When I started college as a freshman engineering student, I knew I would have a little trouble with the transition from high school to college. What I didn’t know was that my main challenge would come from distractions.
There’s a mall only five minutes from campus, and when my friends wanted to hang out there, I wouldn’t say no. Other times we’d play video games, or go out to dinner, or watch television. There was always something to distract me and no one to tell me to get to work.
I was an A/B student in high school, and I was used to things coming easily to me. In college there’s a lot more work and it’s definitely not work you can do in five minutes and be done like in high school. I always found some excuse not to do my work, and then I’d try to do it the day it was due.
I remember waiting until about 30 minutes before my first chemistry test to start studying. When my grades started dropping, I realized I needed to change but I wasn’t sure how.
That’s when we read about self-management in the On Course book. In class we did an activity where we divided a paper into four quadrants. Then we put what we had done the last two days onto those quadrants. I only had a few things in Quadrants I and II (Important). But Quadrant IV (Unimportant) was full.
I realized I was studying only about three hours a week, but I was going to the mall about five hours, watching movies and television about six to ten hours, playing video games about twenty hours, and surfing the Internet about thirty hours. I had never had a high-speed connection before, and things like YouTube and Facebook were consuming a good part of my life.
Now that I had figured out my problem, I needed a solution. I started by hanging up the quadrants in my room with my wasted time on them. I then put up another blank quadrant chart next to it. I decided to try new ways to manage my time over the next week and keep track of how I spent my time every day.
I set a goal to reduce my time in Quadrants III and IV to no more than twenty hours per week and increase my time in Quadrants I and II up to thirty or forty hours.
At first I tried to completely cut out everything that was a waste of time, but I found myself stressed out. I was studying so much I thought my brain would explode and I couldn’t remember what I was studying. Then I tried getting all of my work done before I did anything that could be seen as a waste of time. But, again I was unable to focus on my work.
Then I found the strategy that has helped. I put my schedule on a dry erase board and I adjust it to what I have going on that week. I make sure that I put both work and leisure time on the schedule. Also, if I have something important going on, like a test, I write it on my schedule in bold letters so I don’t forget. Essentially I have made a reusable planner.
This strategy has helped me out a lot since I put it into effect. When I filled in the quadrants at the end of the first week, I was about halfway to my goals. Toward the end of the semester, I tracked my time again, and I reached my goals. My new system makes me more aware of what I’m choosing to do. I spend less time on the Internet, and I learned to say no.
I remember when a bunch of my friends wanted to go to the movies the night before I had a math test. They asked me to go at least ten times, but I stayed home and studied. I actually did really well on the test. Probably the best choice I made was taking my video games home. Since I started writing my important work on the white board, I’ve missed almost no assignments and my grades have improved in every class.
I have found a strategy that arranges my time so that I can get my important work done and still have time for fun things. My reusable planner has helped me a lot in my freshman year, and I plan to keep using it throughout college.