Time Management

"So many assignments . . . Such a little bit of time."

"Oh, I have plenty time . . . I can start that report later."

The sentences above represent two very different attitudes about time. Which most closely resembles your relationship with time? Is time on your side? As a college student, your time management skills can determine your success or failure.

Psychologist William Knause estimated that 90% of college students procrastinate. Twenty-five percent of these become chronic procrastinators, many who end up dropping out of college.

Time management is really a misnomer. Can you manage time? Not really, time just ticks by. So, what can you manage? The only thing you really have any control of is yourself. You can learn to plan, prioritize and invest your time wisely. In fact, learning to manage the way you use your time is a life skill that will help you succeed in school and beyond. On the other hand, not learning these management skills can affect your self image and the way others think of you. In addition, not managing your time well leads to stress, which can affect your physical health.

Through this online tutorial, you'll have the opportunity to learn the basics of time management, including some specific activities that are quick and simple to implement in your own life.


Theories of Time Management

When considering "Theories of Time Management," consider a couple questions: Exactly what is time management? Why should time management be an issue you should be concerned about?
Try to step aside -- ignore the numerous "trees" and get a view of the entire "forest." We're talking big picture here: How will your life improve if you learn to manage your time wisely -- as opposed to the details of exactly how you will accomplish the goal of learning to manage your time. There are many, many broad theories of time management, and from these broad theories, specific strategies emerge for using time productively.

Some people prefer to look at time as a non-renewable resource -- after it's gone, it's gone. Others think of time like money, and they create ways to budget their time. Still others divide blocks of time into different qualities of time -- this works well for people who know that they are more productive at certain times of the day. They schedule tasks that take more concentration and creativity for times when they know that they are the sharpest and reserve the more routine "busy work" for their down times. The bottom line is that the way we think about time can be a very personal thing. Examine different theories and try different strategies. Find out what works for you.

Two popular theories, the 80-20 rule and the theory of time quadrants, as defined by Stephen Covey are listed below.

The 80-20 Rule

In 1895, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, noted that about 80% of the land in Italy was owned by about 20% of the people. As he examined his ideas of the "vital few" and the "trivial many", he noticed that this 80/20 rule was equally valid in other ways. (He even wrote that 80% of his peas were produced by 20% of the peapods.)
The idea, which is now called the Pareto principle, relates to time management because 20% of your work usually generates about 80% of your positive results. Pareto analysis is a formal technique used by statisticians to determine how to produce the most benefits with the least investment of time, energy and other resources.

The Pareto principle has been called the most helpful of all theories of time and life management. Theoretically, if you have a list of ten things to do, completing two of those activities will give you as much or more value than if you would have completed all eight of the other activities. (The trick is choosing the right two, and this ability to choose the important tasks is the key to success.)

Take a look at your "to do" lists. What 20% of your tasks could produce 80% of your results? Try to learn to spend your time and energy on the areas that can really make a difference while spending less time on activities that aren't as important.

Time Quadrants

Stephen Covey developed an excellent method of setting priorities by examining each task in terms of urgency and importance.
One simple and practical way to implement Covey's method is to write all your goals on index cards. Separate your cards on the basis of urgency. What absolutely needs to be done now, and what can wait? This should give you two piles of cards. Next, go through these two piles into items that are important and items that are not important. This should result in four piles of cards, representing four categories of goals: Urgent and important, urgent but not important, not urgent but important, and not urgent and not important.

Covey calls Quadrant 1 -- the urgent and important goals -- "the quadrant of necessity". These are things that you must get done, and you must get them done now such as crises at work or finishing up a school project on a deadline. Quadrant 3 is "the quadrant of deception." These are those things that are not important but urgent. Interruptions like phone calls and unimportant mail and email live in this space. Some meetings and activities also call quadrant 3 home. It is the quadrant of deception because the urgency of the activity sometimes makes us believe that it is also important. Quadrant 4 -- "the quadrant of waste" -- is the home of activities that are neither important or urgent such as watching endless television, and spending a lot of time on junk mail and chatting on the phone.

The most important quadrant is quadrant 2 -- "the quadrant of opportunity" -- where you categorize activities that are important but not urgent like planning, and exercise as well as recreation and relaxation. You also perform important tasks in this quadrant before they become urgent.


Strategies of Time Management

When considering Theories of Time Management, you were advised not to concentrate on the "trees" to get a better overall view of the "forest." Now, as we are considering specific Strategies of Time Management, it's time to examine some of those individual "trees."

