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Opinion

Managing time is key for success

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November 1, 2007

In last week’s Student Voice column, Brian Schultz, Associate Dean of the College of Business and Economics, presented some terrific advice about managing your money. I am going to continue with the management theme but in this case focus on something even more important than money, that being time.

Having been a faculty member for over 20 years, I am acutely aware that as we reach the eighth week in a fourteen-week semester many students are about to enter a critical “crunch-time.” That second or third exam is a week or so away. The due date for that research paper or artistic project you have put off is suddenly on the radar. Your social calendar is filling rapidly. In some cases job demands have increased in anticipation of the looming holiday seasons. The length of each day seems to be shrinking while demands on your time keep growing. How will you thrive or even survive?

My guess is that over the course of your academic career you have heard numerous presentations on effective time management, and I will not bore you with too many details like the fact that if you spent 15 hours a week in class, studied 20 hours per week, had a 40 hour per week job, ate for one hour a day, slept seven hours a day, partied three hours a day and played video games for two hours a day, you would still have two hours left for bathroom needs. But I will point out that the reality is that for most students there are enough hours in the week to accomplish their goals and failure to do so typically can be traced to one of two issues: self-awareness and self-regulation.

It has been my experience that the most common problem concerning academic time management involves unrealistic estimates concerning the length of time needed to complete a task. For example, a student will wait until the night before an exam to read the four 50-page chapters that have been assigned. They sit down at 10:00 p.m. with the expectation of finishing by midnight. Unfortunately, the reality is that this student’s actual reading speed with comprehension is about 25 pages-per-hour. The outcome of this action is quite predictable. Either the student will only complete half of the reading (most common) or they will be forced to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, and although they might finish the reading, their level of comprehension/retention of the material is minimal. Both of these are losing propositions. A similar scenario also often plays itself out concerning the last minute production of a research paper of project.

How can students reduce the likelihood of these negative outcomes? The answer involves developing a sense of self-awareness of your particular speed of processing and the only way to do this is to begin keeping track of the length of time it takes you to perform at the level you desire. In my case, I have learned that I can read about 60 pages-per-hour with good comprehension. Thus, when I am asked to read a 90-page report, I know that I will need to set aside an hour and a half of my time. If you have not developed this sense of academic self-awareness, I can guarantee that doing so will really help with your time management.

Equally as important as is academic self-regulation, which involves the ability to follow through on the school-related plans you have made. The most likely academic expression of a lack of self-regulation is procrastination. Research has shown that in most cases procrastination is the result of one of three factors; fear of negative evaluation (for example: worry that the end product will not be very good), lack of motivation to complete or more appealing options. Each of these “academic foes” requires a different self-regulation strategy. Concerning the fear of negative evaluation keep in mind the following. Not completing the task will absolutely guarantee a negative evaluation. Also, the more time you give yourself to complete the task the more likely the outcome will be favorable. To combat the lack of motivation, you have one of two main options. Option one would be to focus on a reward that you can give yourself for successful completion (example: an entire night of Halo III for a B or better) or a reward that you will be given to you upon successful (e.g., earning a B or better will make me feel great). Option two would be to focus on the punishments that may be forthcoming if you do not complete the task (example: a bad grade, or parental withholding of funds when they see your report card).

The “more appealing” factor may be the hardest to learn to self-regulate. Study for an exam or party with friends?  Write the term paper or play your new Halo III game? Complete the art project or watch “The Office” marathon? In this case the two best options are: 1) remove yourself from temptation (example: if you know you will be tempted, head to the library or some other study space where no one can find you; 2) learn to say “no”—something often easier said than done.

The bottom line is that over the course of the next few weeks your academic self-awareness and self-regulation skills will definitely be put to the test. I hope that you are able to use a few of the tips in this article to make sure that you successfully navigate what lies ahead.

Brad Caskey is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A 1980 UWRF alumnus, Caskey has received numerous awards including UWRF Distinguished Teacher (1997), UWRF Advisor of the Year (2004), and the Regents Award for Teaching Excellence for the UW System (2005).