media? Social life?
Don't stretch yourself too far. You might have to sacrifice some of your extra-curricular activities for a little bit while you get done what you need to.
Let your friends or family know when you need to be alone. A true friend won't be offended if you have to give the odd thing a miss. Close your door, and make a "Do not disturb" sign if you have to.
Get on with it!
When you're prioritising your work, it's all too easy to shunt down the list the things you don't really want to do. But at some point you're going to have to go and do them.
Of course you're going to put things off. We've all left stuff to the last minute. But you know you probably shouldn't.
A little procrastination can be a good thing. It can give you time to think things over and to avoid rash decisions. But most of the time we're just putting off the inevitable.
DON'T put all of your energy into your to-do list and goal-setting. Save some time and effort for the tasks themselves!
Do you even need to be here, or are you just putting off the task and trying to fool yourself that reading about time management is helping you to do your work? If that's the case, maybe you need to take a listen to this example of procrastination behaviours to avoid (University log-in required), courtesy of the Red Dwarf novel "Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers".
All that said, breaks are important.
Life should never be just work work work. Leave time for some fun. Extra-curricular activities are important. You may need to put a few things on hold to give yourself time to concentrate, but that's not the same as just cloistering yourself away until the work is done.
And leave time for some sleep, too! If you're tired, your concentration will suffer.
Taking a break gives you time to unwind and/or re-energise. It also gives you chance to reflect on what you've done, and what you've achieved so far.
There's few things worse than staring at a blank screen. Don't be afraid to walk away for a bit if you're wanting for inspiration. A break can offer up new ideas. How many good ideas come to you when you're sat on the toilet or trying to sleep?
Juggling takes effort, so focus on the task in hand.
Plan ahead to avoid assignment clashes as best you can.
If you've got several hand-ins at once, manage your time carefully. Can you pretend that the hand-in for one assignment is earlier than it actually is, and leave yourself time afterwards to work on the next?
That sort of sleight of hand can be tricky to pull off, but you could still break the week into sufficiently large slots: Tuesdays and Wednesdays could be one assignment; Thursdays and Fridays another.
Failing that, the least unpleasant bit of work might prove procrastination fodder for the other! If you're working on one piece of work and ideas are coming to you for another, don't be afraid to switch. Just be careful of switching so much that you confuse yourself!
Be as efficient as you can be.
Are your notes everywhere? Do you even have notes at all? Write notes that will make sense to you when you come to using them. Not just cryptic keywords or doodles whose meaning has been lost in the mists of term.
Skim read the texts that you find. You don't need to read every word, or even every paragraph.
Do you know where that quote came from? Can you put your hand on that pen or that PDF? Keep a record of the texts that you've found so that you can find them again and/or cite them.
Have a way of making quick notes, either with pen and paper, or on your phone. You never know when an idea might come to you.
And try to keep your work environment relatively tidy. You don't have to live in a sterile, tidy environment, but utter chaos will only cost you time (that said, so will tidying up -- don't use tidying as a form of procrastination!).
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Use your calendar.
Plan ahead in your diary and block some time out. You could even colour some things in if you think it will help you and if it isn't just procrastination!
Start with fixed appointments like classes and meetings, then block out study time. Things you need time for include:
...and that's just a very partial list. The exact things you'll need to make time for will depend on what you're doing.
Be sure to leave time for checking what you've written. Don't take everything up to the very last minute.
You can't plan for all eventualities, so give yourself space for any slippage to your schedule.
And above all... look after yourself!
Finding it hard to focus and plagued by distractions? Join The Distractibles Meetup on the first Wednesday of each month, 12:30pm to 1:30pm. We are a support group of staff and students with small group chat and an ideas bank of things to try. Whether you're neurodiverse or just easily distracted, our peer-support group might be just the thing for you.
Sign up for the next session on 6 December 12.30pm.
If you've attended before, you can use the same Zoom link.
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