Time Management Skills for College Students Primary and Secondary Goals

College can be a time of conflicting priorities, especially when most students are not developed in time management skills. Every student knows the broad reason why they are there – to pass out at the end in flying colours – but translating that knowledge into solid action often proves problematic because of four major hurdles: lack of confidence, lack of organisation, too many off-task distractions and simple procrastination.

However, merely focusing on just a calendar and specific times for activities won’t yield what you are seeking either because time management has very little to do with time itself, but a lot to do with MINDSET – how you perceive yourself and your ability, what you are aiming for and how much you believe you can actually achieve it. Thus having the best time schedule might lessen time wasting to some degree but if your emotional readiness for action is lagging behind, you will merely procrastinate in a state of anxiety.

The essential ingredient here is to know exactly why you are at college and work backwards from that to see what will be required every week you are there in order to gradually achieve that important goal. It means you are managing both yourself and your time in developing those skills. Developing time management skills should then become more natural, satisfying and empowering as it becomes a seamless and integrated part of your life. To achieve this your personal approach to study should involve four essential elements: results first, self organisation, relaxation and constant revision.

1. Results First

A lack of confidence comes from being overwhelmed with too much to do, too little time and fear of failure. Students tend to initially focus on the whole duration of their studies, which makes them feel inadequate, instead of taking it slowly. The only way to increase that confidence is to focus on weekly results. By organising your learning tasks into manageable chunks, you will gradually build your knowledge and competence while seeing small, but essential, results regularly. Short term goals each week will lead you, slowly but steadily, to your long term one.

Everything you do after you reach college should be result orientated. Always ask yourself: Why am I doing this activity? What tangible RESULT will it yield? Will it take me closer to my ultimate goal? In that way you will reinforce your purpose, you will not spend time on activity that eats your time but gives few results and you will motivate yourself when energy is flagging. Most important, you will be able to visualise each result while your are working for it to keep you motivated.

2. Self Organisation

a. The best results will come from managing your time on a weekly basis, not a daily one, through both primary and secondary goals. Primary goals should relate to your studies, but could also refer to anything urgent or very important in your personal life. Secondary goals will relate to college life – clubs, parties, leadership responsibilities and your routine tasks. Goals should not be vague, but specific and easily measurable. By having two sets of goals you will never neglect yourself, your leisure or your studies.

b. At the beginning of each week, look across your studies and establish primary goals for that week. These are the ones that have to be done, no matter what else is happening around you. For example, if you end up with 10 primaries, each day can be assigned two primary goals to be completed. Next, work out some secondary goals too. These are the ones that can be compromised if something more urgent comes up, and are likely to relate to the other aspects of your life, but you should be able to see concrete results when you have achieved them too. For example, if a primary task is to read 40 pages of an assigned book, an associated primary task could be that you are able to summarise what you read and highlight 10 points that give the essence of the material for easy recall. You would have had two results and both would be helping you towards your ultimate goal. A secondary goal could be simply that you have to wash your clothes on Monday. The beauty of having primary and secondary goals each week (labelled P and S) is that you are less likely to neglect what you have to do because you won’t be focusing on one aspect (leisure) to the detriment of another (learning). By taking everything in little steps, they will soon add up to exciting miles.

b. Whatever you schedule for your week, ensure that you do your tasks in this way: one easy task followed by one difficult task. It means that you do not do all the easy tasks first and stack up all the difficult ones for later which then demoralises you because of the sheer magnitude of them. By doing an easy goal (to give you a quick, positive result) followed by a difficult one, you will then be ready for another easy goal after that! Try to study in short time blocks with short breaks in between, than in long blocks and hardly any breaks. It gives your body opportunities to recover and recoup energy.

c. If you can, try to combine two activities together. For example, if you have to wait on anything to get done, do something else in the meantime, like reading etc. It means none of your time is simply wasted hanging around waiting for other things to be completed. By the way, try to identify which part of the day is best for you, whether morning, afternoon or evening, and schedule all your primary tasks into those times.

3. Relaxation

It is tempting to look at this section and think that is the least important in time management! Sadly, it isn’t. Every week you need to make sure that you have adequate rest, sleep and relaxation in some kind of leisure pursuit. For a start, sleep repairs your body and prepares you for the next day. Your body is a finely tuned machine which, like anything else, needs to be taken care of. If you do not look after it, you will gradually feel run-down, lethargic, lacking in energy and with much reduced brainpower. If you continuously take from something without giving anything back or allowing time for recovery, soon there’ll be nothing left to take! Help your body to help you by resting at appropriate times: in between tasks; at the end of the day and whenever you have finished your primary goals, in particular. The result of adequate resting is that you will be more fired up and alive when others are feeling tired through lack of sleep or rest. You would have given your brain the ammunition it needs to do its job, so don’t underestimate relaxation.

4. Revision

This section is not about revising your studies but revising your weekly schedule regularly to make sure you are managing your rime even better: that you are not asking yourself to do too much or too little. Be prepared to experiment with the scheduling for a few weeks until you find what feels right. Flexibility is very important in college life if you are to take advantage of all the aspects which are important to you. The important watchword is BALANCE in everything you do. If you are not getting the results that are leading you towards your ultimate achievement then you need to reorganise your routine so that it has enough flexibility for you as well as any crisis or unexpected event.

The overall result of having a weekly schedule based on primary and secondary goals is that you won’t feel so overwhelmed with everything (so no delaying or procrastination), you will slowly build your confidence and your competence in the work as you see the results unfold; you will get adequate rest while you work and those small results every week will gradually lead to the final successful result you seek for your future. Your time management skills will then be used to motivate you you instead of you just being a mechanical time watcher without any feeling of relevance. In effect, your efforts would gradually switch from managing your methods and your time to managing yourself and your results!