I was talking to some new students and realized something.  One of the reasons we fail to integrate our school work into our lives is because we really don’t have an idea of how long things are going to take in the first place!

Each of us has a variety of obligations.  Most of us have full time jobs that demand more than 40 hours per week.  Most have spouses, many have kids, and often other family members who demand our attention and energy.  On top of that, most of us have other activities; church, charitable organizations, other hobbies.  All the things that make a life rich and full.

I can’t tell you how to specifically organize your life, but I can tell you how I’ve organized mine in order to tackle the varied obligations I have. I started by spending a week writing down start and stop times for everything I did.  Much like a food journal, it was a pain in the butt.  It looked something like this:

  • 7:00am – alarm goes off
  • 7:15am – dog sticks wet nose in face…time to ACTUALLY get up
  • 7:30am – finish playing with dog and go brush my teeth
  • 7:35am – into the shower
  • 7:50am – stand in the closet trying to figure out what to wear
  • 8:00am – throw a bagel into the toaster, feed the dogs
  • 8:20am – into the car, drive to work
  • 9:00am – get to work
  • 1:00pm – lunch at desk
  • 5:30pm – tell myself to get up and go to the gym on the way home
  • 6:00pm – leave office.  No really.
  • 6:30pm – actually leave the office
  • 7:00pm – home, start dinner
  • 7:30pm – eat dinner with husband
  • 8:00pm – feed dogs, do dishes
  • 8:30pm – school work – reading, writing, whatever I need to get done that day
  • 10:00pm – watch an hour of tv
  • 11:00pm – tell myself to get up, but actually watch the first half of the Daily Show
  • 11:15pm – get up, organize stuff for tomorrow morning, play with dogs
  • 11:45pm – brush teeth
  • 12:00am – go to bed

Your day probably looks nothing at all like this.  For example, I stay at work too late, so I never get to the gym anymore.  If I actually left when I wanted to I could get in a 45 minute workout on the way home (a goal currently).  But I get absorbed by my work and don’t do it.  Of course, when I got home I’d need to take a shower, and I’m not quite sure where that half hour (shower, change, deal with hair, etc) is coming from.

The point is that doing this for a few days can help you get a handle around how long things REALLY take.  One of the biggest errors we all make in time management is underestimating how long things will actually take to do.  I mean heck, a shower should only take 10 minutes, another 5 to throw on clothes and I should be done, right?  But it never works out that way.

Once you have a clear idea of HOW you spend your time now, you can decide whether you want to trim some of the activities out (like overstaying at work instead of going to the gym) and how long things really take.  Then you can set up a plan to do your school work based on a realistic estimate.  That is how I know I can take about an hour and a half per day during the week to work on my school work.  More isn’t going to happen, but less will if I don’t explicitly plan for the time.

Maybe you have kids and need to plan to do your homework between 10 and 11pm after they’ve gone to bed.  Maybe you do shift work and need to split up sleeping?  Whatever your life has thrown you, you won’t get your work done if you don’t plan the time.  But it doesn’t have to be a LOT of time.  A little bit every day is all it takes to make amazing amounts of progress.

One other thing about this approach.  Things change.  Your schedule changes, your responsibilities change, etc.  Plan to re-visit your schedule regularly in order to fix things that aren’t working.  For example, when I teach my Mondays and Wednesday look very different from this schedule.  I leave work at 4:30, drive to campus, teach until 8, drive home, eat a light dinner and collapse on the sofa until bed time.  I have no energy to do school work those two nights a week.  And that’s OK.  There is nothing wrong with planning in some downtime.  As long as you plan in some up-time as well.