August 2, 2010

Tempus Fugit

Well, as it's been over three weeks since I last updated, perhaps a new post is in order.

I've been thinking about what the next topic that I should cover ought to be, and I finally decided that clearly it should be about Time Management. So many college students, adults, and others are utterly awful at this, and it's such an important skill to have. I probably should be the absolute last person preaching about this - I have a truly terrible habit of watching television instead of actually accomplishing things.

However, as part of my life as a student at Large State School in Nowheresville, I've participated in Student Government, and that's kept me incredibly busy. I've had to balance taking full semesters (that is, the max number of hours and classes an undergraduate can take) whilst also having to deal with 20-40 hours a week of time demands on my schedule. It's difficult and intense, and it requires a steady hand and a serious sense of commitment and purpose.

Here are some tips that I learned along the way.

1. A hard-copy planner is your best friend.
I've been using a planner in some capacity since I was about 12. Never was it more important that I be able to track my life than when everything was hitting the fan. I would calendar appointments, mark down major tests and quizzes, and keep track of days off, when my credit card bill was due, and any number of myriad things that can (and sometimes did) get lost in the cracks.

2. Double-up your calendar with a digital one.
I checked my email before I left for class (usually in the vain hope that class for that day would be cancelled) and set my Calendar to email me a daily schedule of meetings and remind me of what I had to accomplish. Sometimes this would backfire and I wouldn't have a meeting in my digital calendar that I did in my hard copy, but it usually went the other way. Having a second reminder (and being on top of keeping this updated) was a blessing. Oftentimes meetings would be emailed to me. Having a digital calendar meant adding the "event" or meeting was a cinch, and I could scribble it into my Filofax later on. I even used color-coding to let me see at a glance what kinds of activities I had coming up: meetings were blue, personal time was purple, events were green, tests/exams were red, and interviews were bright orange.

3. Make time for the things that are important to you.
This is one of those Time Management things that no one ever tells you, but proved to be the one thing that saved my sanity. I went three weeks without seeing my best friends once. It was the pits. After that, I made a conscious effort to schedule time with them. It sounds absurd, but it helped me keep my days and nights in order, and it helped me make sure that I had time for the things I love, in this case spending quality time with people that I care about. Your should value your spare time, especially if you're intensely scheduled. Make sure you take time for yourself, or else you WILL go insane.

4. Your time is your own.
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. Value the time that you've set aside for friends or family or even just for yourself. That means don't schedule other things during that time, don't accept work that you'd need to do during that time, and stick to your guns about taking that time off. Meetings can be schedule around that 2-hour bloc of time you're at the spa, and if they can't then maybe your group has bigger issues than meeting times. Don't prioritize others over yourself 100% of the time - it will rob you of your sense of self.

5. Contrary to popular belief, you can say no.
A major issue that I see with both student leaders and with young professionals is an inability to say no. Look, we all want to demonstrate that we can, in fact, do it all, but a professor of mine once told me that being able to show that you can do everything AND have it be of high caliber is the difficult and impressive part of that goal. Sometimes, that is simply impossible. I know for myself that I cannot do it all. I have a threshold, a limit, an asymptote of productiveness. Too many and too much as just as bad for me as too little and not enough. You need to be able to trust that there are others who can and will do the job. Sometimes you can't say no, and that's understandable, but if you genuinely feel overextended and someone offers you a project, ask for time to consider it before you make a decision, and carefully weight whether or not you genuinely want one more thing.

Ultimately, Time Management is really just that most basic of economics skills: cost-benefit analysis. Everything must get done, but you also need to eat and sleep and unwind just a little. Weighing the merits of activities will help get the cream to float. After that, it's all just one big game of Tetris.

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