I know I’m not the only one who’s ever lamented not having enough time and yearned for at least one more hour in the day to get things done. Although I’m still an undergraduate, I’m taking only two classes and working part-time this semester. This means that my biggest time commitments are my courses (only 75 minutes Monday-Thursday) and at least two hours of work Monday-Friday. Seems simple enough, right? Well sprinkle in homework assignments, weekly meetings, office hours, job applications, editing (both for LD and many of my friends’ theses), and the occasional coffee or lunch with friends, and what you get is a very stressed Julia with an ever-increasing to-do list.
My largely unfixed schedule is the greatest contributor to my time-management problems. I often have enough time in which to accomplish the things I need to do, but I struggle to prioritize my assignments and obligations, choosing to multitask instead of allotting separate blocks of time for each task. Oddly enough, one of my biggest issues is my hyper-punctuality. Instead of arriving 10 or 15 minutes late to class or a meeting, I tend to overestimate how long it takes me to get where I’m going, arrive 20 or 30 minutes early, and spend that time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram instead of being productive. With all of this in mind, my goals for the week include the following:
- Allotting 15-20 minutes in the morning to assess each day’s schedule and obligations
- Tracking time spent on social media
- Arriving no more than 10 minutes early for class, meetings, etc.
- Spending one hour a day on job applications
- Getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night
- Journaling at least one page per day
The day before I began this challenge, I cleaned and rearranged my room and organized my desk to make it a more inviting place to get work done. When I woke up on Day 1, I got right to work on my resolution to devote a few minutes each morning to planning my day and writing down what I planned to accomplish. This day’s to-do list involved writing and sending a handful of the postcards I’d bought more than three months ago and never sent, responding to emails I’d received over break, doing homework for my Monday class, and updating my LinkedIn profile.
Much to my surprise, I was incredibly productive—in no small part thanks to the fact that I began this challenge on a Sunday when I had no class, meetings, or work assignments. Instead of having to rush from one place to another, I was able to sit down at my desk and work until each predetermined break time: lunch at 1:00, a run at 3:30, shower at 5:00, and dinner at 7:00.
Something I found particularly helpful was setting numerical goals for each task. For example, I resolved to write at least six postcards, add five jobs to my “companies of interest” list, and fill at least three pages of my journal. At the end of the day I was proud of everything I had accomplished, but worried that resuming classes and a regular work week would disrupt my productivity.
My Monday/Wednesday class begins at 8:00am, leaving me little time to accomplish much besides showering and gulping down coffee before I head out the door. However, having gone to bed around 10:00 the night before, I woke up at 6:00 (and admittedly hit “snooze” until 6:20) and spent a few minutes drafting a to-do list before hopping in the shower. When my class ended at 9:15, I met up with a friend for brunch before heading to the library and working diligently from about 11:00-2:00 when I decided I deserved both lunch and a power nap.
I’d considered going into the office where I intern, but figured I’d eliminate the travel time from school to downtown and work from home instead. Once I realized how much time and energy I spend changing locations and firing up my laptop, I resolved to add one more item to my list of goals for the week: minimize travel time (and, consequently, maximize productivity).
While I was proud of my three hours in the library, I found that once I switched gears to eat, nap, and talk to my roommates, I struggled to regain the focus I’d had earlier. Instead of lingering at home until dinner with a friend, I headed to a cafe close to the restaurant we’d chosen and continued to work for two hours until dinner. During this time I worked on more challenging assignments, leaving smaller tasks such as answering emails, perusing job offerings, and journaling for later in the evening.
By Day 3 of this Wellness Wednesday Challenge I’d learning three things about myself and time management: I was most productive in the mornings, my momentum wavering once I breaked for lunch or exercise; lunch, exercise, and socialization were equally worthy of earning a slot in my schedule as my formal assignments; and I was still getting to class and other meetings far earlier than necessary. With this last item in mind, I decided to take advantage of a 30-minute gap of time between when I finished my homework and the start of class, to drop by the University Career Center.
In this short meeting, the Career Counselor reviewed the first of my many cover letters, approved a networking email I’d drafted the night before, and eased much of my post-grad anxiety—all of which I figured would take much longer than 20 minutes. With an extra spring in my step I arrived at class one minute before it began, my later-than-usual arrival warranting a sarcastic comment from my friend, “Someone took their spring break a little too seriously.” I admitted to her that cutting it so close to the start of class was extremely stressful, but was glad I’d wisely spent my limited spare time beforehand.
After class, I returned to the library and worked diligently on a work assignment for a couple of hours before returning to my apartment for some down time before dinner. Once I’d eaten, it was hard to muster the energy to dive back into my work, but I decided to set a two-hour goal in which I’d choose four assignments to tackle and spend no more than 30 minutes on each. I set a silent 30 minute timer on my phone, placed it next to my computer, and when time ran out I’d jot down a few notes about what work remained on that particular assignment before moving on to the next one and resetting the timer. This was a surprisingly effective strategy and the two hours I promised I’d spend at the library flew by. I resolved to do the same thing the following evening.