First, and most importantly, it's a good idea to write stuff down. Your ideas and thoughts are important, so don't lose them. Make a habit of keeping a "to do" list -- or lists. (You can have a list of things you need to do at home, things you need to do at work, things you need to do at school, etc.) This one simple step will give you peace of mind because you don't have to worry about forgetting something.

Next, you need to analyze the things on your list(s). What must be done immediately? What can wait? If you are working toward a big goal -- like graduating from college -- you have to plan what classes you need to take each semester. Then, you have to plan to accomplish all the required tasks in each class to reach that big goal.

Analyzing yourself can also be very helpful. Track your energy levels throughout the day. Do you notice any trends that will help you become more productive? Also, if you keep your environment organized, you won't waste time looking for the things you need.

Finally, you need to realize that managing your time is, in fact, managing your life. Set-backs don't mean that you've failed. If you fall off the "time management wagon", dust yourself off and get right back on. Keep trying. You will eventually learn how to keep yourself motivated and productive. The below should help you in your journey.


Committing all the nagging little thoughts that you are worried about into a master "to-do" list is a major component of planning. However, also consider the following when planning:

  • Know yourself. Are you a morning person? Perhaps you need to do tasks that require the most concentration in the morning and save that busy work for after lunch when, due to "food coma", your mind is just not it's sharpest.
  • Get organized. You don't have to be a neat-freak, but if you're spending time looking for paper, highlighters and books when you need to be writing that term paper, it's time to make a "home" for all your stuff -- and make sure that everything returns "home" after it has been used.
  • Guard your time. Cut off the cell phone. Train roommates not to interrupt you during your study time.

To create a plan, follow these steps . . .

  • Decide exactly what you want to accomplish. (How will you know when you're finished? Where will you be?)
  • Assess your present situation. (Exactly where are you now?)
  • Check out your alternatives. (There are many ways to solve a single problem.)
  • Decide on your course of action. (Which of those many ways do you think is the best?)
  • Create contingencies, checks and balances. (How will you ensure that you stay on track? How will you keep yourself motivated?)
  • Work the plan. ("Just do it.")



After you have committed everything in the world that you want to do to paper in a master list, it's time to figure out exactly what you're going to do when. First, you need to separate your list into long-term and short-term goals; then you need to prioritize your lists. There are many different ways to set priorities.

One analogy that is often repeated in different forms in the Time Management literature is the gallon jar example: You take a glass gallon jar and fill it with big rocks. Is the jar full? Then, you add gravel, shaking the jar as you do. Now, is it full? Next, you add pebbles. Is the jar full yet? Add sand. Now, the jar is full, right? Nope, you fill the jar up with water last. Many students hear this story and mistakenly think that the moral is that you can always pack more activities in your day. The story is actually told to illustrate the fact that if you want the big rocks in your jar, you must put them in first. The big rocks represent your most important goals, (for example passing your math class, finishing that English term paper on time, and doing a good job at work.) If you fill your jar with sand and water, (which represent lots of television shows and parties) and then try to put in those important "big rocks", you'll find that they just won't fit.

As explained in Theories: Time Quadrants, Stephen Covey developed an excellent method of setting priorities by examining each task in terms of urgency and importance.

You can also go through your list and label each activity A, B or C. Try to get all your A's and most of your B's done each day. C's and any remaining B's can be transferred to the next day's list.

Overcoming Procrastination

Although she was no valedictorian, Sandra had no trouble getting into the college of her choice. Her parents moved her in on the Sunday before classes, and she hit it off great with her roommate. The first week of classes were a breeze – nothing she couldn’t handle – and she was making friends and even met a couple of interesting guys. She was living the life – parties, movies, and study sessions at the library (which quickly adjourned to a local coffee shop). However, Sandra had started letting some things slip – just little things. She skipped an 8:00 class to sleep in after a late night, and she didn’t complete her assigned reading in World History because it would be easy to catch up over the weekend. Those “little things” started growing, and Sandra found herself staying up all night to complete a research paper and skipping some classes to prepare for exams in other classes. She started feeling overwhelmed, not eating right and not being able to sleep. She completely “blanked out” during her English final, and her first semester grades were the lowest grades she had ever made. Depressed and embarrassed about disappointing her parents, Sandra considered dropping out.

