Time Management Vs. Procrastination
The main enemy of school success is procrastination, the “unjustified avoidance of a specific task that should be accomplished.” Putting off doing work robs you of energy and confidence, and makes the task you’ve put off seem twice as hard. In contrast, getting a job done adds to your energy and confidence. Some of the causes of procrastination are perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed or unable to do the task, and not liking or caring about the task. Thinking is hard work. To conquer this enemy, decide what you really do want or have to achieve and do it in small steps. Smart time management is one of the links to academic success, along with clear goals, because we have many demands on our time. Avoid distractions like electronic screens and turn off your phone when you want to focus on studying.
Ubiad, 16, m, India, reports, “Time management and tension about studies and exams bother me. What bothers me is shortage of time. Another thing that bothers me is my lack of concentration.” Yuan agrees from China,
Time is really a problem! I always feel time is passing so fast before I manage to cover all the things I planned. I can’t tell whether it’s because I have too much to do or I have so little time. It is an obvious problem for people in big cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. I read in a consulting column that more and more young people are postponing the time they go to bed, so they have insufficient sleep. The columnist analyzed that the reason is because in our current modern times we have less time to do what we love, so we compromise time to sleep to do the things we love.
When we need to do something mentally challenging, we think of distractions like, “I’m tired” or “I need to clean my room.” It helps to be aware that the inner child is going to try these distracting tricks so we don’t fall in the trap, but also give the inner child a reward by taking a break every hour and taking a walk or by stretching. From South Korea, Da-Uhn agrees, “Procrastination is one of my biggest problems. I always found that writing a to-do list and setting up smaller and more frequent deadlines helped.” Break a big task into small daily parts. For example, if you have a report due, research the topic for half hour each day after dinner. Set aside a regular time and place to do work.
All I can say is to never fall behind on assignments, read all the assigned material, and study as much as you can. Try not to feel that you always need to have fun. There will be time for that when you’re not cramming for an exam because you’re all caught up with everything. Timothy, 19, m, Michigan
I neglect studies to some extent. This bothers me a lot as I know that I should be studying but still I do not study much. So when I am not in mood to study, I hear instrumental songs while studying or I take up a subject of my interest. Dhwani, 13, f, India
The secret to conquer procrastination is to set aside daily time to study, and use your study time efficiently. Your goal is to develop your mental muscle, so to speak, so you learn a lot in a short period of time and avoid spacing out. Learning is a discipline, similar to becoming a trained athlete. It’s enjoyable to expand your mental abilities and learn more about your world. (See an essay on how to hack your brain to destroy procrastination.[i])
Procrastination robs us of lots of energy, so make a list of your responsibilities and prioritize them. If we do a little bit each day, we feel empowered, which strengthens the immune system, while fear pushes it into defense. Do a little bit each day on a big task, say a half hour of work, then reward yourself with a break, such as a walk or stretching. For items low on your list, give up expectation that you should do it, delegate it to someone else, or trade with someone to do it for you. Schedule in time for fun and nurturance on your calendar so it doesn’t get pushed aside by more pressing demands. You must recharge your batteries or you won’t have energy to do your schoolwork and nurture others. Many students set aside Friday and Saturday nights to socialize with friends.
Prioritize, thinking about what’s really important. Keep your values to the forefront, such as the belief that people are more important than things. Schedule on your calendar relaxing time for a bubble bath, reading for pleasure, exercise, or other activities that make you happy. Look at yourself as a well and fill it with what renews your vitality. If the well runs dry, it can’t offer water to thirsty people. Ask yourself what you’ll remember at the end of your life, what you value.
