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Students who carry college success into the real world are superheroes of scheduling, organizing—and perhaps most importantly—managing time. Want to find your time-management superpowers? The key is to know your time-use personality, figure out your challenges, and play to your strengths.

What’s your personality?

The International Career Development Center (ICDC College) in Huntington Park, California, suggests evaluating your usual time-management behavior in order to identify the cause of any challenges. Here are five personality types to consider:

The chatterbox

You’re a social butterfly and exercise great communication skills. But this often leads to conversations that may take you away from getting things done.

The perfectionist

You strive for exactitude. Your bar is set so high that there may not be enough time in the day to meet your own standard.

The over-committer

You struggle to say “no.” You have more than a full plate, or maybe three! You’re so busy, you hardly have the time to keep track of it all.

The chatterbox

You’re a social butterfly and exercise great communication skills. But this often leads to conversations that may take you away from getting things done.

The perfectionist

You strive for exactitude. Your bar is set so high that there may not be enough time in the day to meet your own standard.

The over-committer

You struggle to say “no.” You have more than a full plate, or maybe three! You’re so busy, you hardly have the time to keep track of it all.

The firefighter

You spend so much time managing crises and putting out fires that things pile up as you rush from place to place.

The lounger

You’re very laid back, and may avoid responsibilities. Trouble may arise when phone calls go unreturned and tasks remain unfinished.

Do you see some of yourself and your habits in these descriptions? Does your approach to responsibilities help, or hinder, your ability to reach your goals?

This knowledge can point to clues about how to liberate yourself from time-zapping habits.

Match strategy with personality

Scheduling, prioritizing, and list making are all good ways to organize your time. But the most effective ways to do these depend on your individual needs. Here are some techniques you may not have tried:

“Italian tomatoes” aka the Pomodoro Technique

Originally this technique used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer—thus the name. Set a timer and work intensely for 25 minutes before taking a 5-minute break. Looking forward to regular breathers can help you focus and feel comfortable eliminating distractions. (You can check Instagram during your break.)

This method may be especially helpful for “The perfectionist” and “The lounger.”

Chris D., a second-year graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., breaks work into pieces using this technique. “I set a 30-minute timer and try to complete a task in that time,” he says.

Time chart

Ever wonder where the time has gone? Tasks often seem to take longer than you expect, and the day flies by before you can catch it. A spreadsheet broken up into 15- or 30-minute chunks can help you identify exactly how your time is being spent.

Along the top, list the seven days of the week. On the side, break the sheet into time frames, such as 9–9:15 a.m. In each section, write down exactly what you do—sleep, eat, socialize, attend class, visit the gym, etc.

This tool can work for anyone, but may be especially useful for “The lounger” and “The chatterbox.” If you’re an “over-committer,” you may find it illuminating to realize there’s no room to squeeze anything more into your schedule.

Unplug

Our gadgets can promote organization, but they can also turn into a huge time vacuum. Reserve time each day for turning off your phone, social media, email, etc. Try this for an hour or two and use the time to focus on tasks you need to get done. (You can use the “Italian Tomatoes” approach if you’d like.)

“The over-committer” and “The firefighter” may find this approach especially useful for tackling current responsibilities before adding more chaos to their agendas.

Visualize

This strategy is especially useful for visual learners, and provides both a stationary and on-the-go place to keep track of what needs to be done. This method may be comforting for “The perfectionist” who’s worrying about missing a detail. “The firefighter” may find it helpful for zeroing in on priorities. Color-coding tasks can further support this.

“I plan out my weeks using a planner in advance so I can visually see that I have a specific time for everything I need to accomplish,” says Hilary P., a fifth-year undergraduate at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

The procrastination trap

If you wait until the last minute to do things, you’re definitely not alone. Many people put off today what they think they’ll do tomorrow.

Procrastination isn’t necessarily an obstacle; some people are effective on-the-spot thinkers, are more creative when crunched for time, or process information internally before taking action.

Procrastination can be a dangerous trap, especially with a lengthy to-do list and many distractions. Sometimes it stems from being laid back, and other times from feeling overwhelmed by what seems like an insurmountable pile of responsibilities.

