The Mentorship Spot
Time Management in University
By Rachel Snelgrove
I just finished my fourth year of the Honours Biology & Pharmacology program at McMaster University and have been reflecting on how much I’ve learned over my time in university about time management, because my perspective on this has substantially shifted throughout the past 5-6 years. I thought it would be great to share some of what I’ve learned with all of you! Here, I’ll be talking about my experience managing school, a social life, sleep, exercise, and part-time work during school, as well as being efficient during the school or work parts.
During my first, second, and third years of university, I worked part-time in McMaster’s residences, signing people in and out of residence for roughly 5-15 hours per week. In my third year, I also worked part-time with McMaster catering, both serving and working in their office for a total of 8-16 hours per week, which meant at the height of my work during school I was working 20-25 hours per week. One thing that I’d like to highlight about my work experiences is that I never took on more than I could handle. To determine how much time you have to accomplish your extracurricular goals, I think it’s important to really be reflective on how much time you actually have during your week. Doing purposeful reflections at the end of each day and evaluating every few months can be helpful in seeing how you are spending your time, sort of like creating a budget in the sense that you’ll look back at previous spending decisions (time or money) to evaluate where you can afford to cut back and where you want to dedicate those resources in the future. That being said, even if you feel you don’t have any additional time you could use for your goals, you can usually still find some time if you’re able to be more efficient with meeting the goals you’re currently working towards, and I’m hoping my tips in this article will help you with this efficiency.
I’m sure that on the topic of time management, you’ve heard many people talk about the importance of breaks, and I completely agree with this sentiment. Oftentimes for me, working on one thing for hours at a time leads me to be less efficient and results in me spending more time on the matter at hand than I would otherwise spend if given breaks. However, one thing I’d also like to mention is that a break doesn’t necessarily need to be completely unproductive. You can actually use your breaks to meet some of your other goals or learn to view changes in activities as your breaks. When I was working part-time during school, I would view my work shifts as breaks, since I would be able to take a mental break from thinking about school during those times, and could often socialize with my coworkers as well. Even just shifting from working on one course to another can feel like a mental break. One break that I’ve found particularly useful during COVID-19 has been the exercise break – taking an hour to exercise can feel like a lot of time out of your day but for me, this tends to improve my mood and help me to work more efficiently afterwards, and this can feel like even more of a break if you listen to a podcast or your favourite music while doing it. Some other breaks that I find useful can be vacuuming, cleaning your room, going on a short walk, calling a friend, or anything like that – things that maybe would help your other goals of cleaning, exercising, or socializing, but can also serve as a break from your other work.
In terms of how I manage the time I spend on schoolwork, I do tend to have a few methods that I use depending on the size of the project, the due date, and other confounding factors. For example, if I have a lot of large projects that aren’t due for another week or two, I will set my goals to work for a certain number of hours per day, and allow myself to work on whatever I want to during those set hours. That type of flexibility can be really useful for me as I feel like I do have some sort of say in what I’m doing, and that helps me to stay motivated since I know I can do what I prefer, and those preferences do change on different days so each course does get worked on. However, that luxury isn’t always available if something is due sooner, and in that case I set my goals based on the amount of work I want to finish rather than the amount of time I want to spend working. One thing that’s very important about both of those mindsets is that I always divide up larger projects into smaller goals, and generally specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-oriented (SMART) goals. While I use SMART goals in all aspects of my life and recommend you do too, in the context of breaking large projects into smaller goals, the specific and measurable pieces of this acronym are the most important, meaning you should divide perhaps broad projects into more defined, specific pieces that you can adequately judge your progress on. That could mean dividing the project into sections and subsections, or coming up with specific questions that you need to find the answers to before diving into those sections. This will be really variable based on the project, but dividing them into these types of subgoals can be very useful.
In terms of maintaining efficiency while working on schoolwork, there have been two main techniques that I’ve been incorporating recently that I’ve found have helped me immensely. First, I found that studying during an online semester was much tougher to motivate myself for, so I formed a group of friends who would congregate online and study together on video call. Having one or more people on video call while working helped me because this would sort of force me to actually work while on call, and I couldn’t get sidetracked because I knew they could see me. Additionally, we would oftentimes work using the Pomodoro technique or a modified version of it. In the Pomodoro technique, you work in sets of 25 minutes, with 5-minute breaks in between each of these, and the key is that for the 25 minutes of work, you are not distracted at all and are completely focused on the work at hand. My friends and I would often do this or a modification where we’d do 30-minute blocks of work, and then talk for 5-10 minutes in between these blocks. Doing this method helped us to use our time efficiently and still have time to socialize (mixing goals again!) and have adequate mental breaks. Another modification of this technique I’ve heard great reviews on is the Animedoro technique, in which you work for 40-60 minutes and then watch one 20-minute episode of Anime or different TV, which again serves the purpose of ensuring there is efficient work time but also adequate breaks. I think these types of techniques can be especially useful if you find you’re working constantly but are not necessarily working fast or efficiently, as having these shorter timers can make it easier to motivate. 25 minutes is a short time to push through, so you can definitely accomplish it! Having your projects laid out into smaller sub-goals can also help because once you finish one sub-goal you can immediately move onto the next one rather than needing to question what you’re working on. Having everything laid out in terms of what you need to do in an appropriate order can make it much more manageable to work through efficiently.
Thank you for reading my article on time management! If you have any questions for me about my time management or university journey, you can feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @racheljsnelgrove, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rachel.snelgrove.5, or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelsnelgrove/.
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