College students are often told that these years will be “the time of your life,” but they might also need to be reminded that there are still 168 hours in a week. Having the “time of your life” means using those hours wisely, yet some studies have suggested that as many as 48% of college students struggle with time management. Why this disconnect?
One of the major differences between the high school years and college years is the increased amount of “free time” that students experience. College students may lead much less structured lives than in high school and have more independence. “Free time” means time that students need to plan and define for themselves.
Students will spend less time in class and also be faced with longer term, independent assignments. Additionally, many students are working long hours to try to pay for college tuition and expenses. Students who are unprepared for the challenge of balancing school, work, social life and downtime may find themselves floundering.
As a parent, there is only so much that you can do to help your student learn to manage his time at college. This is something that your student must learn for himself. What you can do, however, is help your student anticipate the challenge before he heads off to college.
Help your student understand that having more free time doesn’t necessarily mean that he will have more time with nothing to do, it may mean that he has more time that he has responsibility for planning. Talk to him about the need to find a system that will help him organize his time – and his priorities. Identifying the need for a plan may be as important as creating the plan itself.
The big picture of time management
As you and your student talk about time management, there are some things you should discuss to help her to get started thinking about the big picture of managing her time.
- Make sure your student knows what to expect and why good time management matters. She will be spending less time in class and be expected to do more class work outside of class. Projects may be long term and be mentioned only once at the beginning of the semester. What feels like an abundance of “free” time, may actually be just unscheduled time. Your student will need to create a system for managing her time.
- Any time management plan must be based on goals and priorities. We tend to find time for the things that are important to us. Your student should consider her balance of work, school, social time and private time. What matters to her will help her organize her priorities.
- Many of us are very good at time management – on paper. We know how to plan, but the difficulty is really in self-management – making the plan happen. Talk to your student about making sure that she has anticipated how to discipline herself to make sure that the important things in her plan actually get done.
- Help your student anticipate the time management “zappers,” those things that often sabotage our best plans – procrastination, distractions and interruptions. How will your student manage these?
- Any good time management system requires an organizer. This may be a calendar, a day planner, or a good system on a smart phone. Your student will need to find the system that works best for her, but help her think about her options. She may even want to “practice” over the summer to find the system that works best. (Hint – this is a very personal decision and what works for you may not be the same thing that will work for her.)
- Remind your student that no matter how organized her system is, no matter how adept she becomes at self-management, she will need to be flexible. Things will happen that get in the way of her plan or she may get derailed at some point. Being flexible and getting back on track will be important.
A more detailed look at a plan
A general understanding of priorities, goals, time management and self-management is crucial before your student begins to think about specifics. And the specifics of a time management plan become very personal. As parent, you might offer some suggestions to help your student think about options, but then it will be up to your student to decide what will work best. This may take some trial and error once he gets to school, so offer ideas – and then step back and leave the rest to your student.
- Be sure to look at the big picture – not just what is due tomorrow. Take each syllabus and look at all assignments and long term projects.
- Break larger assignments down into smaller steps and create personal deadlines for each phase of a project.
- Be sure to include important events, breaks, or visits home so conflicts become apparent. Plan ahead for the time when the big event happens the day before a big test.
- Schedule in some downtime, fun events, and social activities.
- Don’t try to fill every minute. Leave flexible time and personal time.
- Prioritize tasks. What needs to get done now and what can wait if necessary?
Help your student understand that no plan is perfect and any time management plan will evolve as he works with it. Articles and blogs and books have been written about various ways to manage your time. The perfect plan does not exist. However, the important thing is that your student anticipates the need to develop a system. Just hoping that he will remember what he needs to do and that he’ll find time to get to it will probably not work well.
Then, once your student has developed a time management plan that makes sense, she’ll need to think about how to stick with the plan. Self-management becomes the next task – and the subject of our next post.