Time management

Dear Alice,

How do you find time to be with your friends, family, and boyfriend, and study for school?

Dear Reader,

The hard fact is that time isn’t a good you can find, make, buy, or save. There are but 1440 minutes in a day and there are choices to be made about how each one is spent. You might think of it like money in a bank account. To figure out how you’ll spend that time, thinking about what you value and where you’d like to use it can help you to figure out how to balance time with friends, family, a boyfriend, and studying for school.

First, it may help to start by asking yourself a couple of questions: what are your priorities and what are your goals, both in the bigger picture of your life in general, as well as in the shorter term of about a year or two? Doing this can help you clarify your values. There are a number of values identification and clarification tools, such as the Life Values Inventory, that can aid you in this process. Taking your highest priority values, you may then reconsider the roles and responsibilities that are currently on your plate. How do those align with your personal values? If they don't align, you may find it easier to spend less time on a task that doesn't fulfill or help you express your values. If they do align, then the conversation becomes about prioritization of values. 

If the activities that you identified all align with values that are of high priority to you, then it's time to take out your planner and figure out how, when, and for how long to hang with friends, see your family, squeeze in your boyfriend, and study in ways that match your goals. You may realize that you have too many competing high priority values, and it's impossible to fit them all in. This is a common issue and one that you can work through. It's perfectly fine to intentionally decide that a given person or activity is valuable to you and that you can’t prioritize it at this moment in time. It doesn’t mean that you don't value it. It just means that you may want to push it into a lower priority category for the moment, understanding that when you have space and capacity (or your relationship with that value changes), you’ll be able to reprioritize that value and dedicate more time to it. No one can do everything and that is why it’s key to periodically check in with yourself: what is really most critical to you in your life at this moment in time?

While sleep and physical health may not make it to the top of the list, research indicates that students with good sleep and nourishing eating habits learn better and feel more able to participate in other activities (work, play, etc.), so leaving some room in your schedule and pushing yourself to value that may be key to your success. Here are a couple of additional tips for making the most of your work time:

  • If procrastination is a problem, do your most difficult or distasteful task first. Getting it over with can help reduce anxiety.
  • Divide up large projects into subprojects. It makes them less intimidating, reduces procrastination, and allows a sense of accomplishment even before the project is complete.
  • Complete at least one task each day, even if it’s a small part of a larger project.
  • Schedule time to worry. Try not to worry about task B when you're working on task A. Schedule task B and tell yourself that you'll worry about B at that time and not before.

When in school it’s also common for the need to have schedules that flex a bit from week to week. For example, you may decide to talk with your friends less this week so that you can adequately prepare for your upcoming exam. Then, next week, when the workload lessens, you can catch up with folx. Combining tasks might work, too; for example, you can study with your boyfriend, get groups of friends together, etc. A quick word of caution: recent evidence suggests that multi-tasking makes people less efficient and compromises work quality. Therefore, you might benefit from logging off of social media sites, turning off music or television, and not answering the phone while studying, sleeping, etc.

The best part of a "life-management" plan is that it puts you in charge! Living intentionally while leading with your values may allow you to accomplish more, stress less, and ultimately find more fulfillment in your days from living in congruence with your values. Resources such as a mental health professional or a health promotion specialist can also help you to identify your values or help you plan a schedule so you can prioritize them. Sometimes the small mental switch from feeling like you need to fit everything in your schedule to spending time on what you value most at the given moment can trigger your values-centered approach and kick start you down your path of getting the most out of your time!

Last updated Sep 04, 2020
Originally published Sep 26, 1997

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