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Time Management and Organisation

Time management can be a real struggle for us all at differing times. How often do you get to the end of your day and then realise you haven't done the one thing you really needed to do? All of a sudden you’re aware of the time, or lack of it, you feel stressed and you’re left facing the choice of whether you’re going to submit a rushed assignment, miss your deadline or maybe work late into the night and miss the sleep that your body really needs to function properly. We often expect so much from ourselves in both our personal and our working lives and unless we take control and begin to plan to use our time well it will continue to slip away.

As creative people we have ideas all the time, and that’s part of the problem. We find inspiration anywhere and everywhere; it’s part of who we are and it’s what makes us so remarkable. Creative people often end up with more ideas than time, and knowing how to identify which idea to develop can be tricky. It’s important to remember that working on too many ideas at the same time can negatively affect your progress – in these instances, we often establish the basics but are unable to propel our ideas as far as we need to.

Missing deadlines or submitting rushed work is something you will need to avoid during your degree as well as in your working life if you want to be successful.

Making a plan and sticking to it:
It can seem like a good idea to create different records for different projects but this can lead to disaster when dealing with your time overall. Time management and project management are two different things and each has its own needs. You will need to do both. You will need to manage different projects, or assignments, whilst also maintaining control over the other aspects of your life like remembering to buy milk for your cereal or washing your clothes so that you can be ready to learn and arrive on time for your class.

When creating your schedule you should consider:

  • The task
  • Time of day
  • Location
  • Sounds

Chilled study playlist on SpotifyIt's important to create a plan that’s achievable. If your task is to read an academic text and take notes for your essay, your location is probably going to be a higher consideration - you will need a location that is relatively quiet to allow you to focus and not be distracted by things happening around you. If you don’t have access to a quiet place, consider using earphones and a playlist of music that will aid your concentration.

Do you know how you spend your time? You’ll need to actively set your own goals and become aware of the regular patterns within your week. If you want to be successful with your time become more time conscious.

Don’t overschedule. Breaks are just as important as using your time wisely, be realistic with your timetable. Your brain won’t function as well as it could if you’re tired, hungry, thirsty, bored, or feeling mentally exhausted. Your mind and body have to work together to allow your creativity to develop and become fluent. Regular breaks should help in clearing your mind, think about your breaks and what you choose to do during them – if you’ve been looking at a screen for the previous 2 hours going onto social media during a ‘break’ is probably not going to give your eyes and brain the kind of break that they need.

It is very easy to confuse being busy with productiveness and it’s important that you learn to recognise the difference. Being productive means that you achieve your goals in the least amount of time necessary, whilst maintaining a good end result. Some tasks will become easier as your knowledge expands throughout your degree so it’s important to review your practice regularly.

When beginning a new project take some time to clearly plan out your working schedule. Consider how much time it might take you to complete, if you’ve had previous experiences with similar projects reflect on how long it took you previously. Use this as a starting point and build on it.

Decide how the project can be broken into smaller manageable pieces and consider which of those parts will be restricted by other factors, i.e. what can only be done on particular days, could anything else negatively impact your plan? If so, what happens next?

Once you have your starting point you should ask yourself: Are there any weaknesses that you can see or have experienced already? Could you make your plan any better? Once you’ve identified problem areas can begin to find ways to improve them. Remember that good time management should save time, not take time.

To prioritise your tasks you can begin by listing the tasks you need to do in order of importance. You will find that there is a difference between a task that is urgent and a task that is important – not all of your urgent tasks will be enormously important. Make sure you break your tasks down into manageable chunks. ‘Manageable’ will look different for all of us so don’t compare your lists to those of your classmates. What is important is that you understand what you need to do and when it needs to be done. Your to-do list should not feel overwhelming to you. Allow yourself the time to focus on between 3-5 tasks per day. By keeping your to-do list up to date by marking off the tasks you have already achieved you can continue to make progress without having to double-check everything.

If you want to work in peace, you will need to tell the people around you. Other people can’t read your mind, so it’s up to you to set and manage those boundaries when necessary. It might help to put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door if you are studying at home. It is also helpful to silence your phone notifications and all social media. If you want to be left alone to focus you will need to be explicit but polite.

Avoiding Procrastination
Often procrastination is the result of other factors. It’s a well-known cliché that the hardest part of doing difficult work is making a start, and surprisingly it's often very true.

Some key questions to ask yourself if you are delaying making a start:

  • Do you lack purpose? – ask yourself why you need to do the task? What do you hope to achieve?
  • Are you unable to make decisions? – are you finding it difficult to prioritise?
  • Do you lack confidence in what you’re doing? – are you avoiding doing the work because you are scared that the result won’t be as good as you want it to be?
  • Do you feel guilty and stressed, and blame yourself for being lazy or disorganised? Stop feeling bad, it's not going to achieve anything so do something proactive!

There are many free apps available to help you with managing your time and projects, here are just a few that you may wish to explore…

A great tool that can help with keeping track of your to-do lists and can give a great overview of your projects – this can be used to keep track of multiple projects very easily. Trello also works in conjunction with Evernote (which is also a great note-making app – see below).  For more information see - Trello.

Evernote is a leading note-taking app that works in conjunction with many other apps and add-ons. Evernote can be used to manage projects and keep track of your work as you go. For more information see - Evernote.

RescueTime RescueTime
Rescue Time is a great way of keeping track of how you’re actually spending your time during your working day. RescueTimeLite is the free version and has great features to allow you to learn about your own time management skills.  For more information see - RescueTime.

Focus BoosterFocusBooster is an app that can be used on your phone or computer, based on the Pomodoro technique. Focus Booster will enable you to maintain focus and manage distractions. Planning your day using the Pomodoro technique (UCA's free MyWellbeing app includes a Pomodoro timer) will give you a sense of direction and purpose to allow you to stay focused for the whole day. As you improve at estimating how long things will take, you begin to have more realistic expectations of what you can achieve in a day.  For more information see - FocusBooster.

If things feel overwhelming and you are not sure where to start begin with our First Aid/S.O.S for managing your time.

  1. List everything that you need to get done
    Until you establish what your tasks are they will continue to feel overwhelming. Making a list gets everything into one place so you can begin to work through them. 
  2. Break down big tasks into smaller actions
    Larger tasks will feel less overwhelming if you can break them down and approach one area at a time. Instead of ‘write essay’, try the smaller task of ‘write 400 words for essay’.
  3. Categorise your tasks under three headings – to-do now, to-do soon, and to-do later
    Assignment deadlines can feel like an obvious priority but often there are key tasks that need doing before you can progress your work. 
  4. Do something from the 'to-do now' list immediately and feel the joy of ticking it off
    Making a start will help you feel calmer and more in control. If there are simple tasks that you have been avoiding make an effort to complete at least one of them. If you realise you aren’t sure how to do something go back to basics, re-read your handbook, your assignment, and your objectives, speak to course mates, your lecturer or book a tutorial with the Learning Development Team
  5. Prioritise the tasks in each category (to-do now, to-do soon, to-do later)
    Remember that these tasks have to be completed within the time you have. You are not expected to achieve perfection but you are expected to meet your deadlines.

Learning Development Tutors
Learning Development Tutors work with students to help ensure they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to be successful learners.  For more information and to book a tutorial see - Learning Development Tutors.

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