As humans, we need purpose. Write down your goals for the next six months, year, five years, so on. Why do you want to go to university? What’s important to you in a workplace? (Young adults typically want it to have meaning, to allow for learning and making a contribution.) Write your obituary, as you would like it to read at the end of your life. See if you need to change course to be true to your values; take an online questionnaire.[ii] Willaim Damon suggests how to find your calling in The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life. Ask, “Who am I?” What do I want to be proud of at the end of my life? Khue states, “I agree that purpose is very important, but temporary inspiration is necessary as well. Sometimes a great purpose is too far in the future to conceive, we may lose track of it. Personally, I write down some quotes that inspire me on notes and stick them at a place can be easily seen just to remind myself.” These are quotes that inspire Khue:
“Always aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among stars.” Clement Stone
“Don’t ever let somebody tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me.” Will Smith, in the film The Pursuit of Happyiness [sic] (I realize not even me means not even myself.)
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinion drown out your inner voice.” Steve Jobs
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act in spite of it. For when I’m weak then I grow strong.” My brother
About the above quote, my brother gave it to me when I was feeling stressful with a very competitive scholarship exam. At that time he was around 15 or 16 in Singapore, so he told me that there were times he just wanted to give up and return to our hometown. Since he knew exactly what he aimed for, he had the motivation to keep going. He read a lot of inspiring books, such as books about Steve Jobs and Hyundai [Made in Korea is the biography of Chung Ju Yung, founder of the car company]. In addition, my brother was very active in sports and debates. I think his key to overcome stress is to be aware of his motivation and really enjoy what he does.
It’s normal to think of excuses to avoid studying (such as you really need to clean your room or make a phone call) but stick to your schedule. It helps to set aside a regular time each day for study and exercise. If you’re like me, the more difficult the assignment, the more excuses automatically pop into your mind, but once you get started, you’ll get on a roll. Just expect the excuses to come up, tell them you’ll plan time for fun, but now you need to be on task. In his book How to Become a Straight-A Student, Cal Newport suggests keeping a work progress journal. In the morning, write down the date and the tasks you’d like to schedule. Every night check items you’ve accomplished and write about why you didn’t do a task. After a while you’ll see repeated excuses that don’t hold water and devise a strategy to overcome them.
I asked Billie Jackson in the Student Learning Center at California State University Chico, the difference between an “A” and a “C” student. She said, “A” students start ahead of time; they don’t cram for tests the night before. They do more than just the minimum requirements. They talk about what they’re learning, putting new vocabulary and knowledge to use. Being organized is the key. They write down assignments in one place and have a notebook with sections and pockets for each subject.
Ms. Jackson observes that effective students have a study schedule. This involves a quick preview of the text and class notes before class, concentrating in class, and asking mental questions to prevent daydreaming. She suggests reviewing as soon after class as possible in a Sunday through Thursday scheduled homework time, with intensive review the night before a test. The key is to review information three or four times a week.
The single most important path to school success is to break a big assignment into small pieces and complete something every day. For example, the steps to writing a research paper include: do a bibliographical search, read the most important articles and chapters, write a rough draft, revise the draft, and type the final draft. Schedule when you will take each step on your monthly and daily calendar. Some people like an electronic calendar and some like a paper scheduler/planner.
Start now. Get help if you can’t achieve a task on your own. Don’t expect perfection and do visualize yourself achieving the end goal, such as turning in a research paper that reflects your best work. As you plan, remember that most things take longer than you think they will. Carry reading assignments with you for times when you know you will have to wait, such as for an appointment or in between classes. You might want to ask successful people you know how they manage to get a job done well and still have time for fun.
I don’t have enough time to accomplish everything I wish to accomplish. It does not matter how hard I try or how early I start, I still don’t have enough time. All the things that I wish to accomplish are important to me and I don’t want to give any of them up.
I haven’t really found a good way to cope with my challenge. I have learned, though, some things help me to cope a little. Prioritizing has helped me to accomplish things, such as homework, band auditions, and college and scholarship applications. Unfortunately, there are things I never do finish. Make sure you know due dates or make due dates for things that you need to get finished. Judy, 17 Illinois
The most difficult challenge I face as a teenager is trying to find enough time to be with my family, friends, and girlfriend, while trying to participate in school events, do my homework, and hold a job at the same time. It can be very frustrating at times and makes me a little depressed because I can’t find time for everything and everyone.
