By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
I write and talk a lot about time management here on SchoolHabits. That’s because time management skills are one of the foundational school skills that students need in order to succeed in all the other important academic areas. For example, time management skills allow students to plan out study sessions, avoid procrastination, write papers without feeling stressed about time, and complete their homework at a healthy hour each day.
But although I’ve written a ton about time management over the years, there’s one area I haven’t covered. I’m going to call it a time management secret, although my goal with this post is to remove the secrecy.
Here’s the deal: Everything we say yes to comes with overhead. By overhead, I mean invisible time commitments and obligations that are not so obvious upfront.
It’s saying YES to activities without considering the invisible time commitments and overhead that leaves us overwhelmed, overworked, and out of time.
So what’s the time management secret?
We need to stop saying YES to all the activities without really thinking about the time involved – even if the activities look good on our transcripts, even if the clubs look good on our resumes, and even if the job looks good on our college applications.
Whenever we say yes to an activity, like an after-school club, we need to think beyond the obvious time commitment. We need to consider the following:
- Travel and transportation to and from the activity
- Time spent on the activity outside the meeting hours
- Time spent communicating and coordinating with members of the group or the leader
- Time spent thinking about and preparing for the activity
Every item in the list above consumes hours that, at first glance, seem invisible. But when we say YES to the activity, we are actually saying YES to all of the above invisible time commitments.
Should students sign up for activities?
It’s wonderful and even necessary to join clubs, sports and afterschool jobs. (Here’s why.) But we must do so only after considering the full scope of that activity’s overhead. If we are okay with the full scope, then go ahead and join the group. But if adding those invisible time commitments to your schedule stresses you out or does not fit into your schedule, then you probably should not join the group.
(If you’re already really overwhelmed with school, read this post with 5 tips to feel less overwhelmed as a student.)
To see if you can really manage to join another club, group or activity, map out your current schedule using this Google Calendar strategy and see if you really, truly, mathematically have the time.
An example of invisible overhead
I think this time management “secret” is best explained with an example.
The first image below is an example of what a student might imagine joining a weekly club looks like over the course of a month.
The second image is what that same weekly club looks like with all the overhead.
At first glance, it seems easy enough: just a simple one-hour meeting, once a week at the local YMCA. Right? Who doesn’t have time for that?! Hold up though … let’s look at the invisible overhead that comes with that ONE club. The image below shows the reality of what you’re saying yes to.
The key to effective time management is really not just about managing the clock. It’s really about managing the activities we choose to spend our time on, and fully understanding the scope of every commitment we sign up for.
A message for students with part-time jobs: Read these 15 tips for balancing school and a part-time job.