Making the best use of time

26 April 2017 | Focus | Thomas Peacock

Time. We all want more of it but sadly it's a request that can never be granted. It doesn't matter whether you are taking your first year exams or handing in your final year dissertation, poor time management can lead to a state of panic. As you know, the task is not to mismanage your time or procrastinate yourself into a corner. Much depends on you, your motivations, your determination to succeed, despite the Leprechaun sitting on your shoulder whispering those immortal words, “don’t worry, you have time, you can start tomorrow!”

Take control of your overall performance. Apply these useful tips to rescue you from yourself and avoid feeling like a Muppet when you are staring at yet another exam question that, at best looks familiar and at worst might as well be written in Sanskrit.

Make time your new best friend

It is regularly said that time waits for no man. A truism in the full sense of the word. We can however work with time to our advantage by planning, organising and preparing in advance. Let’s be truthful. We all know that at the end of each academic year there will be a number of exams with our name on them. We also know the final deadline for our projects, or dissertation. Therefore, showing amazement and surprise when these deadlines arrive is purely for ‘show’.

Instead, let’s organise our time starting from the dates of these deadlines to the here and now. As you begin to build a schedule you should take into consideration your study habits, optimal study times (the time when you feel most awake and can focus), and commitments. Remember, there is no point in planning your time in the same way that your roommate would, who incidentally has a photographic memory and developed the ability to cram things in a few weeks before the exams. If you need six weeks to cover what your mate claims he covers in two, then so be it. You schedule six weeks. Making time your friend is about planning your time according to your needs despite the pressures directed at you by friends, colleagues and family.

Procrastination, your new worst friend

We're all guilty of procrastinating and it would be totally unrealistic to suggest that you simply stop. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and many others seem to have an almost irresistible pull, day or night. Your personal success demands that you become the master of these many tools of mass distraction. One way to help you unplug and get work done is to download one of the many free apps for your phone or computer that essentially lock you out of your social media accounts and websites that you frequent, like YouTube, for a predetermined amount of time. This will help you develop the habit of not looking at your phone or watching cat videos when you should be studying.

Over the years, I have successfully used the Pomodoro technique when studying and definitely leading up to my exams. The technique is simplicity itself: Set a timer and focus entirely on work for 25 minutes (a Pomodoro block). Then take a short five minute break. At the end of the break work again for 25 minutes. Repeat this cycle four times before taking a longer break of 30 minutes. After a while, I was able to extend the period of my Pomodoro block.

What you do or don’t do during these longer 30 minute breaks is important. I classified this time as ‘me-time’ and tried my best not to get sucked into a lengthy social media exchange about whether the latest video clip doing the round is a fake! Whatever you choose to do during this ‘me-time’, it should not be about work and it must end at the appointed time.

I found that using Pomodoro blocks encouraged me to really focus on what I was doing during each block - I was able to rattle through more work. Adopting this technique encouraged me to break down daunting tasks, such as learning large chunks of work, into manageable bite sizes. Oh, I forgot to add. You need to turn off ALL your many distractions during the Pomodoro blocks otherwise the sessions don’t count.

Give it a go.

Craig Poku
24th April 2017

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