If you procrastinate, here are some ways to take action:

  1. Avoid putting off any task that will take five minutes or less to complete.
  2. Break larger jobs into small parts. Do one and then pause. This will feel less overwhelming.
  3. Start with easier projects. Crossing them off your list will provide motivation to keep going.
  4. Adopt a “touch it once” policy. For example, choose a bill, log into your account to pay for it, and mark it off your to-do list in one swift process. This will keep to-dos from piling up and feeling impossible to complete.
  5. Consider multitasking. For example, start your laundry before sitting down to read emails.
  6. De-clutter. Clearing your physical environment can lead to a clear mind, too.

For others, however, putting things off isn’t productive. Dr. Jennifer Taylor, assistant professor of counseling psychology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, says there are actually reasons people do this. “It can be related to a fear of failure, competing demands, or lack of understanding about an assignment,” she says.

If you procrastinate, identifying the root causes can help you combat time mismanagement and address the underlying issues. Talking with a peer tutor or academic advisor can help you develop effective ways to allocate your time. Visiting your school’s counseling center can also help you figure out any emotional barriers to your success.

Making effective use of your time means being healthy, rested, fed, and having the energy to be a successful student. Remember, even though you don’t have control over time itself, you can control how you spend it.

1. Identify “fixed” vs. “flex.”

Fixed items—such as class, work, worship, eating, and sleeping—need to be scheduled. You can even code them in a planner using one color, and fill in the gaps with the activities that are more flexible in terms of when exactly you do them: studying, exercise, and socializing.

A planner or calendar “can help students remember assignment deadlines, social obligations, and even identify free time,” says Meghan Halbrook-Galloway, a graduate assistant in the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “This can help reduce the stress of juggling so many priorities.”

2. Take advantage of small gaps of time.

Have a stray 30-minute, hour, or two-hour block in the middle of the day? Make good use of it! Bring some reading with you, hit the library, or just find a nice space outside to knock out a few smaller tasks.

3. Set trick deadlines.

Many students find it useful to list all their assignment due dates in their planner at the beginning of the semester. For larger assignments, and to fight procrastination, write yourself a “fake” due date to ensure the project is near done a few days before the deadline. This way you’ll not only have projects finished in time, but also have a buffer to make any additional changes or make up for unexpected distractions.

“I try to get things done (at the absolute minimum) a day ahead just in case I run into an issue that will take longer than the hours I’m attempting to finish something to solve,” says Bethany W., a first-year graduate student at Purdue University Northwest in Indiana.

4. Put top-priority tasks on your schedule.

Set aside specific time to finish homework that’s due tomorrow, prepare for an upcoming exam, or answer pressing emails.

5. Double time-estimates.

Most people tend to underestimate how long a task will take. Try blocking off double the amount of time you think it will take to finish something. If you finish early you’ll have bonus time to work on other things or enjoy yourself!

6. Go from small to large.

“I like to complete smaller/easier tasks before attempting larger ones. This allows me to do one thing at a time and manage my stress,” says Caylin T., a first-year graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas.

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Article sources

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, professor, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

Meghan Halbrook-Galloway, graduate assistant, Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

International Career Development Center (ICDC College), Life Skills Workshop: Beat the Clock Retrieved November 2, 2013 from: https://icdccollege.edu/blogs/beattheclock/beattheclock.pdf

Loyola University New Orleans, Office of Student Affairs, Pomodoro: Italian Tomatoes, Focus, and a Time Management technique for getting things done Retrieved November 1, 2013 from: https://studentaffairs.loyno.edu/news-item/pomodoro-italian-tomatoes-focus-and-time-management-technique-getting-things-done

Cornell University, Center for Learning & Teaching, A Simple, Effective Time Management System Retrieved October 10, 2013 from: https://lsc.cornell.edu/Sidebars/Study_Skills_Resources/timemgmt.pdf

Stanford University, The Center for Teaching and Learning, Time Management Retrieved October 10, 2013 from: https://www.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Student/studyskills/time_manage.pdf

The University of Chicago, Smart Tips Retrieved October 10, 2013 from: https://counseling.uchicago.edu/page/smart-tips

West Virginia University, WellWVU, Time Management Retrieved October 20, 2013 from: https://well.wvu.edu/articles/time_management