Friday, January 12, 2007

Time Management? What's That?

As promised, here is my sagely advice on managing your time. Step one; be accountable for your actions. Learning to manage your time can be difficult but improving your technique will be impossible if you make excuses.

I have taken a variety of course loads over the years ranging from 14 hours to 19. It is quite manageable. Considering that most dental school D1s are in class from 8-5 M-F, you may as well not complain having a cushy, fragmented schedule. Enjoy it while you can.

It is all about prioritization and memory. If you can’t memorize important due dates, other obligations, than you best go buy a calendar or other form of planner. I would usually just write down my assignments in the same book I take notes in for each class. I have a friend that would write everything on little post-it notes, so figure out what works.

Most courses are either M-W-F or T-TH. So you very rarely are required to do homework the same day you had the class. This is the first big mistake students make. If you are assigned 30 pages of reading on Monday that isn’t due until Friday, divide the work logically. You can read about 8 pages a day and be done on time. Reading 8 pages takes about 10-15 minutes for the average reader, doesn’t seem so daunting does it.

This same example applies to EVERYTHING. If your Tuesdays are packed, allocate more time on Monday or Wednesday to make up. Essentially you should do a little work every day. If there is no assignment, just read the chapter, go over notes, and review worksheets. The more you do now, the less you will need to do come test time.

I have NEVER pulled an all-nighter in college. Unless you are working full-time and raising a family, you should never have to either. Most classes give you a syllabus that specifies exam dates. Mark these down somewhere and put it where you will see it. I generally start focused study about a week in advance.

Another key point is that studying is all about quality, not quantity. I generally don’t work with a subject for more than 50 minutes before my mind just starts to wander. So take breaks for food, chat with the roommates, call the significant other, play a game, whatever. Just don’t let the break go on for more than 10-15 minutes.

Most science courses require a good deal of memorization, so make flash cards, find a study-partner, quiz one another. Another flaw however is that some students strictly memorize and forget. If you want to retain anything, try to associate each item with a function or with a Grande scheme.

Perhaps the biggest slayer of students is the dreaded RESEARCH PAPER. Science papers are the biggest pain in the ass to learn. You essentially have to write in a dry, robotic fashion, with meticulous detail and a rigid and unmoving structure (abstract, intro, material, ect). I just hated them. Most profs will tear you apart too if you even have so much as a typo in the literature cited section. Solution? Start working on these horrors the day you get them. I don’t care if you have a month, get it done. Your idea of the final version most likely sucks. Most classes have TAs or tutors that are paid to read these things (oh how I pity them), so take advantage of that. You will know it is getting good when you can’t read through it in one sitting based on boredom alone, good work! Get the format down early so that you know how when you actually do your own research.

Delayed gratification is a concept you must embrace. You will enjoy watching a movie with your lady-friend (or man depending on your gender and/or orientation..look how PC I am!) so much more if don’t have a shit load of school work left to do. The beer on Friday night will taste much sweeter if that term paper due on Monday only needs a few revisions. You get my point.

One last rant about weekends. My general rule is that Friday and Saturday evenings should be free to do whatever you want – preferably not study. Unless you are really behind or studying for the dreaded DAT, there really is no reason not to get out. Saturday morning/afternoon is a great time to get some stuff done. The more you do Saturday morning, the less you have to do Sunday night. But now I’m just repeating myself.

Please do not take this post as a literal cook-book. Every individual is unique; I am just throwing out things that worked for me and many of my friends. I also did not have my own management tacked down until probably midway through my sophomore year, so don’t freak out if you are overwhelmed as a freshmen, it is natural.

Keys to success:

1 – Do a little bit of school work everyday, even if there is no actual assignment, there is always something to be done (review notes).

2- Embrace the concept of delayed gratification

3 –Find someone to study with but be productive

4- Don’t memorize and forget, associate everything with a function and know why

5- Take Friday and Saturday NIGHTS off (notice the emphasis on nights)

6- Be accountable for your actions. If you procrastinate, blame yourself and try harder next time.