Tag Archives: Momentum

For busy students: Maximizing your time

4 Feb

Eventually, just about every working student feels overwhelmed with their schedule, especially if they take work full-time and take classes full-time. Here’s a simple way to take control of your schedule and get your house in order for the semester.

Typically, every professor will have a pretty well-structured schedule of assignments, exams, projects, and when they’re due right in the syllabus. Start out with that information and put into excel format. Mine looks like this:





Because my schedule this semester is really straightforward – I go right from work to class on Monday and Wednesday and my other 2 classes are online – I didn’t enter class lectures into the schedule. But if you’re spending more time in lecture or just need more structure, by all means enter it in there.

Every once in a while, you’ll have a professor who just doesn’t schedule stuff early. No worries – just work with what you have and put it on the schedule as soon as you find out the due date or exam date.

Now for the fun part – actually doing something with this. You have two good options: chunk off smallish amounts of time (2 hours or less) to chip away at your work or chunk off larger blocks of time (more than 2 hours) and hammer out a ton of work. This really depends on you, your working style, and your lifestyle. If you have a house and a family and other obligations and activities other than school and work, then you might be better off in small chunks, taking a 5-10 minute break each hour to refresh yourself. Likewise, if you’re taking a bunch of classes and are spending 12 or more hours in lecture each week, then smaller chunks might work better for you. If your schedule is more open and you don’t have much else that requires your attention besides school and work, then using larger blocks of time is an option for you.

I’ve used both methods, and I generally prefer to use large chunks of time when possible. For example, this semester, my one lecture course is on Monday and Wednesday, and I’m out of class by 6. One online class has assignments due every Monday and the other has assignments due on Fridays and Sundays. I’ll typically block off a few hours on Wednesday or Thursday night and again on Sunday night to take care of assignments. I leave a couple hours on either Monday or Tuesday night free as a safety valve for any extra reading or work I might need to do for the upcoming week.

Each method has its advantages. Using large chunks, you get to take advantage of working with momentum. You also have the advantage of lower “transaction costs.” What’s a transaction cost? Let’s say you do most of your shopping online. Your favorite store charges $10 for shipping, no matter how much you buy. That $10 is your transaction cost. You can lower your transaction costs by buying more items at a time instead of just buying a few and then going back for more a few days later. Your transaction costs for studying might be the time you spend getting yourself settled in to study mode or working mode or whatever you want to call it, or the time it takes you to get to the library or to your local Starbucks. When you use big chunks instead of small chunks, you’re spending less time getting settled in/traveling to a quiet place. The fewer sessions you use to study, the lower your transaction costs.

Using small chunks is great for maintaining your sanity and for systematically completing projects that can be broken into smaller pieces. If you have a really heavy or fragmented schedule, small chunks will fit perfectly into your schedule. The downside of this is that you don’t really get the chance to use momentum to your advantage, so you may need to develop habits for when you’re doing deep research or creative work so you’re able to pick up where you left off. As an example, if I’m doing research on a specific subject and need to call it quits, I find it helpful to write down exactly what my thought pattern was for selecting keywords to search or journals to browse. It doesn’t exactly replicate momentum, but it works in a pinch.

The most important thing here is that when your schedule is heavy, you do¬†something. Don’t feel bound by what anyone tells you – if you need to block off your sessions into half-hours or 8 hours at a time, do it. And if you have no idea which one will work best, just choose one and try it out for a week or two – giving your schedule any structure is better than no structure, and you will eventually figure out which one works best for you through trial and error and tweaking.