Time is often one of the most precious commodities a college student has during their years in school. While funds and sleep may be in short supply, many -- if not most -- college students are also nearly always short on time. During college finals, having good time management skills becomes even more important. But just what steps can you take to make sure you're managing your time well during the chaos of finals week?
Step One: Get some sleep. When things get rough, sleep often gets cut out of your schedule. That paper and lab report have to be done by tomorrow morning, so… no sleep tonight, right? Wrong. Not getting enough sleep in college can actually cost you more time in the long run. Your brain will run slower, you'll be more likely to get sick, you'll be less able to handle stress, and -- oh yeah -- you'll be super tired all the time. So even if it seems counter-intuitive, invest some time in getting some quality zzzz's. There's always a few ways to get a little more sleep in school, no matter how hectic your schedule might seem.
Step Two: Prioritize often. Keep a running list -- in your head, on your laptop, on your phone, in the cloud -- of the major projects and tasks that you're managing during finals week. Adjust it as often as necessary and refer to it when you're feeling stressed about all the things you have to do. If you feel overwhelmed, just focus on the top 1 or 2 items. You can only do so many things at once, so focusing on the most important can help you feel like you're accomplishing something instead of worrying about everything else you should be doing. Additionally, one of the best ways to manage your time is to avoid procrastinating. If you have a final paper due Tuesday, schedule time into work on it over the weekend instead of planning to be up all night Monday night cramming to get it done. Planning to procrastinate isn't time management; it's just plain silly and, ironically, a big waste of time.
Step Three: Leave extra time, just in case. As hard and as much as you might try to plan every detail of your college life, sometimes things just happen. You get sick; your laptop crashes; your roommate loses your keys; your car breaks down. Leave as much time as you can each day during finals week for flex time. That way, you won't have to stress when the inevitable happens, since you'll know you already have a little time to deal with the unexpected. And if nothing happens and you find yourself with some free time, you can reprioritize and refocus as needed.
Step Four: Schedule time to relax. Finals can be incredibly, surprisingly stressful, and you may not realize just how much it's taking a toll on you until it's over. The mental stress, workload, lack of sleep, and importance of everything you have to do can sometimes feel overwhelming. Fortunately, one of the best things you can do to clear your mind is to just let it relax. Scheduling some down time can actually save you time since you'll be mentally recharged and more efficient afterward. Take 20 minutes to read a gossip magazine in the campus coffee shop; get some exercise while listening to music instead of trying to read; go play a pick-up game with some friends. Let your brain take a break so it can go back to being a workhorse instead of just an exhausted lump of mush.
Step Five: Don't depend on quick fixes. Caffeine, energy drinks and other stimulants can be tempting to use when you can feel that you're burned out. Unfortunately, short-term fixes can end up costing you more time than they save you, which can be especially dangerous during finals week. Instead of slamming an energy shot, take the few extra minutes it takes to eat some protein and veggies. It'll taste better, you'll feel better, and you won't find yourself in a jam in a little while. And while coffee can be a great pick-me-up in the morning or afternoon, it shouldn't be your main food group during finals week.
Step Six: Ask for help when you need it. Asking for help is pretty much par for the course during a college student's life. It's a rare student who can make it through four (or more) years of college-level work without needing a little help now and then. Consequently, don't be afraid to ask for some assistance when you need it -- especially if it's during a time as critical as finals week. There are lots of places to ask for help and many of them have extra resources to deal with the increased need for assistance during the end of a semester.
Step Seven: Avoid unproductive time wasters. Can spending a few minutes on YouTube be a good break? Definitely. But spending two hours there can be a major problem when you're in the middle of finals. Your brain may need a break, but just remember to be smart about how you're using your time. If you really want to do something mindless, use your time wisely and try to multitask when and if you can. If YouTube is calling your name, for example, do your laundry at the same time so you can feel (and actually be!) productive when you get back to your more important tasks.