Welcome to the semester from Hell. There is too much reading, too many commitments, deadlines left and right, and simply not enough time. Rewind to about three weeks ago, the semester was still fresh and I already found myself falling hundreds of pages behind in my classes. I was waking up at 5am every day and doing nothing but class, reading, lacrosse, or work. I was overwhelmed, under slept, highly stressed, and more or less frantic because I had no clue how to catch up. About the point where I had resolved to seriously consider giving polyphasic sleep a solid try, The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker, a nice little book assigned for my Leadership in Management class, entered my life.
The book is a guide full of helpful practices used by people who are effective in their leadership position. As I read, I found much of Drucker’s advice could be adapted to a college student. Here are some of his recommendations and my adaptations.
“Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control”
Drucker suggests you manage your time in three steps: record it, manage it, and consolidate it. Where you think your time goes and where it actually goes are different things. Before you can make your time more productive, see what you are currently doing with it. Record what you do, as you are doing it, for a few days. Then see how much of what you’re doing is necessary. You may be over doing it at Collins, or find yourself disgusted at the Facebook time you’re logging. Third, try to consolidate your discretionary time, nothing gets done if you only have 10 minutes here and there. Instead of finishing class at 10:50, going to lunch at 12, and then class at 2:45, try to make the largest possible solid chunks discretionary time. Go to lunch right after class, be done by 11:30 and then have 3 uninterrupted hours of time to knock out an essay or class reading.
Figure out what time of day is productive for you. Past 8 or 9pm, reading takes me twice as long and my writing is sub-par. However, between the hours of 6-11 am, I’m golden. My roommate on the other hand gets everything done between 9 pm and 2 am and when asked what she’d do if I tried to wake her up at 5 to do work she immediately says, “I’d kill you,”… and she would. Manage your activities so that you’re doing the most mentally taxing activities when you can be most effective at them, save things like laundry, tv, or cleaning for when you are tired.
“Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?’ rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools”
When evaluating your task list, instead of just seeing that you have 300 pages to read by tomorrow’s history class, figure out what you are supposed to do with those 300 pages. Are you supposed to know concepts that will all be gone over in class? Are you supposed to fully absorb the text in order to participate in a class discussion? Ask what the purpose of the assignment is and then proceed to prioritize. Know the difference between classes whose assignments are reading for the sake of discussion, paper depth in your own writing, concepts that you will be tested on, or simple busywork.
“Effective executives… force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know they have no choice but to do first things first–and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.”
Make a to-do list, and rewrite this list every time you finish something. Figure out what needs to be done now. Not what you would like to do now, or what would be easiest to get out of the way. When making your list, be sure to refer back to the expectations point. Know why you have to complete each task, not just that you have to do it. Do one thing at a time, give it your full attention, and re-prioritize constantly.
“Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. They know that this is, above all, a matter of system–of the right steps in the right sequence. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics”
Drucker advises companies to ask themselves a few questions to guide their decision-making process, the first being “What is your mission/purpose?” In allocating your time, it may be useful to ask yourself the same question. A CMC student can have many potential purposes. To get into a good medical or law school is a common CMC purpose. This student would make academics their main priority, always. A second purpose may be along the lines of getting the most out of a college experience, this mission could result in a decision to go to an Ath talk at the expense of a paper, or on an OTL backpacking trip to Joshua Tree instead of studying. A third potential purpose is to improve networking skills and make connections. In this case a campus job or even a Saturday party could be of tremendous value. Point being, when something has to give– because eventually something will– it is easier to make that decision when you know what you want out of being here.
If you have time (I envy you greatly), I would recommend this book. I think anyone could find Drucker’s advice pertinent to their own lives. This is not to say that Drucker will solve all your problems–I’m still hundreds of pages behind in some classes, and have yet to speak more than once in class all year– but at the very least it will make you reflect on how you approach your day to day life.