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The Need for Organization
"Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity." —La Bruyere (1688)
Whether you're a high school student just starting to feel frazzled; a college student juggling five classes and a part-time job; or a parent working, attending classes, and raising a family, a simple, easy-to-follow system of organization is crucial to your success. Despite your insistence that you just don't have the time to spend scheduling, listing, and recording, it's actually the best way to give yourself more time.
Taking Time To Make Time
I'm sure many of you reading this are struggling with sometimes overwhelming responsibilities and commitments. Some of you may be so burned out that you've just given up. Those of you who aren't probably figure it's your fault—if you just worked harder, spent more time on your papers and assignments, wired yourself to your laptop 24/7—then everything would work out just fine.
So you resign yourselves to caffeine-fueled all-nighters, cramming for tests, and forgetting about time-consuming activities like eating and sleeping. Trying to do everything—even when there's too much to do—without acquiring the skills to control your time, is an approach that will surely lead to frustration and failure.
When Does It All End?
With classes, homework, a part- or full-time job, and so many opportunities for fun and recreation, life as a student can be very busy. But, believe me, it doesn't suddenly get easier when you graduate.
Most adults will tell you that life only gets busier. There will always be a boss who expects you to work later; children who need to be fed, clothed, and taken to the doctor; hobbies and interests to pursue; community service to become involved in; courses to take; etc.
There May Not Be Enough Time for Everything
When I asked one busy student if she wished she had more time, she joked, "I'm glad there are only 24 hours in a day. Any more and I wouldn't have an excuse for not getting everything done!"
Let me give you the good news: There is a way that you can accomplish more in less time. And it doesn't take more effort. You can plan ahead and make conscious choices about how your time will be spent and how much time you will spend on each task. You can have more control over your time, rather than always running out of it.
Now the bad news: The first step to managing your time should be deciding just what is important ... and what isn't. Difficult as it may be, sometimes it's necessary for us to recognize that we truly can't do it all, to slice from our busy schedules those activities that aren't that meaningful to us so we can devote more energy to those that are.
You may love music so much, you want to be in the school orchestra, jazz band, choir, and play with your own garage band on weekends. But is it realistic to commit to all four?
Your job at the mall boutique may mean you get 20 percent off all the clothes you buy there. But if you are working there 4 days a week, taking 15 hours of classes, and working at the food co-op on weekends, when do you expect to study?
If you're raising a family, working part-time, and trying to take a near-full class load yourself, it's probably time to cure yourself of the Super Mom syndrome.
But There Is Enough Time To Plan
Yet, even after paring down our commitments, most of us are still challenged to get it all done. What with classes, study time, work obligations, extracurricular activities, and a social life, it's not easy getting it all in.
The organizational plan that I outline in this book is designed particularly for students. Whether you're in high school, college, or graduate school, a "traditional" student or one who's chosen to return to school after being out in the "real world" for a while, you'll find that this is a manageable program that will work for you.
This program allows for flexibility. In fact, I encourage you to adapt any of my recommendations to your own unique needs. That means it will work for you whether you are living in a dorm, sharing accommodations with a roommate, or living with a spouse and children.
The purpose of this book is to help you make choices about what is important to you, set goals for yourself, organize and schedule your time, and develop the motivation and self-discipline to follow your schedule and reach those goals.
Wouldn't it be nice to actually have some extra time ... instead of always wondering where it all went? To feel that you're exerting some control over your schedule, your schoolwork, your life ... instead of caroming from appointment to appointment, class to class, assignment to assignment, like some crazed billiard ball?
It can happen.
I will not spend a lot of time trying to convince you that this is a "fun" idea—getting excited about calendars and to-do lists is a bit of a stretch. You will not wake up one morning and suddenly decide that organizing your life is just the most scintillating thing you can think of.
But I suspect you will do it if I can convince you that effective organization will reward you in some very tangible ways.
More Work, Less Time, More Fun!
An organizational or time-management system that fits your needs can help you get more work done in less time. Whether your priority is more free time, improved grades, a less frantic life—or all of the above—learning how to organize your life and your studies can help you reach your objective, because an effective time-management system:
1. Helps you put first things first. Have you ever spent an evening doing a time-consuming assignment for an easy class, only to find that you hadn't spend enough time studying for a crucial test in a more difficult one?
