I opened my mailbox this morning to this “Moment of Happiness” sent by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project:
“One lives in the naive notion that later there will be more room than in the entire past.”
Sigh. Guilty as charged. The ever-growing self-help section of my personal library has several volumes disputing this fallacy. There’s Do It Now. And Overcoming Procrastination. And The Now Habit. And The Seven Habits of…..Well, you get the picture. I once owned a T-shirt emblazoned “MAÑANA DUCK,” featuring a waterfowl lounging in a hammock. It was a perfect depiction of my Inner Brat. Your brat may have a different name. Freud liked “id.” One of my running buddies said, “I just call mine the B______” (My mother won’t let me type that word.) Whatever we call him or her, many of us have a shadow self who sabotages the best-laid plans of our better angels.
The campus where I teach anatomy & physiology is located on a military base, and our terms are accelerated (compressed? squooshed?) into eight weeks to accommodate the very mobile population that we serve. Despite my warning that all the material in A&P “comes at ya fast,” and despite my students’ earnest intentions to keep up, the demon of time mismanagement conitnually threatens to claim victims. My own Inner Brat recognizes kindred spirits in students who believe that they can always catch up tomorrow. Since I have a few decades of practice in managing my own procrastination, I offer students a few strategies for managing theirs.
- Just Do It. Clearly not original, but remarkably effective. It’s so tempting to defer doing what needs to be done until after *insert nonessential chore* is completed or until the moment of motivation arrives. That moment never comes. Promise yourself that “I only have to do this for ten minutes.” Set the timer if need be; there’s one on that fancy phone. I’ve been using this bit of self-deception for the last eleven years to get myself to the gym, and I have yet to leave after ten minutes. Why do I still have to promise The Brat that she can leave? I just do.
- Shift work. I encourage my students to try a variation of the Pomodoro Technique. Set that handy timer that you used in the previous strategy for a predetermined interval of committed effort; then reward yourself with a few minutes of fun. The reward could be as simple as a brief stroll, reading a magazine article, or browsing the internet. I’ve been known to use household chores like unloading the dishwasher for my reward interval. (Yippee!) You can visit the Pomodoro website, which features nifty timers and strategies, by clicking here. Maybe this could be your first reward interval.
- Eat the Elephant. You’ve heard it: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So many of my students lead complicated, stressful lives. Deployed spouses, blended and extended families, job demands—I really don’t know how they manage as well as they do. We’ve made it a practice to create and share ways to collect the crumbs of time that fall from life’s frantic buffet of activities. Flashcards are portable and can fill the time waiting for kids’ practices to end or waiting in line at WalMart or the pharmacy.
They can also be put on a phone. One student whose morning toilette was apparently time-consuming plastered her bathroom mirror with sticky notes. Students listen to taped material as they drive, work out, or fold laundry. Students come to class early and stay late. I often arrive early in the morning to find a study group taking place outside my locked door. Once I introduce the strategy of finding crumbs of time, I enjoy hearing the strategies that my students share.
OK, now that I’ve offered my students some tips on managing their time, how do I help them to avoid procrastination? I build in a lot of accountability and time-sensitive work. Given my explanation of the the challenges they face, this might seem heartless, even draconian. But, as I remind them, goals are dreams with deadlines. And I am a deadline dispenser. I share with my class that in distance races, there are volunteers who run with signs marked with times, say, 4:15 for a marathon. If you want to finish in 4:15, you must stay with the runner who carries that sign, because they’ve made a commitment to cross the line on time. I carry a sign that says “8 WEEKS.” Here’s how I move my racers along:
- POD. Learning a bewildering array of military acronyms has been an interesting part of teaching on a military base. POD, for “plan of day,” has become one of my favorites. When we have a day with several planned activities or multiple important topics to cover, I post the POD on the board. I start with quitting time at the bottom of the board and work upwards, allotting time for each topic or activity. The big clock over my head makes it clear to me and the class that we need to keep moving to finish what we need to do. Once students realize that the in-class activities are a big help in mastering the material, they police themselves. Everyone wants to get a turn at all the stations.
- Frequent assessments. I administer 11 short quizzes and 4 longer exams during the term. Despite initial displeasure with this practice, student after student has thanked me for “making me keep up” by holding them accountable on a regular basis.
- Reading assignments. The online teaching platform that enhances my classes allows me to require completion of a short (less than 10 minutes) reading assignment before each new topic is introduced. This simple change has resulted in dramatically improved comprehension and discussion in class.
- Homework assignments. Students complete a longer (30 minutes by national norms) assignment after each topic or portion of a larger topic. The teaching platform allows me to enhance these assignments with videos and labs, and I can add my own items when I like.
- Required participation in class activities. I assign points every day for participation in lab, mock practical exams, and group learning activities. If students don’t attend, they don’t get the points. The great majority of my students have perfect or near-perfect attendance.
There are probably hundreds of ways to help ourselves and our students manage time well and avoid procrastination. How do you help make managing time an achievable challenge? I’d love to hear your strategies! Tomorrow I’ll share a tip for moving things along during group activities.
- Time Management For Students (rasmussen.edu)
- Organizational Tips For College Students (rasmussen.edu)
- Procrastination Challenges? You Can Beat Them and Find Time! (thetimefinder.com)
- Stop Procrastinating Now! Here’s How… (sonofasuperhero.com)
- 10 Strategies To Stop Procrastinating – Organization & time management (filemakerinfo.wordpress.com)