By John M. Caviness
Time management in college is incredibly challenging, and with good reason: time can often be your most sacred resource. And while you almost always have more to do than can ever get done, one smart way to conquer your ever-growing to-do list is to multitask (no, not asking someone to write your essay for you!). Unfortunately, trying to do multiple things at once can often backfire. If you're going to aim to seriously, intentionally multitask during your time in school, make sure you do it smartly:
Let Machines Do Your Work for You
If you're in your room studying and also need to get some laundry done, for example, incorporate both into a pre-scheduled block of time. The key here is "pre scheduled" — set aside 3 hours, for example, to really make some progress on a paper or your reading while also getting 2 or 3 loads of laundry done. Set up a schedule so that you read/write for 45 minutes, cycle the laundry, read/write for 45 minutes, cycle the laundry, etc. And then: stick to your schedule. No Instagram breaks, no chatting for 20 minutes in the hall ... your multitasking needs to stay focused on the two tasks at hand — and that's it.
Exercise While Doing Something Academic
If you need to get your brain and rear in gear, try to get them engaged at the same time. Listen to a podcast while you go for a run. Watch a short film or lecture while on the stationary bike. Go for a walk while thinking through your thesis for an upcoming paper assignment. Play tennis with a friend while asking each other exam questions for your O-Chem midterm. When you're done, you'll feel fabulous — and accomplished.
Combine the Social Scene with Your Coursework
You're undoubtedly not the only person who has a ton of work to do. Grab some friends — onnes with whom you know you can study well — and set aside a block of time where everyone keeps everyone else on track. For example, meet up Tuesday at 4:00. Everyone sets up laptops, etc., in someone's room, a common area, a coffee shop, or even a reserved room at the library. Agree not to interrupt and to keep each other on task for, say, 90 minutes. At 5:30, everyone breaks for a fun dinner together (pizza delivery? campus dining hall?), and then gets back to work — as a group — for another 90 minutes. You'll have a fun night hanging with friends while also getting 3 hours of homework out of the way.
Make a List of 5-Minutes-or-Fewer Tasks You Need to Get Done
Need to call and refill your prescriptions? Schedule a haircut? Call your supervisor and say you can't make it on Friday? Request copies of your transcripts? Sometimes, the tasks that don't take very long end up consuming a large portion of your thoughts. Consequently, write everything down that can get done in under 5 minutes. Then, bust that list out whenever you have some free time. Did you arrive to class a few minutes early? Great! Call the pharmacy. Do you need to take a quick break from the language lab? Awesome! Go for a quick walk around the building and call the nearby hair salon. As you find free minutes here and there, use them to be productive. Your multitasking will end up drastically reducing your to-do list without seeming to cost you any extra time.
Delegate and Cooperate
What kinds of assignments or other tasks could be better done together? Can you form a study group and have each member read, break down, and then explain a particular chapter for an upcoming exam? That counts as multitasking. As you're studying for one topic, your study group colleagues are preparing materials for you on the additional chapters. Consider delegating when you can as well. If, for example, you aren't good at proofreading but you're fantastic at checking computer programs, see if you can deal in trade with a friend. He checks your paper while you check his comp sci homework. Your essay is being proofed, while you’re also helping someone else out. It's a multitasking win-win for everyone.