ENGL 500: Manage Your Time Well

There are four parts to this exercise:

  1. Set your priorities.
  2. List your tasks.
  3. Map your time onto the 24-hour time grid.
  4. Make a habit memo.

Before you start this exercise, read about The Four Quadrants.

Use the 24-hour Timebudget and Four Quadrants template to help you create your daily time budget.

1. Set Your Priorities

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your highest priority outcomes this term?  Be specific. Example: “I’ll write an ecocritical analysis of the use of animals in Telus ads.”
  • What do you need to do this week to achieve that outcome?  Be specific. Example: “I’ll find and read/watch all the Telus ads.”
  • What do you need to do today to facilitate what you need to do this week? Be specific. Example: Talk to the reference librarian about how to find printed ads in mazazines.

Pro-Tip: Be specific when establishing your priorities.  If your priority for the week is “Research seminar paper,” where will you start and how will you know when you can cross that item off your list?  A manageable priority might be “Use MLA International Bibliography to identify, download, and read the five most important sources for my seminar paper.”  Likewise, a term priority like “Do well in my graduate courses” needs to rethought in terms of achievable steps.  A reasonable priority might be “Apply archival theory to [Primary Source] in my term paper for English 503.”  This sort of goal helps you identify your own learning outcomes for the term and sets you up for personal success.

2. List Your Tasks

Make a list of everything else you have to do today (or this week, if you prefer). Your list might include:

  • Class sessions you need to attend
  • Research
  • Writing
  • Meetings with an adviser or instructor
  • Required reading
  • Tutorials you need to plan or lead
  • Required reading
  • Marking
  • Office hour
  • Research assistant duties

Next to each of the items you have listed, add a label indicating what you perceive to be its importance and urgency. Then put every item on your list into the following grid:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Q1 Q2
Not Important Q3 Q4

You have lots of things to do today, but make sure that the things you need to do today to achieve your big outcomes for the term go into the Important/Not Urgent quadrant … and get them done today!

Now write down everything you do each week in your personal life, applying the same Q1-Q4 designations (which will be different for each individual who makes such a list).  Your list might include:

  • Sleep
  • Work at paid employment
  • Spend time with partner
  • Take care of children or other dependants
  • Connect with your family and friends via social media, phone, visits, et cetera
  • Pursue hobbies
  • Exercise
  • Take care of health
  • Fulfil other commitments (religious/spiritual practice, volunteering)
  • Do chores (shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry)
  • Run errands
  • Take care of finances
  • Explore Victoria
  • Participate in cultural activities
  • Watch TV
  • Surf the web
  • Read/watch the news

Only you know which of the things on your list is a Q1 activity and which is a Q4.

Non-Academic Life

  • What non-academic activities and responsibilities are important to you?  How will you honour them this week?  When and for how long will you practice (undertake, take care of) them this week?
  • How will you take care of your body, your relationships, and your finances this week?

3. Map Your Time Onto the 24-Hour Time Grid

Complete the twenty-four hour grid or use any format/medium that works for you (spreadsheet, Google Calendar, a day planner, etc).  Block off times for all the activities you have listed on both your “graduate work” list and your “personal life” list.  Remember that no one gets more than 168 hours in each week!

There are many ways to work with the twenty-four hour grid.  Some people like to schedule their personal life first so that they can see clearly what is left for work.  Others like to schedule work first.  Some people like to schedule the fun things so that they know when the rewards will come; others like to schedule the harder tasks so that they know when they’ll get the work done.

The Q1-Q4 labels will be helpful as you prioritize your list into a schedule.  Many people find it helpful to schedule Q2 tasks first, planning to do them at their peak thinking time.

You might want to ask yourself the following questions about your natural schedule:

  • What is a reasonable time for me to start work each day?
  • At what time will I give myself permission to stop for the day?
  • When is my high-energy time? What activities will I do during my high-energy time?
  • When is my low-energy time? What activities will I do during my low-energy time?

 One possible strategy (see http://www.the5choices.com/learn-more/what-are-the-5-choices/#Act-on-the-Important):

  • First, fill in all of the Q1 items from your list, making reasonable estimates of how long these tasks will take.
  • In the slots left for the work time you have remaining, fill in items you labeled Q2.
  • In slots where you think you will have low energy or need a break, fill in Q3 items.
  • Cross off the Q4 items unless you have lots of extra time.

4. Write a Habit Memo

What habits, distractions, and activities make it hard for you to start your work, keep at your work, or return to your work?  What one thing can you do to lessen the impact of one of those things?

Describe a specific habit, distraction, activity, or person that makes it hard for you to start work, keep at your work, or return to your work. (Note that this obstacle might be individually motivated, like an inability to stop checking e-mail throughout the day, or it might be external, like your difficulty getting your roommate to understand that you need quiet to read.  It might also be psychological, like fear of failure or doubts in your own ability to complete the task.)  Now name one thing you can do to lessen the impact of one of these things. (Say, spending four hours a day with your internet connection turned off so that you can’t check e-mail or scheduling reading time in the library.) Make it a goal for the rest of the week to try to implement this one strategy.