So, what’s wrong with Sandra? Although she’s certainly smart enough to handle college, it takes more than “smarts” to succeed in college. By procrastinating – putting off important tasks -- Sandra is not managing her time wisely.

As Sandra's story helps illustrate, procrastination can affect you in the following ways:

  1. You lose confidence in your abilities.

  2. Others lose confidence in you and your abilities.

  3. Because you wait to the last minute, you do not have time to address unexpected problems.

  4. Stress and anxiety can affect your health.

One great resource that can help you learn to overcome procrastination is Doing It Now, a book by Edwin C. Bliss. Check out the below to see some of Bliss's "tricks" to help you in Getting Things Done, (which, by the way, is the title of another one of Bliss's books.)

The 5-Minute Plan (and others)

So, you've made your lists. You've prioritized and even color coded those lists. You know exactly what you need to do, and you need to get started now. But, you just don't want to. Of course, you could just "suck it up", but sheer will power is sometimes in short supply. Edwin Bliss offers several "tricks" that might can help you overcome procrastination, get started, get motivated and get it done.

The 5-minute plan: You can do anything for five minutes, and you know you can! Force yourself to do something on your list for five minutes. Set a timer, and after you've worked the five minutes, you are free to stop. However, getting started is definitely the hardest part of any job. Don't be surprised if it's actually 10 minutes before you even realize that the timer has gone off.

The Swiss Cheese Method: Make yourself do any small thing toward completing your task. "Poke holes in the task" until it doesn't seem like such a big deal to finish it.

The Worst First Approach: While it often helps to ease into a project to build momentum, sometimes it's best to take the opposite approach and tackle the part of the task that you dread the most. Then, you're justifiably proud of yourself and the rest of the task is no problem. Whether you can convince yourself to do the "worst first" and get it out of the way, or you choose to ease into the project, anything is better than procrastinating and doing nothing.

In conclusion, overcoming the tendency to procrastinate can be a simple mind game. Use these techniques or invent your own. Do whatever works for you.

The Salami Technique

Similarly, some of your school projects might be overwhelming to you. As a rule of thumb, when you don't know where to start, start with pencil and paper. Divide the task into a chronological list of each and every little thing that you'll need to do. Then, further divide those tasks into mini-tasks that will only take a couple minutes each. (Think of cutting up a stick of salami into slices and then into bite-sized hors d'oeuvres.)

As Edwin Bliss wrote, "The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu's maxim that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step doesn't really help us much until we know precisely in which direction we want to travel." The Salami technique, and the series of lists that it produces will help you discover both the general direction that your project will take, as well as where the logical first step is. Once those first steps are obvious and laid out on paper, you can actually start taking the steps and building the momentum that will help you complete your project.


Journaling and Balance Sheets

Journaling is a great way to sort your ideas and feelings and discover your priorities. Scientists have even discovered that journaling helps people with depression.

To journal, start with a pencil and paper or open your favorite word processing program, and simply write. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation or anything but getting your thoughts down in a concrete form. Write about what you need to be doing instead of writing in this journal and why, exactly, you don't want to do it. Then, write about why you don't want to journal and how you think it's just another way to waste time. Write about whatever comes to mind. Just write. Then, read what you have written. You may immediately discover some truths that are at the root of why you're postponing the task at hand. Or, it might take a while. Over a period of time, you might discover some general fallacy in your reasoning that could be causing your tendency to procrastinate. Give it a try.

If journaling is a bit too heavy for you, you can try the balance sheet method. Simply analyze a task you've been putting off on paper. Label one side of your paper "Pros" and the other side "Cons". On the "Pros" side, list the benefits of getting the job done. On the "Cons" side, list the reasons that you're procrastinating. The Pro side should give you inspiring reasons to get your job done, while the Cons side should make you feel silly for procrastinating in the first place.

Do you tend to procrastinate on big projects that seem overwhelming? Most people do. The salami technique is a great way to "cut these projects down to size".

For a simple example of the salami technique at work, consider a little boy with a messy room. If you tell him to clean his room, he'll go to his room and look around, but he'll end up playing, and the room will never get cleaned. However, if you tell the child to pick up his clothes and put them in the hamper, he'll do the task. Then you tell him to dust his dresser, and he'll comply. The child doesn't intend to be disobedient, but the command "Go clean your room." is just too big for him to wrap his brain around. He doesn't know where to start.

Article by Sheryl Maffett, New Student Advisor, Piedmont Technical College