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Inquiry about my time management and planning skills

  1. Aug 6, 2015 #1
    I am a rising college junior with major in the mathematics and an aspiring mathematician in the theoretical computer science and analysis. I wrote this post because I have been suffering from a problem regarding to my time management and planning skills. I have been using the planner and calendar apps in my iPad to schedule a planned course of events for each day; before I go to bed, I constructed the a fairly detailed daily-planning on my planner app, which also incorporates the calendar dates (marking important events like a dinner appointment with my professors, interview, exam dates, etc.). I listed a sample of my daily planning, which is from this Monday.

    07:00 AM - 08:00 AM: Breakfast + Shower + reading a novel
    08:00 AM - 10:00 AM: Study the introductory analysis (Chapter 2: Topology)
    10:15 AM - 12:00 PM: Work on my undergraduate research (computational complexity theory)
    12:15 AM - 01:15 PM: Play drums, eat lunch
    01:30 PM - 03:00 PM: History class (Lecture)
    03:05 PM - 04:00 PM: Review history lecture notes
    04:15 PM - 05:15 PM: Weeekly meeting with my research adviser
    05:30 PM - 06:30 PM: Work on my undergraduate research
    06:30 PM - 07:10 PM: Dinner
    07:15 PM - 09:00 PM: Study the introductory analysis (Chp. 2)
    09:15 PM - 10:30 PM: Study the computation theory
    10:40 PM - 12:00 AM: Improve my C++ programming skill
    12:10 AM - 02:00 AM: Study the abstract linear algebra

    The problem with my daily planning schedule is not on the procrastination or tiredness: I absolutely despised the procrastination, and I also do not generally feel sleepy (and I do not like the sleeping). The problem is that allocated time periods for each event do not really meet up with the reality. For example, I could not even finish doing all problem sets on the sections of Chapter 2 for that Tuesday, studying the analysis. In the end, I realized that the allocated time amounts are almost always deviate from the reality. Furthermore, there sometimes are unexpected turn of events, such as sudden appointment with my friends to eat lunch together. For example, I suddenly got an idea, one that can be used to tackle one of the problems relating to my undergraduate research, during studying the linear algebra, which led me to stop studying the linear algebra and get back to my undergraduate research to see if that idea can be utilized. In the end, I could not study the linear algebra as I originally planned to do so

    Could you help me out by sharing your ideas and advice on my schedule, and sharing your methods of time management and scheduling for a day? How can a set up a daily planner that incoporates the classes, undergraduate research, self-studying, and meetings?

    Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to hear back from you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2015 #2


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    There's just way too much stuff. This seems like a good way to get burned out. You need more sleep(even though you don't feel tired during the day), you should be exercising, and you should schedule more leisure time away from your studies.

    It would probably make you more productive at the tasks you don't cut out/shorten.
  4. Aug 7, 2015 #3
    Firstly, make sure you get 8 hours of solid sleep. Not being rested enough will offset all that hard work. Studies show that cognitive ability is severely hampered in people who sleep 6 or less hours per night for extended periods.

    Secondly, try thinking in terms of energy management, rather than time management. There is quite a lot of time in one day, and most of the time, the limiting factor is energy. This means you should do the most important things in the morning, when you have the most energy. Also consider that frequency might trump volume, or as I like to say; "trust in accumulation."

    Be flexible by practicing auto-adjustment. If you're having a hard day, get some solid work in, and then get some sleep. Make up for it by doing extra work on good days. Applying the "20 minute-rule" here can work well. If you can not focus for 20 minutes on something meaningful, go to bed.

    Basically you need to cut yourself some more slack. Spending 55 minutes reviewing notes, and only 30 minutes on lunch and dinner will most likely be counter productive in the long run.

    Good luck! :-)
  5. Aug 7, 2015 #4
    I generally use a system which classify my activities according to importance. The importance will depend on the deadline, difficulty as well as the intrigue that the activity has. Then just move through the list and update it when you think it is necessary .
  6. Aug 7, 2015 #5


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    That seems like a very regimented day from my point of view.

    The problems you're experiencing likely do not stem from a lack of planning, but from an inability to estimate the time needed to devote to a given set of tasks. I don't mean that as fault of yours either. All tasks have an uncertainty in the time that it takes to complete them. This is particularly true in STEM fields where a large portion of the tasks involve problem solving.

    And you have to couple that with the issue that you brought up of the fact that it's very difficult to control one's attention like that. When you're doing research, and you have an idea, sometimes it's important to drop what you're doing and work on it.

    On top of that there are all the incidental occurances in life you have to deal with. What happens if, someone really hot asks you out for lunch? (Hey, it could happen.) What if your research advisor needs you to run a simulation that will take you a few hours to figure out, but he needs it the next day and it will likely end up with your name on the paper?

    To deal with these I like the ideas that have been suggested above.

    Keep track of the things you need to do and be aware of both their urgency/deadlines and relative importance. Avoid spending time on things that are unimportant. Try as much as possible to work on important things before they become urgent. Some things you have to schedule in: lectures, meetings, etc. But when you have a free morning, look at your task list and choose something to work on based on its importance and urgency and for those tasks that are on par with each other, go with what you feel like doing.

    Look up SMART goal setting (SMART is an acronym). A goal such as "improve my C++ programming skill" is very ambiguous with no specific tasks, no metric by which to demark improvement, and no completion point.

    And get a proper amount of sleep.
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