A few days ago, I told you how to keep a time log. If you’ve been tracking your time since then, you should have enough down on paper (or in your spreadsheet) to get a good picture of where your time’s going. Skip back to “Keeping a time log” and do the analysis part, if you haven’t done so already, then read on…
Transitions between activities
Many people find that “transitions” between activities (especially when transport is involved) can be huge time sinks. Even little jobs like packing lunch, getting all your books together, buying coffee and so on can take up a surprising amount of time during a day.
One of my favourite bloggers, Crabby McSlacker (and if that’s not a cool name, I dunno what is), writes eloquently on the annoyances of Transition Time:
Does anyone else find that a really huge and annoying percentage of the day seems to take place not actually doing things, but getting ready to do things and tidying back up after the things have been done?
Like Crabby, I find that a trip to the gym involves about forty-five minutes actually in the gym, and at least another half an hour walking from the library to the gym, getting changed, finding a working locker, grabbing a shower afterwards…
Other activities which drink up time for me are things like preparing lunch, getting “stuff” together for uni (books, pens, notepad, gym kit) and so on.
So how can you minimise the aggro of transition time?
- Prepare ahead – pack books, gym kit, etc the night before
- Maximise efficiency – if you’ve got to go to the shops and return your library books, do it all in one trip.
- Keep things organised – you can waste an awful lot of time looking for keys, finding stamps, searching for that elusive bit of paper that had something vital written on it…
Batch jobs together
If you find that things like “checking my email”, “looking up references”, “checking my email”, “replying to emails” appear all too frequently on your list, try batching these tasks together. Limit yourself to checking email once during the morning and once during the afternoon, and reply to anything that needs a reply there and then. In the long run, spending twenty minutes twice a day on email is a lot less time consuming and a lot less destructive to your concentration than five-ten minutes every half an hour.
When you’re working on an essay, it’s sometimes useful to batch jobs like:
- Looking for quotes and examples that support your points
- Putting all the references into the correct format (you can do this as you write, but sometimes you don’t want to lose the flow of your argument – just put enough of a reference that you know what you mean, and tidy them all up at the end).
- Looking up any missing references in the library.
- Formatting the essay correctly (again, you can do this as you write, but it’s often simpler to go back and format block quotes, double-space, etc when you’re done.)
Other things you can easily batch are:
- Grocery shopping – “batch” it by making a list and shopping once a week. You can also “batch” grocery shopping with another task; e.g. if you’ve got a class near the supermarket, pop in on the way home.
- Cooking – it’s always more efficient to cook double what you want and keep half for the next day (or the next week/month if you have a freezer).
- Phone calls – if you need to make a lot of calls, it’s usually easiest to simply set aside an hour or two to do the lot. Like emails, these can really drain your attention from your studies.
Be aware of where you under/over-estimate
All of us have some areas where we mis-estimate how long a task will take – and others where we underestimate! I know when I was an undergrad, I consistently over-estimated how long writing would take me (I’d allow two hours for drafting a 1,500 word essay, whereas I found I could regularly complete it in an hour and a half), but I under-estimated how long reading would take.
This is a common problem, and one way to get round it is simply to learn how long something really takes you, not how long you think it takes you. Keeping a time log is a great way of figuring this out.
Once you’ve completed a recurring task, make a record of the time required for completion, so you can reuse that estimate in the future. When that task reappears on your to-do list, you can simply look up your old estimate. These estimates will be fairly accurate because they’re based on previous results, not previous estimates.
- How to Make Accurate Time Estimates, Steve Pavlina
One of the reasons why you might not be getting as much done as you think you should could just be that you’re expecting tasks not to take so long as they do.
Over to you
- Where is your time going? – Mark Forster was the guy who first introduced me to the idea of time logs, in his excellent Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play: his tips really helped me in my third year as an undergrad.
- How to Make Accurate Time Estimates – Steve Pavlina goes through a method for calculating your “fudge” ratio for how long tasks typically take you compared to how long you estimate they’re going to take. His article Triple Your Personal Productivity is about keeping time logs, though this is aimed at those working rather than studying.
- 57 Time-Management Hacks for College Students – If your main problem is simply having too much on your list, there are some great tips from Christina Laun here on cutting down, focusing on one thing, and taking charge of your time.
What methods could you use to batch tasks, minimise transition times, and make your day run more smoothly? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments…