Time Doesn’t Have to Run Through Your Fingers

When I mention time management to my college clients, they often grimace. Maybe it sounds inflexible or stressful. But believe me when I say that time management is actually quite liberating. It allows you to more efficiently tackle the things you have to do (school and work) and create more time for the things you love (your friends and hobbies). Managing your time with a schedule allows you to have more fun and less stress.

I’ll never forget my first week of college when I realized that I only had to sit in class for about 12 hours a week. I was shocked! It felt like I had all free time in the time world! In college, students spend about 1/3 of the time in class that they spent in high school. Contrary to what 18-year-old me thought, this means college actually requires so much more self-discipline and management of this unstructured time.

What’s the secret to managing your time? Well, it’s the second topic my clients seem to hate the most—calendars! Please, bear with me. Every day, I see stress and heartache that could have been prevented if my clients used a calendar! Students meant to drop a class they were failing but missed the drop deadline. Students forget an interview for internships. Students no show for group project meetings

I know college students have young and healthy brains, but keeping your calendar in your head doesn’t work. It truly leads to headaches and heartaches. In case you’re asking, just consulting Canvas for class deadlines is not using a calendar! Put those paper deadlines and test dates in your calendar! If you want to achieve your goals, you are 42 times more likely to do that if you write things down.

Most students prefer using an online calendar instead of a paper calendar. Online calendars are particularly helpful because you can set alarms and reminders. Here are examples of things that you want to make sure you’ve included on your calendar: Class, studying, work, exercise, club meetings, chores, errands, eating, sleep, socializing, friends & family birthdays, course add and drop deadline, downtime (ex: Netflix, phone calls).

There are infinite ways to use calendars. Everyone has their different style and preferences. Whether it’s the Apple calendar on your phone, a spreadsheet, or a Google Calendar, just start with something and you can adjust from there. This will be a work in progress. In addition to a calendar, either use the Notes feature on your phone or another online to-do list for miscellaneous tasks that need to be done at some point (ex: pick up your dry cleaning).

A calendar is only as good as the user. For it to be truly effective, you must:

  • Put commitments/appointments/due dates on the calendar as soon as you learn about them.
  • Do a weekly review (often Sunday nights) where you look at what is coming up in the next week.
  • Check your calendar each night before bed to know you’ve got going on the next day.

Here’s a wonderful technique that ADHD coaches recommend for those who struggle with time management. It’s called time blocking and what it means is two things. One, you assign a different color to each different type of event on your calendar. Class is one color and studying is another color, for example. This helps you organize your day when you see these different blocks of color on your schedule. Two, time blocking means you assign a time for things that are not normally tied to a set time. When you assign something a time of day, you are way more likely to do it!

Other time management hacks:

  1. Know your peak productivity hours. Realistically, we are most focused and productive only 4-5 hours a day. Figure out what is your best time to study, write papers, and do other cognitively demanding tasks.
  2. Know where you are most focused and effective studying. This is rarely in your bedroom and never in your bed!
  3. Use the Pomodoro timer method. What this means is study for 20-25 minutes and take a 5-10 minute break.
  4. Don’t scroll on your phone or watch Netflix during a study break. It’s just way too hard to transition from something so pleasurable and effortless to something demanding and difficult.
  5. Be realistic with how long things take. People with ADHD underestimate time by 3-10 times. It can be helpful to time yourself for several days to see how long various things take you. This will help you budget a realistic amount of time for everything from taking a shower, to making dinner, to writing a paper.
  6. Use your alarm feature on your cell phone. Set an alarm for such tasks as: when to leave for class, when to go to bed, when to start studying, when to get off screens, and when to leave for appointments.

College students, I beg you to change your mindset about time management and calendars. Organizing your time with a calendar truly helps you be more successful academically and still have plenty of time for the things you love.