YFCS December Blog: How to Manage Your Time More Effectively

Female Distance Ed Student sitting on steps.

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. In the December blog post, Professor Carolyn Bird highlights the importance of time management in order to have quality work and quality of life experiences.

When I was asked to write a blog on time management, my first thoughts were “time – we could all use more of it!”  However, as we all know there are only 24 hours in a day and a portion of this time must be devoted to rest; that is, if the other 16 hours or so are to result in quality work and quality of life experiences.

When we speak of “time management” we hide from ourselves what is truly required – self management.  To say time management is to suggest that we can somehow shape, shift, or otherwise change how time behaves.  We cannot.  Therefore, we must shape, shift, or otherwise change our own behavior toward the use of time and how we allocate time across the many demands before us.

John Trosko of OrganizingLA observes that “organized people are not born, they’re built (7 Habits of Organized People).”  And, you are the person to do the building.  The following tips are inspired by various readings and the rhythm of academic life.

  1. Use tools. The goal is to make the most of each day.  Find or develop tools that help you keep your priorities foremost in mind, organize your day, and keep track of accomplishments.  These tools might include lists, calendaring tools, pop-up reminder apps, file (electronic) organization procedures and related.  
  2. Set priorities.  There is no end to the list of things that could be done.  The question is, what is the most important thing that needs to be done this month, this week, or today?  Setting priorities and internally-driven deadlines will help you set priorities and focus on the things that need to be done first.
  3. Create simple systems.  Part of using time efficiently depends on not wasting time looking for things you know you have.  Think of the kitchen drawer; there is a space for knives, forks, and spoons and utensils are always placed in their proper space.  Expand this concept to your file organization.  At the beginning of the semester, create a master electronic folder for each class.  Sub-folders might be syllabus, assignment submissions, literature for papers, and so on.  Each paper topic might have its own folder with subfolders for literature pertaining specifically to that paper, drafts of the paper, and the final paper as submitted.  This organization method prevents the search through the  download folder for the literature and the documents folder in an effort to identify the most recent draft of the paper.  And speaking of paper drafts, identifying versions by v0 for the baseline, then v1 for the first revision and so on can assist in quickly returning to the most recent version of your paper.
  4. Purge no longer needed items.  This can be a challenge since it actually takes time to implement.  At the end of a semester, look for drafts of papers sitting around, paper copies of journal articles used in writing papers and related.  If these items have served their purpose, purge them.  After all, the full citation of the article is in the final paper you submitted and you can always retrieve another copy.  Or, an electronic copy might be in your literature folder.  Some items, however, may have potential future use, such as articles on methods or theories.  Save these into folders labeled “methods” and “theories” for easy future retrieval.
  5. Leave unplanned space in your calendar.  This becomes more challenging as you enter your profession and become part of a community that will place demands on your calendar.  Leaving unplanned space in your calendar will allow you the flexibility to respond to unforeseen challenges and opportunities.  For example, an electronic device is malfunctioning.  This unplanned space allows you time to develop a solution whether it is borrowing a different laptop or acquiring technical assistance to resolve the problem.  Unplanned time can position you to take advantage of opportunities, such as when a colleague invites you to be a co-presenter on a conference proposal.  Or you become aware of a conference opportunity and decide to submit a proposal. 
  6. Be prepared for “dead time” and “found time.”  Keep a list of items that can be done in moments of time when you are waiting, such as at a conference before the presenter starts.  This might mean having journal articles on hand to read, writing a few paragraphs on your paper or related.  The same concept applies to “found time.”  Found time occurs when a meeting or other obligation is cleared from your calendar.  You can now repurpose this time for other productive use.  Having a ready “to do” list will help you make the most of these moments.
  7. Assist a colleague.  This may be counterintuitive.  How can helping a colleague make you more organized and better at time management?  Collaborative relationships with colleagues benefit those involved through the sharing of ideas, a friendly (but forthright) review of a planned conference submission, and so on.  Getting a critique in advance of submitting a conference proposal is likely to improve the proposal’s clarity thereby increasing the prospect of success.  Having unplanned time in your calendar will allow you to be a good colleague and return the favor.

There is a massive amount of material written on time management.  These are just a few tips to get you started in your thinking about how to allocate your time to meet your goals.