Up until Wednesday of this week (Day 4) I’d been doing a pretty stellar job with this challenge. I’d hit my stride with the job search, that momentum prompting me to spend most of the time I wasn’t in class or in meetings on LinkedIn or my university’s recruitment platform; I was shockingly on top of my work; I’d made a huge dent in the pile of postcards I’d stacked on my desk on Saturday; and I had even managed to journal for 30 minutes before bed each night. Day 4, however, was much less productive.
Knowing I would run after my 8:00 class and not need to shower beforehand, I allowed myself to sleep in a little longer. Because of this, I didn’t have enough time to jot down my goals for the day. After class and my run, my mom arrived in town to have lunch, shop, and square away graduation weekend plans. She arrived earlier than expected, so I wasn’t able to get much done after running and by the time she left a couple of hours later, I only had an hour to kill before babysitting. Instead of spending that hour at the computer, I decided to catch up with my roommates.
I’d made plans with a friend to crank out some work at the library after dinner, but when I arrived she told me she would rather hear about my spring break than subject herself to the composition of more cover letters. I was all too eager to oblige her request for conversation and when I went to bed a few hours later, realized I’d accomplished nothing all day besides getting fitted for new bras—which, I decided, was good enough.
It was hard to get back on track after hardly considering my time management the day before. I woke up with every intention of knocking out my homework and remaining internship assignment before class, but arrived at the library at 8:30 only to discover that I had 60 pages of reading (in French), a one page response, and more work than I anticipated all due by noon. To make matters worse I’d brought the wrong book to the library, so I had to trek back to my apartment and didn’t begin reading until a little after 9:00. Even speed reading, my homework assignment took me close to two hours to complete, leaving me with only half an hour to complete at least another two hours of work for my internship. Needless to say I missed my noon deadline and spent most of class with a lump in my throat, mentally kicking myself for taking a day off on Wednesday.
I think my roommate could sense my distress when I returned from class, so she suggested the two of us go on a run before I sit back down to work. I did the mental math: 30 minutes of running, 10 minutes in the shower, and another few preparing dinner seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford. That’s when I took a moment to remind myself that good time management didn’t mean doing homework or writing cover letters or working around the clock. This challenge was about making time to do the things I had to do in addition to those I wanted to do. Yes, I’d missed a deadline that I shouldn’t have, but that didn’t mean I had to be punished for it by robbing myself of activities important to my mental and physical health. This lesson alone was enough to make the time management challenge worthwhile. So I went on the run, spent a couple of hours working after dinner, then let myself relax at a long overdue wine and cheese night.
Fridays have always been a little tricky for me time management-wise because I don’t have any class or meetings to structure my day around. Instead, I tend to devote a lot of my Fridays to my internship and catching up with friends over coffee or lunch. This Friday I had a breakfast at 9:30 and was scheduled to give an admissions tour to prospective students at 2:00. Because this was my first tour in a while, I spent the time before and after breakfast brushing up on my university’s admissions stats and other academic information. I knew I’d spent this time wisely, but was still a little disappointed that I didn’t have much to show for my day once the tour ended.
An afternoon run, dinner with friends, and preparations for the weekend didn’t leave much room for academic or professional work. However, I once again reminded myself that I was still spending my time wisely if I was staying busy and off of Facebook—which, I hadn’t spent more than a total of 20 minutes a day on since Sunday.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first few hours of my weekend weren’t my most productive. I managed to get in a decent run before a noon obligation, but it wasn’t until 2:00pm that I was able to resume the job search and current work assignments. Running on less than five hours of sleep, I decided to limit myself to only two hours of work before calling a friend to catch up on my walk home from the cafe in which I’d been working. The nearly hour-long conversation with my friend reminded me yet again of how to approach time management in terms of balancing the things I have to do versus those I want to do. The rest of the day was spent running errands, working in short spurts, and grabbing dinner with a friend. Weekends, I figured, were meant for recharging and I couldn’t waste precious time feeling guilty for failing to spend another hour or two at my laptop.
What I learned
Clearly the beginning of my week was much more academically and professionally productive than the last few days, but this challenge forced me to think about what it means to be productive. Yes, completing assignments and sending emails are important and a large part of life involves taking the time we’d rather be doing something entertaining and spending it in a way that boosts our GPAs or furthers our careers. However, the purpose of good time management is also about making time for the things that make a person happy and healthy. It doesn’t take much to fill spare gaps of time in a busy schedule with something emotionally or personally enriching—catching up with friends, jotting down thoughts in a journal, exercising, or simply reflecting. After completing this challenge, I resolved to give professional/academic and personal obligations equal priority in my planner. After all, good time management is all about finding a healthy balance.
Photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic
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