It’s November?! Wait, what? What happened to all the other months? It was August, like, four minutes ago! So this means I have one more full month of classes before my first semester in grad school winds down. And considering the stack of books that I still need to read… that’s terrifying.
I’ve become very aware over the last few months that going back to school after a number of years away is really hard. It’s a totally different type of time management than “the real world”, and it’s also a different kind of stress.
In San Francisco, I was very busy: I worked a full-time office job, put in another 20 hours a week at a bar, and crammed theatre work into every spare minute of my schedule. But everything had a ‘reset’: a clean ending point where the stress dissolved. For my office job and bar job, that reset was usually at the end of every shift: no matter how much I had to do at work or how hard it was, I was done when I left the building. When I was directing a production, regardless of how difficult the process was, I was finished on opening night, and the stress dissipated.
A university semester has that reset as well, of course, at the end of the semester. But that’s a four-month period, which is quite a long duration to have ongoing stress, and nearly all my responsibilities here are running concurrently along the same schedule. So now, in this final month of the semester, I’m swimming in unfinished projects, unread books, and unwritten essays, and time is running out.
Clearly, I made a few time management errors this semester. But at least I still have a chance to turn this into a learning opportunity for myself. Here you go, Future James, I made you a list:
THINGS JAMES NEEDS TO REMEMBER NEXT SEMESTER FOR BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT:
- Don’t save all your ‘end of semester projects’ for the end of the semester. If I had broken up my reading list evenly over all four months, I wouldn’t be cramming so much right now. If I had started researching for my 15-page Caryl Churchill paper or chipped away at my term project for directing class, I wouldn’t be rushing to the finish line on them. I’ve had all of these on my plate since August, so why didn’t I try to knock out more of the work earlier?
- Use your short pockets of time. Every day, I have small windows of time – 15 minutes here, half an hour there… if I add up all that extra time in between classes, rehearsals, and meetings, it’s a substantial amount of potential productivity. I need to snap out of the mentality of “Ah, it’s only a few minutes, what could I really get done anyway?”
- Plan tasks accordingly for time of day: I’m most alert, creative, and productive between 10AM and 1PM, so to be most efficient, I should plan my most mentally taxing activities during that window. It feels good to work when your brain is working too.
- Don’t read in bed. All right, let’s settle down, turn on this dim light, and read fifty pages of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
- Don’t let yourself get distracted on the internet. When you’re already on your computer working, it’s so easy to click over to Facebook (or in this particular semester, FiveThirtyEight to check the status of the election) after every paragraph of writing an assignment for class. This eats up SO MUCH TIME. Not just the time spent looking at something else, but the time that it takes me to get my head back into the work I was doing. If I fail all my classes this semester, it’s Donald Trump’s fault.
- Give yourself a to-do list for each day. But not just the most urgent, immediate things: chip away at some long-term projects too. If I assign specific tasks for myself to get done at some point during the day, I’ll either get them done or at least I’ll be aware that I didn’t, and hopefully try to catch up the next day.
- Take breaks, but keep them short. I’ve started setting a timer for myself when I play video games or watch TV. Relaxing for a bit is really great, but it’s too easy to let it stretch on way too long. I mean, as good as Uncharted 4 is, beating the game doesn’t have a due date.
- Always carry work with you. I frequently find myself with a spare few minutes – maybe a class got out early, or parking was easier than usual. If I’ve got something to do at the ready, I’ll be more likely to use the time productively and less likely to bury my face in my phone.
- If you’re writing on your blog, make sure you limit your articles to 800 words. Otherwise you’ll neglect your other