A lot of working friends ask me about time management exercises and hacks they can use in their day to day lives to optimize productivity. This question is so frequent that I decided to put it down in words.
Here are some things that I hear repeatedly:
- “I never complete my to-dos for the day” (here’s my recommended to-do list format)
- “I’m always being interrupted by coworkers” (I talked about the importance of deep work when discussing the Pomodoro technique)
- “I waste a lot of time in pointless meetings”
- “It takes me hours daily just to process email” (here’s how to transform it into a GTD Gmail)
- “I do a lot of things but don’t really feel I’m making progress” (Productivity = Meaningful Work + Progress)
I also have friends still in college. It strikes me as funny that I get the same exact question from them. They are also looking for ways to optimize their time so they can enjoy their college life to the fullest. Here are their “complaints”:
- “I always end up cramming for exams.”
- “I only study when there’s the pressure of a test.”
- “It’s just so hard to sit down and just study, without any distractions.”
- “I’ve tried to make schedules for myself, but I don’t stick to them/unexpected things come up.”
- “When I’m working on one subject, I get distracted by thoughts of what I have to do for my other classes.”
I remember having those problems as well 😉
So I decided to break this post down into two sections: time management exercises for college students and time management exercises for employees.
Almost all of these time management exercises can be applied to both groups, but some are more effective on students while others are designed with the employee in mind. Feel free to do them by yourself but for best results please do complete them in a group.
What Is Time Management?
Why do some people always seem to be rushing from task to task and never finishing anything, while others are in control of their time and accomplish everything they want?
Do the latter have fewer or easier things to do?
No, not really. Maybe they are practicing good time management skills thus using their time more effectively. This allows them to be more productive and get more things done.
Here’s how Wikipedia defines Time Management:
“Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity. It is a juggling act of various demands of study, social life, employment, family, and personal interests and commitments with the finiteness of time. Using time effectively gives the person “choice” on spending/ managing activities at their own time and expediency.”
What’s important to understand is that time management is a skill.
And like any other skill, there are time management exercises you can do to help you become proficient.
Time Management Exercises for College Students
Everyone has different expectations for college.
You may want to get great grades, simply enjoy learning with like-minded individuals, or you want college to be the “time of your life” and have fun, go to awesome parties, and make new friends.
Whatever your expectations, you will need master planning and prioritizing in order to meet deadlines for class projects and assignments without depriving yourself of a social life.
At times, you will have to study for multiple exams and work on many different class projects, sometimes in the same week (or even the same day!).
Use these time management exercises for college students to develop your skills, helping you plan for such occasions.
#1 Identifying Distractions and Solutions
We live in the distraction age, with companies competing to attract and retain our attention. This is especially true at university due to a more active social life and environment. That’s why this is the number 1 of time management exercises on this list. Do it right and you will get hours back per day.
Start by identifying the big chunks of distraction that’s eating up your time. Maybe you use your computer for college but end up spending your time on social media instead (pro tip: if you don’t have it, you can’t miss it). Or you watch TV while trying to read a textbook.
To do this time management exercise grab a piece of paper and write down everything that you think it distracts you. When you’re done, write down possible solutions.
- You get distracted by your phone. An easy solution might be to keep yourself logged out of social media while studying or switch to airplane mode
- Random web surfing. Unplug your internet cable or disable your wi-fi. If you have to do research, write down everything you need to search beforehand and stick to it (don’t read it if you don’t need it)
- Playing video games. Study at the public library or at your university, removing temptation. If it’s a phone game, uninstall it
Do the same exercise for all the distractions in your life. This time management exercise will help you understand where your time is leaking and help you regain your time and attention.
Remember: less is more.
#2 Getting Organised
Most students don’t really think about how their workspace impacts productivity. Optimizing your dedicated workspace can boost your study time while keeping you informed about tasks and deadlines.
Since you will be moving a lot – from home to college and back – you need a simple system that lets you pack in seconds while being easy to maintain.
Keep a shelf in your room with study materials, where you put files, books, pens, notebooks, etc. Use a box for each course, where you put notes, photocopies, handouts, journal articles, etc.
Next, pin a weekly timetable where you see it every day, such as the door. In this calendar, mark your exams, class projects deadlines and other social events.
Finally, have everything else you need on your computer or phone. Remember: you need to optimize for being mobile, and having lots of papers and physical items can turn that into a struggle.
