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Students who carry success into the real world are superheroes of scheduling, organizing, and—perhaps most importantly—managing time. Want to find your time-management superpowers? The key is to know your time-use personality, figure out your challenges, and play to your strengths.

What’s your personality?

See which personality type most closely matches your time-management style.

The chatterbox

You’re a social butterfly and exercise great communication skills. But this often leads to conversations that may take you away from getting things done.

The perfectionist

You strive for exactitude. Your bar is set so high that there may not be enough time in the day to meet your own standard.

The over-committer

You struggle to say “no.” You have more than a full plate, or maybe three! You’re so busy, you hardly have the time to keep track of it all.

The chatterbox

You’re a social butterfly and exercise great communication skills. But this often leads to conversations that may take you away from getting things done.

The perfectionist

You strive for exactitude. Your bar is set so high that there may not be enough time in the day to meet your own standard.

The over-committer

You struggle to say “no.” You have more than a full plate, or maybe three! You’re so busy, you hardly have the time to keep track of it all.

The firefighter

You spend so much time managing crises and putting out fires that things pile up as you rush from place to place.

The lounger

You’re very laid-back, and you tend to avoid responsibilities. Trouble may arise when emails and texts go unreturned and tasks remain unfinished.

Do you see some of yourself and your habits in these descriptions? Does your approach to responsibilities help or hinder your ability to reach your goals?

This knowledge can point to clues about how to free yourself from time-zapping habits.

Match strategy with personality

Scheduling, prioritizing, and list making are all good ways to organize your time. But the most effective ways to do these depend on your individual needs. Here are some techniques you may not have tried:

“Italian Tomatoes”

Originally, this technique used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer—hence the name. Set a timer and work intensely for 25 minutes before taking a 5-minute break. Looking forward to regular breathers can help you focus and feel comfortable eliminating distractions. (You can check Instagram during your break.)

Who this works best for: the “Perfectionist” and the “Lounger”

Chris, a student from Washington, DC, breaks work into pieces using this technique. “I set a 30-minute timer and try to complete a task in that time,” he says.

Time chart

Ever wonder where the time has gone? Tasks often seem to take longer than you expect, and the day flies by before you can catch it. A spreadsheet or chart broken up into 30-minute or hour-long chunks can help you identify exactly how your time is being spent.

Along the top, list the seven days of the week. On the side, break the sheet into time frames, such as 3:00–4:00 p.m. In each section, write down exactly what you do—sleep, eat, socialize, homework, dance practice, etc.

Who this works best for: the “Lounger,” the “Chatterbox,” and the “Over-committer”

This tool can work for anyone but may be especially useful for the “Lounger” and the “Chatterbox.” If you’re an “Over-committer,” you may find it illuminating to realize there’s no room to squeeze anything more into your schedule.

Unplug

Our gadgets can promote organization, but they can also turn into a huge time vacuum. Reserve time each day for turning off your phone, social media, email, etc. Try this for an hour or two and use the time to focus on tasks you need to get done. (You can use the “Italian Tomatoes” approach if you’d like.)

Who this works best for: the “Over-committer” and the “Firefighter”

Visualize

Robyn, a student from Winona, Minnesota, likes to use the combination of writing things down in a planner and on a dry-erase board to keep track of everything. This strategy is especially useful for visual learners because it provides both a stationary and an on-the-go place to keep track of what needs to be done. Color-coding tasks can also be useful.

Who this works best for: the “Perfectionist” and the “Firefighter”

This method may be comforting for the “Perfectionist,” who’s worrying about missing a detail. The “Firefighter” may find it helpful for zeroing in on priorities.



The procrastination trap

If you wait until the last minute to do things, you’re definitely not alone. Many people put off today what they think they’ll do tomorrow.

Procrastination isn’t necessarily an obstacle; some people are effective on-the-spot thinkers, are more creative when crunched for time, or process information internally before taking action.

For others, however, putting things off isn’t productive. Dr. Jennifer Taylor, assistant professor of counseling psychology at West Virginia University, says there are actually reasons people do this. “It can be related to a fear of failure, competing demands, or lack of understanding about an assignment,” she explains.

Procrastination can be a dangerous trap, especially with a lengthy to-do list and many distractions. Sometimes it stems from being laid-back, and other times from feeling overwhelmed by what seems like an impossible pile of responsibilities.

If you procrastinate, here are some ways to take action:

  1. Avoid putting off any task that will take five minutes or less to complete.
  2. Break larger jobs into small parts. Do one and then pause. This will feel less overwhelming.
  3. Start with easier projects. Crossing them off your list will provide motivation to keep going.
  4. Declutter. For example, clean your room before you sit down to do homework. Clearing your physical environment can lead to a clear mind, too.

If you procrastinate, identifying the root causes can help you combat time mismanagement and address the underlying issues. Talking with your school counselor can help you develop effective ways to manage your time. Visiting your school’s counseling office can also help you figure out any emotional barriers to your success.

“School counseling programs offer a variety of ways to assist students with academic success. If you have a concern, talk with your school counselor, [who] can share ideas to help,” says Melissa Beverly, a counselor at Cactus Shadows High School in Arizona.

Making effective use of your time means being healthy, rested, and fed, and having the energy to be a successful student. Remember, even though you don’t have control over time itself, you can control how you spend it.

1. Identify “fixed” vs. “flex”

Fixed items—such as school, work, eating, and sleeping—need to be scheduled. You can even code them in a planner using one color and fill in the gaps with the activities that are more flexible in terms of when exactly you do them, such as studying, exercise, and socializing.

2. Set trick deadlines

Many students find it useful to list all their assignment due dates in their planner at the beginning of the school year or semester. For larger assignments, and to fight procrastination, write yourself a “fake” due date to ensure the project is near done a few days before the deadline. This way, you’ll not only have projects finished on time but also have a buffer to make any additional changes or make up for unexpected distractions.

3. Put top-priority tasks on your schedule

Set aside specific time to finish homework that’s due tomorrow, prepare for an upcoming test, or answer three pressing texts or emails.

4. Double time estimates

Most people tend to underestimate how long a task will take. Try blocking off double the amount of time you think it will take to finish something. If you finish early, you’ll have bonus time to work on other things or enjoy yourself!

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Article sources

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, professor, West Virginia University, West Virginia.

Melissa Beverly, counselor, Cactus Shadows High School, Arizona.

Cornell University, Center for Learning & Teaching. (n.d.). A simple, effective time management system. Retrieved from https://lsc.cornell.edu/Sidebars/Study_Skills_Resources/timemgmt.pdf

International Career Development Center (ICDC College). (n.d.). Life skills workshop: Beat the clock. Retrieved from https://icdccollege.edu/blogs/beattheclock/beattheclock.pdf

Loyola University New Orleans, Office of Student Affairs. (n.d.). Pomodoro: Italian tomatoes, focus, and a time management technique for getting things done.

Retrieved from https://studentaffairs.loyno.edu/news-item/pomodoro-italian-tomatoes-focus-and-time-management-technique-getting-things-done

Stanford University, Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Time management. Retrieved from https://www.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Student/studyskills/time_manage.pdf

University of Chicago. (n.d.). Smart tips. Retrieved from https://counseling.uchicago.edu/page/smart-tips

West Virginia University, WellWVU. (n.d.). Time management. Retrieved from https://well.wvu.edu/articles/time_management