There are people who seem to be busy all the time, but still do not achieve their goals. On the contrast, there are people who seem to be so relaxed, but their everyday life is packed with activities. One of my friends is a living example. He is a medical student in a clinical year, runs marathons for charities, volunteers, performs violin in an orchestra in South Kensington, teaches younger medical students (and bakes brownies for them) every Saturday, has a girlfriend. Above all, these activities do not undermine his academic achievements at all and he is the top decile of the year. Is he a superman or have we done something wrong? Time management has been a huge issue. As university students, there are so many obligations. Things like doing house chores, socialising and even sleeping and eating all swallow a large part of our time. Our generation simply has so many things happening, so the dilemma is how we fit everything in. The followings are some key points in improving efficiency and effectively managing time:
1. The first step is to set the priority straight and knowing what is important and what can be compromised. Make a list of things you do or you want to do. Rank them in terms of importance. Eliminate the activities that are not that important. You have to admit that you cannot do everything. It is better to concentrate on one or two extra-curricular activities and excel in them, rather than being not so good in many.
2. There are things that should never be compromised: sleep. Those who know how to rest, know how to work. The key is efficiency. There is no point staring at books when there is nothing going into the brain. Many people complain of being tired during the day. Well, they might want to ask themselves how much sleep they had the night before. No less than six hours of sleep is often recommended, but it could differ from people to people. It is quite unlikely you are the rare few who can live on less than six hours of sleep.
3. Exercise is very important as well. It energises your body and mind and it leads to a deeper and more refreshed sleep. People who exercise are also less likely to have stress and anxiety. Mild stress is good some times, but too much stress and anxiety can lead to procrastinations and decreased efficiency.
4. Stop worrying and just do it. There are many over thinker and underachievers nowadays. Time is often wasted thinking and worrying. Sometimes, it is better to just dive in and do the work and once you start doing something, you become very calm and concentrated. There is an old saying in Chinese: “There is no point standing by the river and looking at the fish, it is better to go home and make fishing nets”
5. Planning is everything. It is a good idea to design a timetable including all the activities for the week. Then you know exactly what you are planning to do. Many people fail adhering to the plan. The key here is to design a timetable that is realistic and has some degrees of flexibility. Personally, I find handwritten timetable is better than an electronic version although nowadays ipads and tablets are so prevalent. Here is an example of my typical weekday:
6:00 Wake up and breakfast
6:30 Running or ice skating (I ice skate twice a week)
8:00 Arrive in the library, prepare first lecture of the day
11:00—13:00 Laboratory work
13:00—14:00 Half hour lunch, then look around the New Asian Embroidery Exhibition (there are museums and exhibitions around the university)
14:00—16:30 Scheduled lectures—Visual, if not I study or prepare the lectures for the next day.
16:30 Doctor’s appointment
17:00—18:30 Study in the library.
18:30—19:30 Society meeting
19:30—20:30 Late dinner with friends
20:30—22:00 Revise what has been learned in the lecture, prepare for the lectures the next day
22:00 Get into bed and read my book until sleep
Sunday is often kept free from study and work, even during exam period. It is a good idea to have a day of the week to relax and rewind. It acts as an incentive on being focused and efficient throughout the week. It would act as a positive feedback and encouragement for you to continue with the plan. I keep these timetables and review them at the end of the month and assess whether I spent too much time socialising or whether I could improve on certain areas. Of course, this idea might not work for everyone. However, give it a try, you might like it. Some famous examples of people who stick to a schedule: Anna Wintour (Editor in Chief of Vogue) and Benjamin Franklin
6. Do not waste time. This includes not wasting too much time on the phone talking to your friends or spending ages on facebook and twitter. Use fragments of time—when you are commuting on a bus to somewhere, you can take out your revision cards or a book (you might want to keep the book small). You would probably be bored staring in space, so why don’t you utilise the time.
To summarise, improving efficiency and time management are all about getting organised and exerting self-control. Everyone can do it, just sit down and plan then follow the plan. Make it an enjoyable process and also do not forget to reward yourself at the end of the week after you have done well!
University Study Planning was written by a student at University College London and a Tavistock Tutors