#3 The 5-Step Plan
Students need to juggle lots of different commitments, such as deadlines and social life. So it makes sense that one of the time management exercises lets you plan quickly to get back on top of things.
Here’s the step-by-step:
- List Everything: write down all your commitments and deadlines
- Break It Down: take on big tasks and turn them into smaller steps. A 2000 word essay can sound daunting, but writing 500 words today might not
- Use a Kanban: this method helps you prioritize your tasks. Organize everything under 3 headings: now, soon, and later. Deadlines are a priority, readings for a class might go under soon, most of the things in later you might want to quit
- Do Immediately: start with something on your “now” list and get it done. That sense of achievement will help you build momentum
- Prioritize the Rest: now go back to all the other tasks and put them in order
Time Management Activities for Employees
Everyone is given $86,400 dollars to spend. They can only use the money on experiences, such as learning the piano, going to the gym or working on a project. At the end of the day, this money is written off, whether participants use it or not. They cannot bank more money per day.
Have your team write down on a piece of paper how they would allocate the $86,400 dollars.
When everyone has completed their list, gather your team and discuss why and how they spent the money.
Explain that we all have 86,400 seconds to use or invest each day. Invest it wisely, and it will pay you long-term dividends in health, skills, knowledge, and relationships (I like to call this compound time-activities). You can’t save it directly, but you can spend it so that it pays you dividends for a lifetime.
This is a great time management exercise for students and teams.
#2 Ribbon of Life
For this time management exercise, you need a ribbon with a length of 100cm (1 meter) and a pair of scissors.
Ask your team:
- What is the estimated lifespan of an individual?
The normal response will be in between 75 and 85. The actual figure is 79 years, so you need to cut 21cm of your ribbon. It is now 79cm long, meaning we have 79 years left.
- What is the average age of the participants?
This depends on the group you’re doing this exercise with. If you are using this time management exercise for students, it will be lower than with members of a team in a company.
Let’s say the number you get is 29, so you chop another 29cm of your ribbon. These years are what you would call “sunk costs”, you can’t do anything about them.
Your ribbon now has 50cm.
- So we have 50 years left?
This is a trick question: people will say yes but the actual answer is no.
You still need to factor in a lot of variables: weekends, public holidays, casual/sick leave, and annual holidays.
Every year has 52 weeks, so that’s 52 Sundays per year. Multiply that by 50 years (the current length of our ribbon) and you get 7.14. Reduce the ribbon by 7cm.
The same logic applies to Saturdays. Reduce another 7cm.
There are 10 Public/National holidays per year, which gives us 1.5 years when multiplied by 50. Reduce the ribbon by 1.5 cms.
We spend approximately 40 days a year on casual leave, sick leave and annual holidays. That’s around 5 years, so you cut off another 5 cms.
You are now left with about 29.5 years.
But we still need to take into account sleeping, eating and commuting.
We spend a third of our day (and so a third of our year) sleeping. Considering an average of 8 hours of sleep per day, we get 122 * 50 = almost 17 years. Cut off another 17 cms.
You need around 2 hours per day to eat lunch, breakfast, snacks, and dinner. 30 days a year X 50 years= 4 years or so. Cut off another 4 cms.
Lastly, let’s factor in commuting and time spent traveling from one place to another for activities. If we average one hour a day, that’s 2 more years.
We are now down to 6 years of life to make it or break it.
It’s up to us to make the best of out of them.
#3 The Disconnection
Give your team members a piece of people and ask them to write down 10 things that they did at work yesterday. They don’t need to write an order or additional comments, just list 10 things.
Next, give them another piece of paper and ask them to write 5 topics that they expect to discuss with you (assuming you are their manager) or their boss in the next one-on-one appraisal/performance review.
Now, ask them to look at the two lists together and link tasks from the first list to goals of the second one. A simple number to identify the link is enough. Be warned: some of them will try to come up with complex explanations of the links and why they did what they did.
The “aha moment” of this exercise is when your employees realize all the time they spend doing things which have little or no direct impact on the company or their work.
Finally, ask them to list 10 things they need to do this week and connect them again to goals. Choose the top 5 tasks that are truly urgent and are going to move the needle on their performance and in the company.
Productive people know that time management is a skill and you can use time management exercises to hone that skill.
Being in charge of your time will help you prioritize better, get more things done and feel progress in meaningful work.
The best time management exercises for college students are:
- Identifying Distractions and Solutions
- Getting Organised
- The 5-Step Plan
The best time management exercises for employees are:
- Ribbon of Life
- The Disconnection