time management and OT

Helping with time mangement

Time management is a problem for many university students – and occupational therapists can help! Check out this blog to see how.

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Problems with time management

Anyone who works in higher education with students already knows that time management can be a big problem.  Most members of the student success team deal with time management in some way. 

Occupational therapists can look at time management as it relates to academic performance (the occupation of education) and promotion of healthy habits, roles, and routines. 

Establishing good habits and routines can go a long way towards helping students have academic success and develop healthy adult behaviors. A previous blog post of mine discusses habits and routines and gives general suggestions for helping students establish habits and routines.  The most evidence-based strategies for establishing healthy habits and routines are context modifications and intention implementations:  making sure that students write specific goals geared towards behavior change and modify their environment for success.   

I have discussed habits and routines in terms of sleep, physical activity, leisure, nutrition, screen use, and substance use

Assessing time use and time management

If students are having difficulty organizing their time and self-identify “time management” or “overall organization” as concerns (which is what happened in a study I did with a group of undergrad students – check out the final published paper here) – you should first help them find out where they are wasting their time. 

Wasting time?

Time tracking is a great way to figure out if a student is wasting time in certain activities. It can be done with pen and paper, on a phone, or on a computer program or a combination of all three.  The OT can instruct students to track their time over a 3 day or 7 day period.  They should write down what they did and total time spent on the activity.  They do not need to worry about the details, just the amount of time spent in different activities during the day. 

Once the student figures out what they are doing, with whom, and when, the OT can help them make some decisions about where they can cut out wasted time.

Important occupations

Once you discover wasted time, it would be helpful to identity the things that are most important to that student – things they need and want to do on a daily/weekly basis. 

Occupational therapists can help students:

  • Make time management a priority – set reasonable, realistic goals related to time management.
    • For example, I will follow my daily calendar of activities over a 3 day period so that I feel prepared for my next psychology exam. 
  • Prioritize. Students need to learn how to prioritize their time. 
    • Usually it is work and education first, then fun and relaxation (but students should not give up fun and relaxation – they just need to make sure they get the important things done first!).
  • “Chunk” activities.
    • If a student has a big exam or project in one course, they should prioritize that and focus their academic energies on it while keeping up with the maintenance needs of their other courses – basically, the student should devote the most time to the priority area per day or week.
  • Stay organized (environmental modification). 
    • If students are organized, they are more likely to set and reach their goals.  Don’t forget the different contextual aspects of time management as it relates to academics – physical (where they study), virtual (how they use computers and reduce distraction), social (who they study with or not), etc.
  • How to use a calendar to keep track of important events and activities. Students can use time management apps or computer programs to keep track of activities and schedule important tasks (Google Calendar can be used to set-up due dates for items and alert you of events and activities.  Trello is a great app for creating “to do” lists and prioritizing activities).  Or, if a student wants to be more creative, they can use a bullet journal – which are great visual organizers for those who want a paper and pen system with some creativity.
  • Set time limits for certain tasks (like checking email, announcements in electronic systems, or how much time a student should study for one subject). 
    • The pomodoro technique is a great strategy – it provides time constraints with scheduled breaks, which can help some students maintain focus. 
  • Just say “no”! Students need to learn assertiveness techniques and say “no” to things that they do not want to do and are unnecessary for their academic success.  (Also see prioritizing – above).  Occupational therapists can work with students on assertiveness through problem-solving and role playing.

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