Monday, April 11, 2011

Time Management for Seniors Heading to College

          There is no better test of time management skills than the first year of college.  Getting to class, studying for tests, meeting for group sessions, attending extra labs, and finding time to socialize all compete for students’ time.  Many students will also be working part-time. At the same time, many of our students will be on their own (physically if not financially!) for the first time in their lives. How do they manage to fit it all in, and without parents and teachers staying on them constantly?  There are many ways to manage time, but students should develop an individual plan based on lifestyle, learning styles, and personality. You can help your students prepare for college by guiding them in adopting time management skills that suit their needs. 
          Many students benefit from  a to-do list to help with prioritizing.  Beside each task, have students approximate the amount of time needed for completion. Students can then decide what needs to be done before socializing.  If needed, have students make two columns, one labeled Work and one titled Play, and write tasks under the appropriate headings.  Then, direct students to number the items in the order of importance.  This will help them focus on their responsibilities and help them decide which tasks are the most important, without feeling that their personal time is out the window altogether. For students who are easily overwhelmed, such as those with learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or Asperger’s, you might suggest limiting the list to a particular category of tasks, and then making a separate list for other types of tasks. This will produce shorter lists, which may be easier to digest. For instance, a student might have one list for tasks related to general studying and homework, and a separate list detailing what needs to be done for a major project or paper.
          A follow-up step that many students will find helpful is to schedule tasks onto a calendar, planner, or personal device, such as a smart phone,, iPod, netbook, laptop, or tablet.  Many social networks also offer calendars with programmable reminders.  Some programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, let students share calendars with family and friends.  Electronic reminders can be a great help to students who have trouble remembering details of appointments or who procrastinate. They can also be an effective coping strategy for students who struggle with organization due to attention deficit, autism, or some other issue.
Students should be aware, however, that being connected can be distracting and time consuming. This is a vital part of time management for today’s digital-native students. Remind them to make plans to check emails or social networking sites only at specific times of the day. Students who are easily sidetracked may also benefit from setting a timer to limit online time. There are several great apps for mobile devices or a home computer, or students could just use the old-fashioned egg timer. Another strategy is to strategically schedule online time with a natural endpoint—for example, 20 minutes before a favorite T.V. show or while a dinner pizza is in the oven. This creates a forced stopping point. Just tell them to make sure they don’t burn that pizza!
An old-fashioned, paper calendar may be a better option for some students, and some students will just prefer to go the traditional route. Check the product links below for some schedules and time-management helpers students can use. Some are even free!  Other schedule and calendar templates can be found in Microsoft Office, or students can purchase a calendar or planner to suit their own personal styles. Some will prefer the simplest grid, while others will be disciplined enough to use a system such as a Franklin Covey planner or David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system. 
Another area to discuss with students is goal-setting and breaking down tasks. Remind students to set realistic goals and chunk work into manageable portions.  For example, they should plan to study in small increments of about forty-minutes rather than studying in blocks of two-to-three hours (or worse, trying to cram it all in the night before a big test).  All of these considerations, too, will create entries on the students’ calendars or planners. You might have a whole class  brainstorm ideas for unusual ways to study, or if that doesn’t fit with your teaching plans, suggest the strategy to students whose styles may be well-suited to variety, or who just need a change of pace.  For example, they might study before or between classes, or they might use commute time.  They may want to listen to study materials such as recorded lectures, audio versions of textbooks, or subject-area podcasts. Students could also look for video content as a study aid, and share with classmates. Mnemonic devices (memory tricks) also help some students. Ask students to consider how multitasking affects their quality of work.  Do they devote their full attention to the taskathand when multitasking?  How will they schedule time away from books and homework?  For most students, finding a balance between work and fun will take time, but it can be done by using good time management strategies.
Once students have scheduled all of these tasks onto their calendars, have them follow their plans.  You may want to meet with students again in two weeks to discuss challenges, and then make adjustments to schedules or organizational systems.  This kind of dry run will be a valuable learning experience for seniors before going out on their own.
Getting enough rest is also important, so urge students to know themselves (“Am I a morning person or a night owl?”) and to establish a routine.  Students need to schedule classes at times when they are most alert.  This is a wonderful advantage of college classes compared to high school; most colleges offer many class options: morning, afternoon, evening, night, completely online, and web-enhanced.  Students should enroll in courses that compliment their learning styles and personalities.  A lesson on learning styles would be beneficial for all of your college-bound students, and might be worth part of a class period. For example, if students enjoy working with their hands and are most alert after lunch, afternoon lab classes would be a good fit if available.  
Effective time management skills take practice.  The first year of college is stressful, so help students get a jumpstart on these skills while still in high school. Then, encourage students to follow their schedules and incorporate good time management skills when they finally leave the nest.

Beth Hammett

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  2. Thanks for such a great post, Beth! My son is heading to college in the fall and these tips are great for him. I especially like the ones about setting alarms and online times so the hours don't slip away.

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