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Time Management

Time Management for Students in the Colleges of Applied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health

The biggest challenge most students encounter when they transition from an undergraduate program to a professional program is not the difficulty of the concepts but the quantity of material. Developing effective time management strategies is no longer optional!

GET ORGANIZED

  • You will be receiving a huge quantity of material, so you need to develop a good organizational system so you won’t waste time hunting for things. Find a couple of well-organized students as your models. Ask the students about the system they use and actually look at how their notebooks and planners are set up.
  • Immediately hole punch every handout or lecture outline you receive and put it in the correct place in your notebook. If you did not happen to get a copy of the lecture handout, be sure to make a copy of it later that same day (otherwise, you might forget about the handout).

BE YOUR OWN BOSS; SCHEDULE YOUR WORK.

  • Your boss doesn’t say, “Try to get some work done sometime.” Your boss tells you precisely what to do and when. Do the same with your homework.
  • Post a semester calendar above your desk (or somewhere). This calendar should include exams and papers, but not reading assignments. You need to be able to see the “big picture” in order to plan ahead.
  • On Sunday evening, sit down and schedule/organize your upcoming week.
  • Each evening, write an academic “to do” list for tomorrow. Write personal items on a separate list so you won’t be tempted to “get those out of the way first.”
  • Planners are great for recording due dates and tasks you plan to do a few weeks from now. But, in most cases, if you really want to accomplish something today, you need to write it on either a weekly schedule or a “to do” list.
  • Establish the habit of studying at specific times each day. This will help you avoid constantly anguishing over whether you should study or not.
  • Experiment with studying at different times and determine the time of day or evening when your concentration and productivity are greatest. Reserve that time for studying your most challenging material.

BREAK IT UP

  • Break up big jobs into small, very specific tasks. You’re less likely to procrastinate if a task is perceived as “doable.”
  • Don’t wait to study until you get a big block of time (it rarely arrives). Instead, use all the little bits of time available in your day.
  • Try to review your lecture notes the same day as the lecture. Because of the quantity of material you need to learn, if you start falling behind significantly, you will have a hard time catching up. When going over your notes, be sure you understand the how and why behind the information. In a professional program, rote memorization is no longer sufficient. Understanding underlying concepts helps you recall the facts and it also helps you answer analytical exam questions.
  • Take study breaks. In order to maintain good concentration, study for an hour or so and then take a five or ten-minute break. (This can vary, depending on the subject you’re reading and how alert you are.)
  • Don’t let a study break lead you astray. Think about the kinds of things that are realistic to do during a break. A walk around the library is fairly safe, but watching television or checking e-mail can easily lead to a two-hour “break.”

MIND GAMES

  • Call yourself a liar! We all rationalize at times, but try to catch yourself when you do this. If you catch yourself thinking that today you will study after watching a little t.v., ask yourself how often this has worked for you in the past. If it hasn’t usually worked, tell yourself that you’re lying.
  • Tell yourself: Even if I don’t want to study right now, I will study for 15 minutes. (The hardest part of studying is getting started.)
  • Don’t waste precious energy resisting temptation; instead, clear temptations out of your path. Temptations can wear down your resistance, so try to avoid them. Some possibilities: put your t.v. in a closet, tape a t.v. show and watch it at the end of the day, turn off your telephone while you study, check your email at the end of the day or in the morning before your first class. (All of these strategies help you put some parameters around the temptations.)
  • Link your schedule to someone else’s. For example, if you plan to study in the evening or on a Saturday, arrange to meet a friend in the library. (On weekends, you might find it easier to get yourself out of the house if you plan on going somewhere pleasant, such as a coffee shop that isn’t too noisy.)

YOU ARE NOT A MACHINE

  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep. There’s no point in trying to feel virtuous by shortchanging yourself on sleep. Your goal is not to feel virtuous but to learn, and you won’t be able to work at top efficiency if you’re sleep-deprived.
  • Eat right and work out. Don’t get carried away, but a little exercise can help you stay healthy, happy, and more alert.
  • Plan to do something fun every weekend. Don’t deprive yourself of fun for too long or you may find yourself getting way off track.

REALITY CHECK (PRIORITIZE)

  • You only have 24 hours each day and you can’t do everything. You will probably need to tell family and friends that you won’t be in touch with them as often until after the semester is over.
  • You can’t learn everything. Identify what’s most important in your lectures and books. You might guess incorrectly at times, but if you try to learn everything, you won’t know anything in depth. As you review your notes, ask yourself what exam questions you would pull out of that lecture if you were the professor. (This can help you identify what’s important.) Also, ask other students what they think is important.

Written by Cecelia Downs
Academic Center for Excellence, University of Illinois at Chicago
1200 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60607

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