Teaching Today

Teaching Students to Manage Their Time

The early days of a new semester are a good time to teach students about lateness and procrastination, writes Charlotte Kent.

September 18, 2018
 
 
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Many adults don’t know how to manage their time adequately. The endless self-help books about time management, procrastination and work-life balance all point to challenges with organizing a daily routine that includes the assorted obligations of work and relationships.

Time management is a real problem for college students, too. Yet teaching students how to manage their time frustrates a lot of faculty members, as we are increasingly burdened with extra care work for students -- from appeasing anxious and ever-present parents to navigating volatile postadolescents. We have a lot to do beyond our research and class preparation. But, in fact, knowing that is one reason why, from the first day, I try to help students be responsible for their time.

Of course, the first day of class is already filled with many announcements and introductory exercises, so teaching students about time management doesn’t need to occur that first day. It works just as well a couple weeks into the semester, when students have settled into their course schedule and are slipping into problematic habits. Discussing procrastination issues and how to schedule studying sessions is also helpful when announcing a major assignment, as that is when students are more likely to think about the limited time they have for “extra” work.

How do I help students develop time-management skills? First, I introduce them to lateness as a specific behavior with variable expressions. “Busy bees” always add one more thing to their complicated schedules and so arrive everywhere, delivering everything, a little late. These people want to succeed so badly that they don’t know how to prioritize. “Distracted” folks start on time, but along the way, they notice something or stop to chat with someone and find themselves suddenly late. They have a hard time maintaining boundaries with other people and staying focused on their own goals. “Selfish” latecomers don’t want to waste their time; they haven’t considered how they could use those extra minutes to review work, ask questions or write their grandmother that long-awaited thank-you note. Finally, there are “victims,” to whom things always happen: traffic, accidents, roommate problems, other work and more always keep them from arriving on time, and it is never their fault. They haven’t learned yet how to prepare for setbacks.

Procrastination, linked to lateness, often stems from fear. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, they often won’t try. For whatever reasons, many students are afraid to ask for guidance for completing a project or paper, and not every professor explains the steps the project or paper will require. A variation on that is the student who is afraid to do anything without constant guidance and support. Procrastination isn’t a choice not to do work but rather to be working all the time -- unproductively overthinking all the projects instead of allotting manageable chunks to designated time periods.

To deal with these behaviors, students need to have a realistic sense of what time they have. To that end, I distribute a spreadsheet representing a seven-day week with a 24-hour schedule. I ask students to insert their schedule and label their classes, jobs, commuting time and all scholastic or external activities -- from athletics to clubs to religious attendance to walking the dog. Then come the more difficult events for them to time: meals, social periods and early-morning routines. I recommend they add 30 minutes to each of these.

When students question why social time with friends should be in their schedule, since it happens spontaneously, I ask them to consider putting their own lives, goals and demands first. Scheduling time for friends ensures that they will see them and relax, without interrupting other time they set aside to exercise or -- gasp! -- do homework.

Now, we come to homework time. I explain that, for art and design students, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design presumes an average of 7.5 hours of work a week per class. Something similar is true across disciplines. If a student is in class for three hours, then four and a half hours of homework on average per week is acceptable and considered an adequate college education. The beginning of the semester, when students are still excited about their educational endeavor, is a good time to remind them that they want to be here and be doing this work. That’s what they (or parents or loans) are paying for: the opportunity to work hard in order to learn what they don’t yet know.

Obviously, every professor doesn’t necessarily calculate the amount of homework each week (although some do), but most of us estimate the workload. Some weeks, with big projects upcoming, students will have more work. Other weeks they’ll have less. The point is that a five-course schedule is nearly a full-time job at 37.5 hours.

Then I ask students to find four hours per class of homework time each week. That’s when they realize that they rarely have four-hour chunks, unless it is the middle of the night. So I suggest dividing up their homework time into smaller segments. Fit in half an hour of reading here. Do a quick hour in the library during another slot of time. Some things, but not all, require extended periods.

As the schedule fills, students start to see how little time they will have. Their anxiety becomes palpable. At this point, I recommend one last addition. They need “worry time.” I suggest at least 30 minutes twice a week that they designate as time to worry about their work. That not only gives them the opportunity to review their schedule each week but also -- and more important -- to give anxieties a specific time to be considered. Rather than letting anxieties blossom any time they appear, I suggest that students keep a list of any such thoughts that arise and return to them during their allotted worry time. Then, if they can’t figure out how to solve the issues, they can reach out to professors and counselors for additional guidance.

I encourage students to keep this schedule and see how they do over the weeks to come. They may need to make adjustments. They may eventually choose to put this into their smartphone calendar. For the time being, I suggest they keep the sheet readily available for reference because it allows them to see what their week looks like at a glance and reminds them why they have things scheduled when they do.

They are now responsible for managing the work of their classes, including mine. With that, I turn to our reading or activity.

Bio

Charlotte Kent is assistant professor of visual culture for the Department of Art and Design at Montclair State University. She is author of the forthcoming book Writing for College and Beyond: Life Lessons From the College Composition Classroom.

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