Listing all of the tasks you are required to complete and prioritizing them ensures that the most important things will always get done—even on days when you don't get everything done.
2. Helps you learn how long everything really takes. One of the important components of this system is estimating how long each task will take you and tracking how long you actually spend doing it. Once you've inculcated this concept into your life, you'll finally discover where all that time you've been "losing" has been hiding.
3. Reduces your tendency to procrastinate. Once you have a realistic idea of the specific things you must accomplish and know that you have allocated sufficient time to do so, you're less likely to get frustrated and put them off.
4. Helps you avoid time traps. Time traps are the unplanned events that pop up, sometimes (it seems) every day. They're the fires you have to put out before you can turn to tasks like studying.
You may fall into such time traps because they seem urgent ... or because they seem fun. Or you may end up spending hours in them ... without even realizing you're stuck.
There is no way to avoid every time trap. But effective time management can help you avoid most of them. Time management is like a fire-prevention approach rather than a fire-fighting one: It allows you to go about your work systematically instead of moving from crisis to crisis or whim to whim.
5. Helps you anticipate opportunities. In addition to helping you balance study time with other time demands, effective time management can help make the time you do spend studying more productive. You'll be able to get more done in the same amount of time or—even better—do more work in less time. I'm sure you could find some way to spend those extra hours each week.
6. Gives you freedom and control. Contrary to many students' fears, time management is liberating, not restrictive. A certain control over part of your day allows you to be flexible with the rest of your day.
In addition, you will be able to plan more freedom into your schedule. For example, you would know well in advance that you have a big test the day after a friend's party. Instead of having to call your friend the night of the party with a big sob story, you could simply schedule sufficient study time a couple of days before the party. Then you could attend the party, enjoy yourself, and still ace that test the next day!
7. Helps you avoid time conflicts. Have you ever lived the following horror story? You get out of class at 5:30, remember you have a big math assignment due, then realize you have no time to do it since you have a music rehearsal at 6 p.m. Then you remember that your softball game is scheduled for 7 p.m. ... just before that date you made months ago (which you completely forgot about until you checked your voice mail). Simply having all of your activities, assignments, appointments, errands, and reminders written down in one place helps ensure that two or three things don't get scheduled at once. If time conflicts do arise, you will notice them well in advance and be able to rearrange things accordingly.
8. Helps you avoid feeling guilty. When you know how much studying has to be done and have the time scheduled to do it, you can relax—you know that the work will get done. It is much easier to forget about studying if you've already allotted the time for it. Without a plan to finish the work you are doing, you may feel like it's "hanging over your head"—even when you're not working on it. If you're going to spend time thinking about studying, you might as well just spend the time studying!
Effective time management also helps keep your conscience off your back. When your studying is done, you can really enjoy your free time without feeling guilty because you're not studying.
9. Helps you evaluate your progress. If you know you have to read an average of 75 pages a week to keep up in your business management class, and you've only read 60 pages this week, you don't need a calculator to figure out that you are slightly behind. And it's easy enough to schedule a little more time to read next week so you can catch up.
On the other hand, if you only read when it doesn't cut into your leisure time (i.e., when your assignment doesn't conflict with your favorite TV programs) or until you're tired, you'll never know whether you're behind or ahead (but I'll bet you're behind!). Then one morning you suddenly realize you have to reach 150 pages of your history text ... by lunchtime.
10. Helps you see the big picture. Effective time management provides you with a bird's-eye view of the semester. Instead of being caught off guard when the busy times come, you will be able to plan ahead—weeks ahead—when you have big tests or assignments due in more than one class. Why not complete that German culture paper a few days early so it's not in the way when two other papers are due ... or you're trying to get ready for a weekend ski trip? Conflicts can be eliminated easily if you identify them in advance.
11. Helps you see the bigger picture. Planning ahead and plotting your course early allows you to see how classes fit with your overall school career. For example, if you know you have to take chemistry, biology, and pharmacology to be eligible for entrance into the nursing program, and the courses you will take later will build on those, you will at least be able to see why the classes are required for your major, even if you aren't particularly fond of one or two of them.
12. Helps you learn how to study smarter, not harder. Students sometimes think time management just means reallocating their time—spending the same time studying, the same time in class, the same time partying, just shifting around these time segments so everything is more "organized."
