In this article, you're going to get some "inside information" on how to avoid 5 all-too-common time management mistakes students make, because you're a swamped college student and this stuff concerns you!
Let's be real... college work can be exhausting!
Who doesn't want to get their work done faster and have more time for themselves?
It's safe to say everyone wants this, but not everyone will ever get there because they haven't learned to avoid these 5 killer time management mistakes!
For the sake of time management, let's get right into it!
Mistake #1: Not Setting Goals
Do you mind me being blunt with you? This first mistake is hands-down the worst one on the list.
Imagine playing football without an end zone, basketball without a hoop, or golf without a hole. Can’t you see how there’d be no point in playing? You could expand energy and effort all day, but you’d still never be able to win. It’s the same thing with time management.
In order to manage your time to the highest degree possible, you need to have a clear picture of what’s important to you, and what you want to achieve. This is where goals come in.
Here's What to Do Instead:
Set goals that are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Relevant
T = Timely
Every day, work on forming the habit of frequently asking yourself if what you’re doing at any give time will move you closer towards achieving your goals, or further away.
Focus on taking actions that move you closer towards your goals, while minimizing those that don’t!
Mistake #2: Attempting to Do Everything on Your To-Do List
Did You Know? Research shows that most people neglect at least 41% of the items they themselves put on their to-do lists (source)!
Has anything like this ever happened to you?
You’re overloaded with work, so you set aside a few hours, or perhaps even a whole day to sit down and get everything done. You’ve heard before that you’re supposed to make a to-do list, so you jot down all the tasks you have to do. You work diligently, but by the end of the day, you’ve only crossed off a small handful of the tasks on your list. You feel frustrated that you didn’t get more done, and you take it out on yourself.
You shouldn’t beat yourself up though. Why not? Because 99% of the time it’s impossible to get everything on your to-do list done. Now, of course you should strive to complete everything, but for any busy student with a full-plate, it’s rarely realistic to expect this of yourself
FACT: Working on one task from your to-do list requires you to simultaneously procrastinate on all other tasks. You better be sure the tasks you're neglecting aren't as important as the one you're working on!
FACT: Working on 1 task requires you to procrastinate on all others. Figuring out which tasks are important and which ones you can procrastinate on is the secret.
Here's What to Do Instead:
The 80/20 Principle states that 80 percent of your results come from only 20 percent of what you do.
For every 10 items on your to-do list, pick the 2 most important (or for every 1, pick 5), and do them immediately! Do nothing else until you’ve finished both of them.
How do you decide which tasks are the most important? For more complete instructions on prioritizing, check out The Insanely Useful Guide to Time Management: For Swamped College Students. In short, consider which items have the most consequences for not completing them, and go with your gut!
Once you’ve completed your 2 most important tasks, re-evaluate your list for which items are the most important, then work on them. At the end of the day if you run out of time and still have many items on your to-do list, you can still rest assured knowing you’ve knocked out the most important ones!
Mistake #3: Only Studying When You Have a Test or Deadline Coming Up
Have you ever crammed for a test at the last minute, but still ended up with a good grade?
I used to be the kind of person who regularly did this. It wasn’t just studying for tests though; I would also finish assignments and leave for class at the last minute. Many times I got away with this with no consequences. My grades were still pretty good, and I faced no penalties whatsoever for sprinting into class gasping for air at the last minute everyday. But then, I finally pushed my luck too far.
Once I had an ecology final, philosophy paper, and a writing portfolio due all on the same day. With stunning freshman naievity, I severely underestimated the difficulty of completing all of these tasks the night before they were due. One sleepless night and nearly half-a-dozen energy drinks later, I trudged through a mind-numbingly long day of agony.
Everyone who habitually leaves their work until the last minute will inevitably experience something like this at some point. For me, it was a turning point that led me to radically change my bad habit. However, others learn nothing from their experiences, and instead choose to keep doing the same thing for some mind-boggling reason I’ve yet to figure out.
After my turning point moment, I switched up my game–right on time. I faced the busiest day of my entire college tenure not long after. I had a calculus test, organic chemistry quiz, an organic chemistry group lab report due, a 12 page Russian studies paper due, and I had to give a speech that night because I was running for treasure of a national honors society all on the same day.
Was I stuck in my dorm room preparing all weekend? No, not by a long-shot. Saturday night I was out partying until the early morning hours (I’m by no means encouraging this). My sister was visiting a college nearby mine on Sunday, so I was visiting with my family for most of the day.
Somehow I pulled off one of the most productive streaks I’ve ever had that Monday. I aced my test, killed my quiz, came through for the group on the lab report, destroyed my paper, and got elected as treasurer!
How did I do this?