I decided to work just on the weekends. [A good idea because when teens work long hours, grades drop.] This allowed more time to do homework, and get enough sleep. I started spending Friday nights after the football game going out with the guys, spending Saturday night with my girlfriend, and Sundays with my parents. Schedule your time so that you are not rushing yourself, and do not overload your schedule so that you can’t get everything done. John, 17 Wisconsin
Hassan agrees, “I face the same. I never find time for my family and complaints are in order.” Using metacognition, Daniel, 19, California reports, “I needed time management with all the sports and the student body positions I held, so I learned when my best study hours were and used my time to the best of my ability. Set aside a specific time for studying and stick with it. Self-discipline is hard but necessary.”
* Keep a time diary and make a pie chart of how you spend your time (i.e., school, homework, looking at electronic screens, family activities, chores, work, exercise, friends, social activities) and your values. Keep a log of how you spend your time in a typical day, marking down what you do and for how long. See if how you actually spend your time matches your goals and values. Make adjustments if necessary. List your values and priorities and ask yourself, at the end of my life, how do I want to have spent my time? Then stick to your priorities and learn to say no, to ask for help, and to schedule in time on your calendar for self-nurturance and doing good.
*Get or make a stack of different colored index cards. One color could signal a subject such as applications, for example. Write one task per card, list on the back the actions needed to achieve the goal. Then spread the cards out in front of you. They’re already grouped by theme with their color. Then take each stack of cards and shuffle to reflect your top priority; which task is most important and time-sensitive for a deadline? Enter your priority tasks on your monthly calendar, such as, Monday: Do bibliographical search.
Byeongseo, from South Korea, asks, “Even though there are priorities that you think are the most important and you try to follow them, what should you do if others (someone who can affect you like your parents or your teacher) think that the priority is not as important as you think and try to force you to follow their priorities instead?” Part of being young is being dependent on parents for our food and shelter and on our teachers to prepare us for university and career; therefore we don’t have equal power. What you have is intelligence that you can use in a rational discussion with adult authority figures to explain what’s important to you and demonstrate you’re responsible. Is compromise possible?
Remind yourself that you can take charge of your life. Two people presented with the same problem can react very differently, one by giving up or avoiding it, and the other by getting the help needed to solve the challenge. One person sees the glass as half full, the other sees it as half empty. A challenging problem can be seen as bad luck or an opportunity to become stronger. Here’s how Hassan uses his time well in Pakistan: “Time management is the easiest thing to do, in my opinion. Most of the students would not consider the transition from one class to another as “time,” but I do. I use that time to answer emails, work on my proposals and keep brainstorming for any volunteer opportunities. That’s definitely using time. “
Alexis is a college senior in Washington, D.C. She is the head of two volunteer service organizations, works in two jobs as a nanny and in student housing, and takes five classes. Like Hassan, she uses breaks between classes and work to complete short assignments and saves writing a paper for when she’s home and has a block of time. She builds in 45 minutes or so when she gets home to relax by eating dinner and watching TV, then studies. She plans social time with friends for Friday and Saturday nights. As well as utilizing your time well, she recommends that you follow your passion such as her volunteer work organizing a dance marathon to raise money for a children’s hospital. These passions balance out the study grind and invigorate her. If you’re an open-option “P” personality, all this structure may go against the grain but Alexis does build in fun time on her schedule for friends.
Study smart. If you spend a lot of time reading but are spacing out, it’s a waste of time. We don’t remember much after hours of study without breaks. If you’re tired, take a nap or go to bed early and get up early to study when your brain is alert. Study in small regular chunks of time and keep reading with you to do during the day during a commute to school or during breaks. Just passively reading over your notes and readings to try to learn them is a waste of time. Your mind must be actively engaged by writing down questions and answers, making flash cards of the important concepts, and quizzing yourself until you know all the cards.
*Keep “to do” lists in a planner, including sections on key goals and values monthly/daily task lists, planning calendar, and address/telephone list (www.daytimer.com, www.franklincovey.com). Post a master calendar for the month with all due dates.
