Most college students are experts at cramming in work at the last minute before a deadline. We know which energy drinks have the most caffeine, which libraries are open for 24 hours and which restaurants deliver at 3 a.m.
The problem with this strategy is that it adds to our stress, makes us tired and irritable and doesn’t leave a buffer in case something goes wrong.
Think of time management like a diet. Your tests and major assignments are like the “meats” in your diet, your smaller or easier assignments are your “vegetables” and your fun things are your “desserts.” The trick to managing your time and stress in college is a “balanced diet” of things each day.
For example, after your morning classes, you could write a few pages of your term paper (a meat), complete a chapter of reading (a vegetable) and hang out with your friends at the Memorial Union (a dessert).
We don’t naturally work like this. If we have a big test on Monday, our natural inclination is to not worry about it until we absolutely have to, and then try to study for 48 hours straight.
However, if studying is a meat task, it’s like trying to eat nothing but steak for two days.
You need to break up your meat and vegetable tasks into smaller chunks and spread them out over a longer period of time so you retain the most information and don’t become overwhelmed and frustrated.
If you have a 15-page paper to write, don’t assign yourself one day to write all 15 pages. Instead, set aside five days to write three pages each.
Studying needs to be broken up into manageable portions too.
“If you have a test over five chapters, start studying six days before,” said Carrie Robinson, executive coordinator for Academic Administration, who frequently helps students manage their time. “Review one chapter each day and reserve the last day to review all the concepts. Repetition leads to retention.”
Robinson also stressed that it’s important to begin an assignment early. “Rather than struggling with an assignment the night before it’s due, allow enough time to visit your professor’s office hours, drop by the tutoring center, or talk with a classmate to work through your roadblocks.”
After you’ve finished a portion of your “meats” or “vegetables” for the day, don’t forget to reward yourself with a “dessert,” even if it’s something simple like relaxing in the dorm with your favorite book.
“If you try to do too much work for an extended period of time, your brain goes into cognitive overload,” said Sarah Bennett, associate director of the University Academic Success Program. “You need to give it a rest.”
Making time for something enjoyable each day is essential to keeping your stress level in check. Maintaining a balanced time management diet will be more difficult at certain points in the semester than others. That’s why it’s so important to practice.
Reach the columnist at Emily.Muller@asu.edu.