Time Management Techniques to Help You Crush Your Finals

Dec 9, 2015 by

It’s that time of year again – winter finals. While the promise of holidays and winter break are exciting, getting through the last push of studying, tests and papers is daunting and stressful.

Time management is one of the top concerns facing high school and college students, especially as year-end activities also get factored in. According to Educator.com, here are eight helpful time management techniques you can use in both your academic and personal life to make sure everything gets down as efficiently, effectively and stress-free as possible.

The Pomodoro Technique

Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique using a tomato-shaped timer (hence the name Pomodoro, which means tomato in Italian) to break work into 25 minute intervals separated by short breaks. Each work interval is known as a “Pomodoro” and their length can vary from 15 to 30 minutes followed by a five or 10 minute break. Every four pomodoros warrant a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes or whatever it takes for you to feel recharged. The idea is that frequent breaks promote improved mental agility and the breaks prevent burnout.

Timeboxing

In the timeboxing method, each planned activity gets a time box (a fixed period of time) allocated to it. The goal is to complete that task within the allotted time box. By using time in specific intervals and deliverables, it can help prevent you from spending too much time on a task in pursuit of perfection. It also helps to overcome procrastination.

Here are the steps of timeboxing:

  1. Choose the work or personal projects you want to complete.
  2. Identify what you need to accomplish for each task.
  3. Determine the amount of time you need to dedicate to each project and its objectives
  4. Achieve your objectives for each project within the set amount of time and stop working at the end of the timebox
  5. Did you accomplish your objective in more/less time than you needed? Use your results to fine tune your timeboxing method.

Here’s a sample of the timeboxing method:

8:00 – 8:30 Exercise

8:30 – 9:00 Shower & breakfast

9:00 – 10:00 Reading newspapers, writing goals

10:00 – 10:30 Checking emails and replying

10:30 – 11:30 Completing chapters 3 and 4 of Philosophy text

11:30 – 12:00 Planning Theology report

The Eisenhower Method

The Eisenhower method, developed by US President Eisenhower, separates tasks according to the answers to two questions: “Is it urgent?” and “Is it important?” The task is placed into one of four quadrants according to these answers: “Important,” “Not important,” “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.”

Here’s an example chart:

Urgent

Not Urgent

Important

Meeting deadlines;

Troubleshooting a project

Achieving objectives for a project;

Networking, building relationships;

Exercise

Not Important

Replying to emails;

Answering incoming phone calls;

Interruptions from colleagues

Checking Facebook;

Reading emails frequently;

Posting photos to Instagram

Each quadrant has its own set of actions:

Not Urgent and Not Important

Checking Facebook, reading emails frequently, posting to Instagram

You should spend no time on these activities because they do not help you progress toward your goals.

Urgent and Not Important

Replying to emails, incoming phone calls, chatting with colleagues

Deal with people who interrupt you frequently by first politely stating that you’re busy, listening to their request and noting it for later. Otherwise, don’t spend time in the tasks in this quadrant because they also do not achieve real progress.

Urgent and Important

Deadlines, troubleshooting

You must tend to these items, but cannot plan for them because they pop up without warning. They will progress you toward your goals, but may temporarily interrupt your other tasks due to their urgency.

Not Urgent and Important

Achieving work toward a goal, exercise, networking

Spend most of your time on the tasks here. Although most people don’t, this area will make you the most productive.

Action-Planning Worksheet

Action-planning worksheets integrate action steps, target dates, estimated time and assigned responsibility to give a quick glance at the steps and timeline needed to achieve an objective. They can vary in complexity, with some worksheets including the steps involved within each step.

A sample is worksheet:

Objective: Prepare for geometry mid-term by November 30

Action step Target date Est. time Assigned responsibility
  1. Review lessons 1-2
November 18 3 days Self
  1. Review lessons 3-4
November 21 3 days Self
  1. Sample test and review homework
November 24 1 day Self
  1. Review lessons 5-6
November 25 3 days Self
  1. Group study
November 27 1 day Self & 3 friends
  1. Final review
November 28 2 days Self

Milestone Chart

A milestone chart is a time-management technique that graphically displays project steps. To create one:

  1. List the steps to finish the project
  2. Estimate the time required for each step
  3. Record the steps on the left of the chart with dates at the bottom
  4. Draw a line across the chart for each step, beginning at the planned start date and ending at the completion date of that step

The milestone chart creates a visual representation of the action steps and their sequence. By charting actual progress by drawing a different colored line beneath each line, the chart becomes more useful and it’s easier to see how far along you are.