*Take time to relax. Khue reports, “I used to think relaxation is a waste of time, but when I start to take it as an investment for effectiveness in future work, I know how to pace myself.” She suggests, “Remind yourself there is always enough time for the important things so that you don’t rush. Working longer or faster doesn’t mean working smarter.” She adds, “Give both study and play your best concentration when you’re with either one of them. Don’t mix them because you’re constantly interrupting the flow of your brain. In case you feel like you aren’t making progress, drop everything and get out of the study space to do something, but try to avoid technology, for about 15 minutes. I usually drink water, stretch or look at the scene outside the window. However, set the alarm clock in your phone and carry it with you, so that you won’t just abandon your work.”
Keep a stash of toys near your study area: kaleidoscope, silly putty, jacks, bubble blower, sock toss, yo-yo, dart board, nerf balls, crayons, hand puppets, percussion instruments, etc. to use when you get stuck or fatigued. Schedule time to relax do grounding visualizations described in Chapter 3 and hobbies such as gardening or crafts. Structure in time every day to relax and get centered, as well as exercise because it stimulates brain processes that boost thinking, according to the National Institutes of Health.
*Give up perfectionism
Decide what you must do, would like to do, and think you should do but don’t really have to do and how perfectly it has to be done, on a scale of 1 to 100%. Save perfectionism for important assignments. Imagine a speedometer with the numbers 1 to 100. Ask it to show you how perfectly a task needs to be done. Many chores don’t have to done perfectly, so save perfectionism for when it’s necessary. Focus on the present process as well as the end result. “Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than how you think it should be,” said author Wayne Dyer. Be aware of your subconscious personalities, especially the inner critic and judge. When their judgment is too much, imagine talking with a supportive grandparent who praises what you’ve done right and what you’ve learned. You can also think of a radio dial. Tune it to the positive helpful voice that represents your higher self.
An article by Elle Kaplin suggests that perfectionists apply the 70% rule from the Marine Corps: “As long as you have 70% of the information to make a decision, 70% of the resources to complete the project, and you’re 70% sure you’ll succeed, then you’re ready to go.”[iii] It’s not realistic to expect to be fully prepared. She also advises: find a partner to be accountable to about following through on your goals, start with a small first step, reward yourself with a treat, identify what causes a block in the first place, and identify the consequences of not doing the task.
A study by Karen Arnold of 81 outstanding high school valedictorians with an average BPA of 3.6 reported that, as you would expect, they did succeed in university and professions but not in being creative, visionary changemakers.[iv] Schools reward students who conform and follow the rules: Arnold found that, “intellectual students who enjoy learning struggle in high school. They have passions they want to focus on, are more interested in achieving mastery, and find the structure of school stifling. Meanwhile, the valedictorians are intensely pragmatic. They follow the rules and prize A’s over skills and deep understanding.” She encourages students to follow their learning passions, perhaps like the over 700 millionaires whose average college GPA was only 2.9.
More about how to give up perfectionism is found in Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. Psychologist Mitch Prinstein reported in his book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World that in found that high status high school students, such as prom queens and kings, were not as successful and had more emotional problems than likeable students who might be considered nerds or theater geeks.
*Turn off the television and cell phone, a major “time guzzler,” and beware of “time-deepening,” doing many things simultaneously under pressure. Screen your phone calls and don’t answer them during relaxing times such as meals.
*Imagine turning down the thermostat on your adrenal glands that secrete stress hormones that rob the immune system if chronically overcharged. Deep breathing and long exhalations helps. Change expectations for what you should get done and simplify your life. Slow down to avoid “hurry sickness.” Slow down your eating, walking, and talking and don’t over-schedule. Leave plenty of time between transitions so you don’t have to rush.
[i] Elle Kaplan, “How to Hack Your Brain to Destroy Procrastination, According to Harvard Research,” Medium.com, August 19, 2016.
Also see her article on “How to Radically Improve Your Mental Willpower Through Navy SEAL Tactics.”
[iii] Elle Kaplan, “How to Hack Your Brain to Destroy Procrastination”
[iv] Eric Barker. Barking Up The Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong. HarperOne, 2017.