Many adults don’t know how to manage their time properly. The endless self-help books on time management, procrastination, and work-life balance all point out the challenges of organizing a daily routine that includes the various obligations of work and relationships.
Time management is also a real problem for students. Yet teaching students how to manage their time frustrates many faculty members, as we are increasingly burdened with extra care work for students – whether it’s placating anxious and ubiquitous parents or to manage unstable post-adolescents. We have a lot to do beyond our research and course preparation. But, in fact, knowing this is one of the reasons why, from day one, I try to help students be responsible for their time.
Of course, the first day of class is already filled with many announcements and introductory exercises, so there is no need to teach students about time management on that first day. It works just as well a few weeks into the semester, when students have settled into their class schedule and are slipping into problematic habits. Discussing procrastination issues and planning study sessions is also helpful when announcing an important job, as this is when students are more likely to think about the limited time they have. available for “extra” work.
How can I help students develop time management skills? First, I introduce them to delay as a specific behavior with variable expressions. The “busy bees” always add something to their complicated schedules and thus arrive everywhere, delivering everything, a little late. These people want to succeed so badly that they don’t know how to prioritize. Distracted people start on time, but along the way they notice something or stop to chat with someone and suddenly find themselves late. They find it difficult to maintain boundaries with others and stay focused on their own goals. Selfish latecomers don’t want to waste their time; they didn’t think about how they could use those extra minutes to review work, ask questions, or write their grandmother that long-awaited thank you note. Finally, there are the “victims”, to whom things always happen: traffic, accidents, roommate problems, other work and more always prevent them from arriving on time, and this is not is never their fault. They have not yet learned to prepare for setbacks.
Procrastination, linked to delays, often comes from fear. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, they often won’t try. For whatever reason, many students are afraid to ask for guidance in completing a project or paper, and not all professors explain the steps required for the project or paper. A variation of this is the student who is afraid to do anything without constant guidance and support. Procrastination is not a choice not to do work, but rather to work all the time – thinking unproductively about all projects instead of allocating manageable chunks to designated periods of time.
To deal with these behaviors, students need to have a realistic idea of the time available to them. For this, I distribute a spreadsheet representing a seven-day week with a 24-hour schedule. I ask students to insert their schedule and label their classes, jobs, commuting time, and any school or external activities – from athletics and clubs to church attendance and dog walking . Next come the most difficult events for them to time: meals, social times and morning routines. I recommend that they add 30 minutes to each one.
When students wonder why social time with friends should be on their schedule, since it happens spontaneously, I ask them to consider putting their own lives, goals, and demands first. Scheduling time for friends ensures they’ll see them and relax, without interrupting the other times they’ve set aside for exercise or – gasp! — to do one’s homework.
Now we come to homework time. I explain that for art and design students, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design assumes an average of 7.5 hours of work per week per class. Something similar is true in all disciplines. If a student is in class for three hours, an average of four and a half hours of homework per week is acceptable and considered adequate college education. The beginning of the semester, when students are still excited about their educational project, is a good time to remind them that they want to be here and do this work. That’s what they (or the parents or the loans) are paying for: the opportunity to work hard to learn what they don’t yet know.
Of course, not every teacher necessarily calculates the amount of homework each week (although some do), but most of us estimate workload. Some weeks, with big projects coming up, students will have more work to do. Other weeks they will have less. The thing is, a five-class schedule is almost a full-time job at 37.5 hours.
Next, I ask students to find four hours per class of homework time each week. That’s when they realize they rarely have four-hour slots, unless it’s the middle of the night. So I suggest dividing their homework time into smaller segments. Fit in half an hour of reading here. Spend an hour in the library during another time slot. Some things, but not all, require extended periods.
As the schedule fills up, students begin to see how much time they will have. Their anxiety becomes palpable. At this point, I recommend one final addition. They need “worry time”. I suggest at least 30 minutes twice a week which they designate as time to attend to their work. This not only gives them the opportunity to review their schedule each week, but also – and more importantly – gives anxieties a specific time to address. Rather than letting anxieties flourish each time they arise, I suggest that students keep a list of all those thoughts that arise and come back to them during their allotted worry time. Then, if they don’t know how to fix the problems, they can contact professors and counselors for further guidance.
I encourage students to stick to this schedule and see how they do over the coming weeks. They may need to make adjustments. They can optionally choose to put this in their smartphone calendar. For now, I suggest they keep the sheet readily available for reference, as it allows them to see what their week looks like at a glance and reminds them why they have things scheduled when they do.
They are now responsible for managing the work of their classes, including mine. With that, I turn to our reading or activity.