“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nothing like a smart quote from a smart person to start a post off right. While I’m a firm believer that opportunities, money, and most of the stuff we seek after are endless if we but seek them out, I don’t think any of us can deny that time is the one resource we can’t make more of (at least, not without a time-travelling Delorean or one of Albus Dumbledore’s magic stopwatch necklaces).

So how do we make the most of this ever-expiring resource, dear students? We do as Mr. Emerson advised and figure out what we want to do with it. In the modern world, we refer to this as time management and we here at Education Today have it all figured out. Here are our four steps toward effective time management for college students like you:

1. Build an environment where you can be effective.

When reading this first one, you may think of your physical workspace, maybe your dorm or a carrel in the library. But, in this case, your environment also refers to the tools you keep at your disposal and the environment in your mind.

Consider your current workspace. Is it primed for the way you work? If you’re right-handed, are pencils, pens, calculators, and other grabables situated on your right side within easy grabbing distance? Do you have files set up on your laptop to make it easy to organize your various courses? Have you minimized sources of distraction (i.e. Temple Run, friends, your favorite gaming website)? Do you make sure you have everything you need before you sit down to work?

Then there’s the stuff inside your head that you’ll have to work with. This could refer to thought processes that you repurpose again and again. It could also refer to habits. For students (and for everyone else, pretty much), procrastination is a recurring problem. In general, you will need to overcome the tendency to put things off until they become absolutely urgent. Otherwise, naturally, everything will become absolutely urgent and you will certainly drop a few balls. The best way to break this habit is to just start doing things, and that’s where priorities come in handy…

2. Get your priorities and goals straight.

In seems to be a universal law in time management that you have limited time and resources and unlimited things with which to occupy your time. If you don’t set some sort of priorities and goals with which to bring all of this chaos to order, you could find yourself doing a lot but accomplishing little of what really matters.

What are your goals? Your ultimate goal is probably something like to have successful career in the field of your choice. Work backward from there and you have goals like graduating with honors or landing meaningful internships. Working even further back you have short-term goals like getting straight A’s or volunteering for a local charity or finding a date for this weekend.

For any given goal, you need to answer two things: how important is it and how urgent is it? Goals that are both urgent and important should be addressed first. Goals that are unimportant and non-urgent can be put off until they are important and/or urgent. For example, that term paper due tonight need to be worked on ASAP. That butterfly collection you want to put together someday? That can wait.

For more frameworks on setting goals and priorities, visit this helpful Wikipedia entry.

3. Act in accordance with your priorities.

Once you’ve decided which goals are most important and urgent for you, it’s execution time. Create a list of the tasks that need to happen in order to accomplish your most important, most urgent goals. Those get precedence over tasks that may be important but not urgent, or urgent but not important. For instance, register for classes before you pick up a flower bouquet for your friend.

In carrying out this prioritized list of tasks, acknowledge your own personal weaknesses. Work on unpleasant tasks early, while you still have the willpower. If you have a tendency to overbook yourself, commit to a locked set of tasks for the day and accept no more tasks.

Especially, rather than jam tasks into every minute of your day, give yourself time to spare to complete each task. If you end up with an extra two hours at the end of the day because you were so freaking effective, that is positive reinforcement for the next day. Failure to complete all your tasks will only get you discouraged. Under-book yourself and be happy.

4. Reduce the amount of time spent on non-priority activities.

Once you get in the swing of things, it’s time to start optimizing–that is, finding tiny opportunities to get more out of your time and move more quickly toward your goals. Maybe you are very good about getting out the house on time but you’re just barely making it to class on time because you stopped to pick up some Starbucks. Consider moving Starbucks around in your schedule so it doesn’t affect your attendance or find another less busy coffee shop.

Always be on the lookout for little tasks that don’t really fit your goals. The more you weed these out, the more you’ll find yourself accomplishing things that are truly important to you.

How do you manage your time as a college student? Do you have some secrets that we didn’t mention here? Share in the comments below!

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