October 10, 2013

Time Management: Harder Than Calculus for College Students?

College students have a harder time managing their time than solving complex calculus problems. How can parents help them improve?

It can be tough to make the transition from high school to college – even for the brightest students. The coursework may be harder and the teachers may be more demanding, but the student’s ability to learn the material is generally not the problem. The student’s ability to manage his time effectively… well, that’s a whole different story.

In a recent blog at The Chronicle, Robert Talbert of Grand Valley State University talks about one of the main issues he has encountered in his flipped calculus classroom. He admits he was surprised to find “…the biggest difficulty the students in the course have had so far has not been with mathematical content or even with the idea of flipped instruction – it’s with time and task management.

That’s a pretty powerful statement to make about calculus students. No matter what school you go to or what teaching method is used, Freshman Calc has a reputation of being a hardcore class. Haven’t we all heard the stories of students who had to change their majors because they just couldn’t get a firm grip on calculus? You certainly don’t see droves of freshmen rushing to choose calculus as a free elective.

So, could it really be true that time management is tougher to get a handle on than calculus?

To be fair, Talbert made this statement in reference to a particular teaching method he is using. Still, it’s a recurring theme you’ll hear echoed by professors of all types – and it’s not a new revelation either.

College students are infamous for pulling all-nighters, cramming for mid-terms, and waiting to start an assignment until the night before it’s due. But, more times than not, these activities lead to mediocre or failing grades. Plus, it’s tough to develop a true understanding for a subject when you’re always in “only focus on what’s due tomorrow” mode.

Instead of just warning your college-bound kids about the dangers of waiting to the last minute, there are a few things you can do to help them start improving their time management skills now, while they’re still in high school. Managing time effectively has more to do with developing good habits than anything else.

If your students start building those habits now, they’ll have a much easier time when they get to college.

Helping Students Develop Better Time and Task Management Skills

1. Pick up a copy of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. There are a ton of books on time management out there, but this is definitely one of the best. It’s very easy to read, and it has a lot of actionable tips you can start using right away.

2. Encourage them to start using a calendar or task management app to schedule homework and studying time for current high school classes. Instead of using simple to-do lists – or, worse yet, trying to keep all tasks and deadlines in their heads – show them how much more productive they can be if they schedule everything. (Of course, the real challenge is sticking to the schedule once it is created.)

3. Help them pick out a MOOC on an interesting topic and work out how much time they’ll spend on it each week. You may even want to take the course with them and schedule collaborative study time.

4. Sit down with them and plan a mock college weekly schedule. In addition to allotting time for going to class and studying, be sure to include other tasks such as doing laundry, exercising, and going shopping. Also, factor in work hours if your student plans to get a part-time job or take part in a work-study program. Don’t forget to include “free” time for relaxing and having fun!

5. Discuss how to modify a schedule based on personality and individual preferences. Some of us are natural morning people while others do their best work in the late evening. Take this into account when blocking out study hours and homework time.

Of course, in today’s world, there are tons of online apps and tools for managing tasks and time. Are there any that you would recommend for students? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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