Here’s a sample:

Objective: Prepare for geometry mid-term by November 30

Action steps with time estimates:

  1. Review lessons 1-2 3 days
  2. Review lessons 3-4 3 days
  3. Sample test and review homework 1 day
  4. Review lessons 5-6 3 days
  5. Group study 1 day
  6. Final review 2 days
Action steps 1
2
3
4
5
6
Date 11/18 11/22 11/26 11/30

PERT Diagram

PERT is a more sophisticated time management technique. PERT stands for:

Program

Evaluation

Review

Technique

A PERT diagram is drawn by first listing the project steps and estimating the time required to complete each step. Then, draw a network of relationships among the steps. Each step is numbered and that number is shown in a circle with the time it takes to complete the step shown on a line leading to the next circle.

Steps that must be completed in order are shown on one path to clarify the sequencing. Steps that can be underway simultaneously are shown on different paths.

A PERT diagram shows the relationship among various steps and is an easy way to calculate the critical path. The critical path identifies steps that must be completed to avoid delaying the project’s completion. The critical path is shown as a broken line. It’s helpful to color each step as it’s completed and marking the actual duration over its estimate.

Objective: Produce a book report by May 31

Action steps with time estimates:

  1. Write draft 2 day
  2. Proofread 1 day
  3. Design cover 1 day
  4. Revise draft 3 days
  5. Proofread 1 day
  6. Make corrections, finalize 2nd draft 1 day
  7. Find images/create illustrations 2 days
  8. Complete, print, e-mail 1 day

Weekly Plans

Spending Friday or part of the weekend developing a plan for the following week helps to set the tone for a productive week ahead. It should include what you want to accomplish by the end of the week and what you need to do to get you there.

A weekly worksheet can vary in complexity according to your needs. It can be referred to frequently and prioritized accordingly.

Here’s a sample:

Weekly planning worksheet

For the week of: November 2 – 6

Activities A/B/C Priority Est. time Assigned day
Review chapters 8 and 9 of American Government textbook B 45 minutes November 3
Create outline for book report A 1 hour November 2
Review chapter 3 of Algebra text B 30 minutes November 3
Complete CSS assignment A 1 hour 30 minutes November 6
Volunteer at animal shelter C 1 hour November 4
Band practice A 2 hours November 5

Daily Plans

Creating a daily plan at the beginning of the day is a good habit to create. You can record your activities in a simple list of “things to do today” or make a worksheet.

This helps to focus your attention on achieving your objectives in order of importance. You can work from high- to low-priority items and keep distractions away. If something unexpected arises, deal with it promptly and continue with your list.

After the day is over, review what has been accomplished and bring any other tasks to the next day if they have yet to be completed. The form is not important; a daily to-do list can be written or typed anywhere. It only matters that you follow it throughout the day.

Here’s a sample of the basic list:

Things to do today

  • Book flight
  • Review final chapter of English textbook
  • Do multiple choice prep-test
  • Review vocabulary for Chinese exam
  • Lunch with Sam
  • Make doctor’s appointment

Here’s a sample of a daily planning sheet:

Daily planning sheet

Date: October 15, 2015

Tasks to complete Appointments
Book flight

Review final chapter of English textbook

Do multiple choice prep-test

Review vocabulary for Chinese exam

7:00
8:00
Phone calls to make 9:00

Planning meeting with Andrea

Make doctor’s appointment 10:00
11:00
People to see 12:00

Lunch with Sam

Lunch with Sam 1:00
2:00

Weekly progress meeting with team

Just as different people have different preferred learning methods, a time management technique that works for your friend might not be the right fit for you. These eight time management techniques give you plenty of options and room to try out different methods until you find the one that you’re most comfortable and effective with.

Mastering time management, especially a routine technique you can fall back on during particular times of stress, will have benefits far beyond finals week. Time management is a great skill to have and will serve you well at work and home throughout life.

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