Some Thoughts on Time Management
If you control your time, you control your life. Time is a precious commodity; everyone gets an equal share but we use it very differently. Jewish student activists have to fit many time-consuming tasks into schedules that are also full of learning, socializing, and often doing part-time work. For this reason, good time management - or more appropriately self-management (as it is oneself that is actually managed) is critical for anybody involved in Jewish leadership at university.
STEP ONE: Set your priorities. List your major goals for the next few months. Rate each goal. Ask, "What are the most important things for me to do?" Make a list of major goals you consider really important to accomplish in each of your roles--at work or school, in relationships, in organizations, and, of course, in personal growth, over the next few months. Make sure that you have balance - it is no good working flat-out in your Union if you fail your degree.
STEP TWO: List what needs to be done this week in order to reach your goals, and also other stuff you need to do. Rate each activity. It is very beneficial to review your situation each week, giving a few minutes of serious thought to what actually needs to be done to achieve your goals. Examples: What school or work assignments are due and most important (see step 5)? What could I do that would most improve my Jewish knowledge? What tasks must be done to successfully achieve my major goals? Also include the activities that you have to do that won't necessarily help you reach your major goals - but remember that this stuff isn't as important (although you still might have to do it). Don't confuse goals (step 1) with activities. Getting into graduate school is a goal; activities leading to that goal are studying 4 to 6 hours every day, doing well in a math course every semester, and so on. You will surely list many more activities than can possibly be done, so again rank the importance of each activity as "top" "middle" and "low.
STEP THREE: Observe how you spend your time. It could be an eye-opening experience to simply record how you spend your 168 hours each week. Note how you waste time, spend time on low priority tasks, have trouble getting started, or tend to be inefficient. Also notice when you have the most energy for exercising or hard work, when you are most alert mentally, when you get tired or irritable, and what distracts you from high priority activities. This information may be useful in setting up a daily schedule so you will stay on task.
STEP FOUR: Make a master schedule of fixed activities for the week. A master schedule for the week tells you what time is "committed," i.e. time periods that you have already scheduled. It includes sleeping, dressing, eating, travel time, meetings or classes, housekeeping chores, time with loved ones, , and some leisure-relaxation-exercise time. This is your fixed schedule. It includes the things you must do. Your master schedule is pretty stable week after week. You need to write it down only once, then make occasional changes as needed. Doing this doesn't mean you have to do the same thing each week, rather it is a starting point for your planning.
STEP FIVE: Keep a running list of assignments--things you need to get done this week. You have to keep track of what needs to be done soon, e.g. get a report written, go to the grocery, make arrangements for going out Saturday night, etc. It will be helpful to note any due dates, the time required if it isn't obvious, and the importance of the task. Write down everything you have to do in one place and get into the habit of writing things into this place when you have new things to do.
Don't try to do a lot of little tasks first ("clear your desk") so you will be free to do important work later. It is important to avoid, whenever possible, doing low priority tasks, which can often be put off, perhaps forever. However, it is wise to include time in your schedule, say half an hour, for handling unexpected chores and another half an hour for "catching up." Don't feel guilty if you don't get everything done; you can do it tomorrow, if it's important. Make your daily schedule (To-Be-Done List) fairly specific, indicating when during your "free" time you will do certain tasks, such as when you will read an article, when you will make reservations for Saturday night and so on. Work on your more difficult or important tasks when you are most alert. Don't use your peak performance time for easy assignments or for socializing and playing.
STEP SEVEN: Follow your daily To-Be-Done List. Reward yourself. Learn to make your daily schedule realistic, which means you schedule what can and needs to be done and you actually do those things. You have to be flexible; new things will come up each day that require attention. But the basic point is simple: work on your highest priority activities during most of your "free" time each day.
Often planning to do difficult and large tasks (dissertation?) is easier than actually doing them. But don't waste time when confronted with a hard or large task. Recognize that putting off an inevitable chore just generates more stress and embarrassment.