As I am entering the library earlier this week, I pass by a student on a cell phone and hear the student make the following statement: “I finished all my finals but I still have to write a 60 page term paper which is due in two days.” As hard as it is to believe, the student clearly stated that the paper is due in two days. I’m a good writer and assuming all the research is done, I could write a good paper in two days but I seriously doubt that I can write a first rate paper that is anywhere near 60 pages long (even assuming I use large margins and type size) in such a limited time frame. I know nothing about the student I passed by; he could be an awesome student or an awful student but in either case, I would question whether time management was an area of strength for this person.
I think to some extent we all overestimate what we can do and how long it takes us to do it until the moment of truth arrives. A 60 page paper is clearly a moment of truth. And what does the student do at that moment—write continuously, ask for an extension, ask for an extension based on a traumatic event, borrow someone else’s paper? The alternatives range from not good, to not smart, to counterproductive, to not ethical, to perhaps fatal. I still remember the person in graduate school who lost a grandparent every semester at final time. The first time it happened everyone was sympathetic and the student was given extensions in all his courses. By the third time everyone was skeptical. To my knowledge this person, though very intelligent, never completed his degree.
One semester in graduate school I had the opportunity to schedule all my courses for the semester on one day, with classes from early morning until late at night. Since I was doing adjunct teaching at the same time, the one day schedule was irresistible to me. Everything was going well, with all my exams and papers scheduled on different days until final exam time. For final exams there was a set schedule where the exam was the last class of the semester. In some colleges and universities there are provisions where a student can reschedule a final if there two other finals are scheduled the same day. There was no such provision that was available for me to make use of. And so, I came to class and completed the four finals in one day. I did very well on the first two, well on the third, and just OK on the fourth (though I knew the material well). By the fourth exam, I was no longer exam focused. Not surprisingly, I never took advantage of a scheduling opportunity like this again.
There are so many subjects that we teach well that are critical to a good education but we rarely teach time management. Some university 101 courses do cover this material but I believe it is presented to a small minority of students and perhaps appreciated by even fewer. An educated person also benefits greatly by being able to allocate his or her time in the best manner possible. We should do more to reinforce this concept.