We Should Teach Time-management Skills

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Perhaps the most important skill that a college student needs to be successful is the ability to manage out of class time effectively. Time in the evening, time on weekends, time during study week and final exams, small pockets of time during a class day.

Most college students these days led very structured lives while in high school, taking full course loads and pursuing a lot of extracurriculars like sports and music that kept them (and their parents)  hopping in and out of the car from one event to the next. Then, suddenly, with the college course load of no more than five classes and no longer having all the extracurricular commuting time, time seems plentiful. New students in particular, with only about 16 hours or so in class a week (sometimes only one class in a day!), may find themselves wondering how to fill up all those hours. Sleeping schedules begin to get erratic, socializing late into the night begins to take on new importance. I don’t think most students are prepared for the effects of this sudden lifestyle change on their study habits.

Time-management skills are perhaps some of the most useful in the real world and yet we do not teach time-management. We really seem to expect that students will figure this out on their own. Most do….but perhaps not until a year or two has passed, or not until a few poor grades are earned. Some colleges have a specialist or two who is skilled in time management training. That individual might be part of an Academic Resources center like our Teaching and Learning Center. Or, that individual might be part of the “Academic and Educational Opportunities” center that handles support services for learning disabilities and other documented conditions. But, for some odd reason, we faculty do not teach these skills. Why not? We seem to just assume that our students either possess these skills already or that they will somehow just learn them by osmosis.

Are we kidding?

With the many distractions of the internet, iPhones, texting/Facebook….it’s not a safe assumption that college students know how to prioritize their time so that they learn effectively and stay healthy.

How can we incorporate a little time-management training into our introductory level courses? I think mid-semester is a great time to consider spending a little class time on these skills.

Be explicit about the importance of time-management in being successful in your course. Think back to the best methods you developed for studying and learning in your field. Share these ideas with their students.

After you hand back the first major assignment, many of your students might be a bit surprised that those 100% or A+ are fewer and harder to come by in college than they were in high school. A lot of students begin to panic as they see B’s or even lower grades. This is a good time to make a few suggestions about study habits and time management. Here are a few suggestions:

1. The  rule of thumb (I have no idea where it came from!) is that you should spend three hours out of class for each hour in class. That seems a bit ridiculous to me. Let’s say your intro biology course meets for seven hours a week. Does that really mean that you need to spend 21 hours a week on biology out of class, for a whopping total of 28 hours a week on one course? What about a philosophy course that meets two hours a week but that assigns 100 pages of complex reading for each class meeting? Only six hours on that? The rule of thumb is something to announce to get the point across that if you are spending a TOTAL of 15 hours a week in class (as an example), you ought to expect to spend about 45 hours or so outside of class on studying. Okay, so the point is that college learning is a more than a FULL TIME JOB. Make sure to say this to your students.

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2. My advice for students is that they should spend a bit of time each and every day on each and every course. Like learning a language or musical instrument, exercising your brain with different types of course material really helps with mastery. Practice is what studying is. How much time you allocate each day will depend on how much time you have available and what assignments are on the horizon. Spend more time on days when you have a light course load, less on days you are in class more.

5. Tell your students to maintain an assignment calendar and refer to it every day. Think about the size of each assignment in terms of how much time and effort it will take to complete and then budget your time. Give your students an example week and show them how you might make a plan. Let’s say that a student has a problem set in math due each Wednesday, a chemistry pre-lab write up due each Thursday, a Blog entry due each Wednesday and a five page paper due on a particular Friday. This is likely a typical and maybe even a “light” week. Oh, and of course this is in addition to many pages of reading for each course. Maybe you could take a few minutes with your class and give some tips on how to divvy up time to manage this “typical” week.

6. Talk with your students about the importance of the quality of the time they set aside for studying. If that time is from 2AM to 5 AM, the quality of the time might not be so good in terms of actually being productive and successful. If that time occurs in a loud space where a party is going on, where loud music is playing, where friends are chatting with you, the learning experience is not as optimal. Finding a quiet space, turning off social media, working at times when you are rested and alert. These are the most productive and efficient times to study.

Students have lots of available time to devote to learning and studying. But they need to effectively manage that time to be successful. We can really help them by giving them some ideas and strategies. This will reap dividends for us in our classrooms if we have better prepared students. Just imagine if all our students were prepared for class and had learned the material well!