This is only partially true—a key part of effective time management is learning how to prioritize tasks. But this simple view ignores one great benefit of taking control of your time: It may well be possible that you will be so organized, so prioritized, so in control of your time, that you can spend less time studying, get better grades, and have more time for other things—extracurricular activities, hobbies, whatever.
It's not magic, though it can appear magical.
It Keeps Getting Better
In addition to helping you to manage your time right now and reach your immediate study goals, learning how to organize your studying will continue to pay off.
Have you ever sat in a class and thought to yourself, "I'll never use this stuff once I get out of school"?
You won't say that about organizational skills. They will be useful throughout your life. Preparation is what school is all about—if you spend your time effectively now, you will be better prepared for the future.
And the better prepared you are, the more options you will have: Effective learning and good grades now will increase your range of choices when you graduate. The company you work for or the graduate school you attend will be one you choose, not one whose choice was dictated by poor past performance.
Learning how to manage your time now will develop habits and skills you can use outside of school. It may be difficult for you to develop the habits of effective time management, but don't think you're alone—time management presents just as much of a problem to many parents, professors, and non-students. How many people do you know who never worry about time?
If you learn effective time-management skills in school, the payoffs will come throughout your life.
Whether you wind up running a household or a business, you will have learned skills you will use every day.
Time management is not a magic wand that can be waved to solve problems in school or after graduation. It is a craft that must be developed over time. There is no "time-management gene" that you either have or lack, like the ones that produce brown eyes or black hair.
These techniques are tools that can be used to help you reach your short-term and long-range goals successfully.
The important thing to remember is that you can be a successful time manager and a successful student if you are willing to make the effort to learn and apply the principles in this book.
If you hate the idea of being tied to a schedule, if you fear that it will drain all spontaneity and fun from your life, I know you'll be pleasantly surprised when you discover that just the opposite is true.
Most students are relieved and excited when they learn what a liberating tool time management can be.
Let's explode some myths that may be holding you back.
Do I Have To Spend More Time Studying?
Learning effective organizational skills will not turn you into a study-bound bookworm. How much time do you need to set aside for studying? Ask your career counselor, and he or she will probably echo the timeworn 2:1 ratio—spend two hours studying out of class for every hour you spend in class.
Hogwash. That ratio may be way out of line—either not enough time or too much. The amount of study time you need to schedule depends on your classes, abilities, needs, and goals. It will undoubtedly differ from what your friends need to do.
Scheduling time to study doesn't mean that you have to go from three hours of studying a day to eight. In fact, laying out your study time in advance often means you can relax more when you're not studying because you won't be worrying about when you're going to get your schoolwork done—the time's been set aside.
How long you study is less important than how effective you are when you do sit down to study. The goal is not to spend more time studying, but to spend the same or less time, getting more done in whatever time you spend.
It's Too Complicated
You may fear that time management implies complexity. Actually, I recommend simplicity. The more complex your system, the harder it will be to use and, consequently, the less likely that you will use it consistently. The more complex the system, the more likely it will collapse.
It's Too Inflexible
You can design your time-management system to fit your own needs. Some of the skills you will learn in this book will be more helpful to you in reaching your goals than others. You may already be using some of them. Others you will want to start using right now. Still others may not fit your needs at all.
Use the skills that are most likely to lead you to your study goals, meet your needs, and fit with your personality.
Inflexibility is most people's biggest fear—"If I set it all out on a schedule, then I won't be able to be spontaneous and choose what to do with my time later."
Your time-management system can be as flexible as you want. In fact, the best systems act as guides, not some rigid set of "must do's" and "can't do's."
That's enough about the myths. Let's take a look at what is actually required to use your time-management skills effectively.
Keep It Together
You have to be able to look at your plan when it's time to use it. It's nearly impossible to make detailed plans very far in advance without having a permanent record. Make it your rule: "If I plan it out, I will write it down."
And make sure that you have one place to write and keep all your schedule information, including class times, meetings, study times, project due dates, vacations, doctor appointments, social events, etc., so you always know exactly where to find them.
Excerpted from Get Organized by Ron Fry. Copyright © 2012 Ron Fry. Excerpted by permission of Career Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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