For about 3 weeks leading up to that Monday, I set aside at least a few hours a day everyday to get work done. By the weekend before everything was due, I had for the most part already knocked everything out!
All it took was one totally miserable experience for me to stop leaving things until the night before. The question now is how are you going to make a change?
Here's What to Do Instead:
Quick Tip: Most of what you learn by cramming never gets committed to your long-term memory. This makes it hard to recall material learned this way on tests. Science shows that spacing your learning sessions out incrementally over time is much more effective (source).
Starting now, make the commitment to study and work on your assignments daily at least a little bit, rather than just cramming before a test. If this is completely different from how you study now, don’t worry! You don’t have to drastically make the change all at once. Just ease into it starting with 1 hour a day.Then work up to 2 - 3, or even 4 hours a day.
For most people, studying for over 4 hours a day when you have nothing important due might be overkill, while for others, 4 hours would believe-it-or-not be a light day. A lot of it depends on your goals and how demanding your program is. It’s your decision, but if right now you only start studying when you have a test coming up, make the shift and watch how quickly your stress level drops!
Mistake #4: Spending Too Much Time Getting Ready to Study
I call this one the getting ready to study trap.
What are some examples of getting ready to study? Making flashcards, and making study guides are two big ones.
You might say: aren’t these activities necessary? Yes, of course they are. Studying with flashcards is one of the fastest ways to memorize material. The trap you want to avoid is spending more time making your flashcards than actually using them!
Likewise, you might decide that the best way to make sure you’re on top of everything for an exam is to make a study guide first. This can be a great way to ensure you don’t miss anything. However, you study guide is just that - a guide to help you study. While making your study guide might help you remember a thing or two, actually using it to study is what will deliver a grade you can be proud of!
Here's What to Do Instead:
What it really boils down to is efficiency vs effectiveness.
Doing things efficiently means doing them the right way. Doing things effectively means doing the right things the right way. You can pour hours into making fantastic flashcards, or you can instead make “good enough” flashcards and spend the majority of your time studying with them.
On a similar note, you can spend hours making a straight up stellar study guide, or you can instead make a “good enough” study guide, and have a straight up stellar study session with it.Ask yourself: Am I spending most of my time striving for efficiency, or for effectiveness? Efficiency means doing a great job on tasks. Effectiveness means doing a great job on the right tasks. If you get this confused, you’re going to have a bad time!
Efficiency means doing a great job on tasks. Effectiveness means doing a great job on the right tasks
Mistake #5: Procrastinating Because You Don't Know Where to Start
In a study in which over 1,000 high school and college students were surveyed, not knowing where to start with course work was one of the 2 biggest reasons students cited for procrastination. If you’re wondering about the second reason, it was distraction. But let's stay focused here on the first one.
Procrastinating because you don’t know what to start is often a symptom of what I call planning paralysis. Planning paralysis is the tendency to delay working on tasks due to not having the perfect plan. Yes, coming up with a plan before you jump into your work is essentially. You have to have some kind of plan. However, if you ever find yourself spending more than about 15 minutes planning, you’re either overdoing it, or were given an insanely demanding project.
Why is spending more than 15 minutes for most projects planning wasteful? Even the most complex, detailed plan may not hold up when you actually work on the task. For example, I’ve created outlines for college papers before, only to start writing and realize the plan needed some tweaking.
In short: Not planning at all is a big mistake, but so is over planning.
Strangely, perfectionists are the ones who often struggle with procrastination due to not knowing where to start the most. Sure, you should strive for perfection, but know that there’s no such thing as perfection!
When you’re not sure how to go forward, often the best thing you can do is just try something. Anything! Take thunderous risks until the sky clears. You can plan all day, but the best way to figure out if something’s going to work is to test it and see. Perfectionists don’t like to do this, because there’s a serious risk they’ll have difficulty, thus breaking their illusion of perfection.
Here's What to Do Instead:
First, clearly define your end goal, then make a checklist of everything you can think of that you need to do to get you from where you are now to accomplishing the goal. Ideally, you’ll be able to write out the entire sequence of steps from your starting point to the finish.
We all know though that in real life, ideal scenarios hardly ever come up. All you really ever need is to know the objective and the next step to take. When in doubt, just do the next step you can see. After you do that, you’ll see the next one!
In conclusion, I hope you're already starting to see how you can avoid these tiring time management mistakes. Imagine the feeling of freedom from having more time, energy, and flexibility in your schedule!
Without applying what you've just learned in your life, the information is no good to you. You must look for ways to incorporate it, and then take action at once. Life rewards those who take action. If you really want to take your time management skills to the next level, I invite you to check out my latest book: Be a Time Management Champion!