Finding Time

Distractions like cell phones can consume our time.

Photo Credit: Andrew Bret Wallis

Distractions like cell phones can consume our time.

Quinn White, Reporter

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Whether it’s that looming project or faraway exam, procrastination haunts the high school environment. Some students see it as a bad habit, while others prize it as an extraordinary time management strategy. Teachers, by contrast, might see it a bit differently.

Although we often cast off the skill of time management as an inherent strength or weakness, it has immense power, impacting both the quality of our work as well as the very quality of our lives. When time is scarce and expectations are high, effectively using this resource enables us to enjoy more freedom and conjure up better ideas.

On one end of the spectrum, there’s pre-crastination, characterized by a drive to finish the task as soon as possible. But although it may have an allure to those that struggle with putting things off, it’s actually not the ideal way to manage time. A study by PhD student Jihae Shin showed that people generated more creative ideas when they had to put off the task of brainstorming for a set period before beginning. This period of incubation can stimulate divergent thinking, as our initial ideas tend to be the most conventional. We must take this research with a grain of salt due to the fact the study hasn’t been published, its results only discussed, but its conclusions seem logical.

Before chronic procrastinators get overly excited, however, there’s a catch. Severe procrastination – waiting to the very last minute to perform the task – reduces creativity. According to Shin’s study, the time constraint forces one to go with earlier, less unique ideas in hopes of accomplishing the the deed quickly enough. That means there’s a sweet spot for time management, allowing some time to let novel ideas take root, but not leaving the task off to an excessive extent.

Aside from timing, there are other ways to maximize our use of this resource. Making checklists, for example, is an easy habit to adopt, yet has immense rewards in boosting productivity. These simple lists provide a sense of purpose and subsequent sense of accomplishment as items are crossed off. Beyond stimulating motivation, they reduce time wasted trying to sort through the complexity of all the tasks that must be done.

Concentration is another factor to consider. Devoting ourselves completely to the task at hand, removing distractions, is crucial to actually get things done. Putting the phone in the other room and directing all attention to the current endeavor is challenging, but it’s critical for depth of thought as well as efficiency. Bursts of full effort rewarded by brief breaks tends to be more fruitful than extended periods of mid to low effort.

Just beginning that impending assignment may be the most challenging part, but once we do so, the flow of ideas can spark greater motivation to finish the task. Senior Allison Gee notes that upon being assigned a large project, “Usually I like to start the preliminary steps such as finding research, or making an outline right when I am assigned the project. Then over the next few weeks it isn’t as overwhelming because I have started it, and the main goal switches from coming up with a plan to executing one”.

Simply taking the initiative to get those early steps done can alleviate the stress of a major assignment, and most definitely improves its ultimate quality. As Gee mentioned, “Having a plan to set aside different amounts of time for certain projects has gifted me with the opportunity to continually do my best work”.

Although it may seem counter intuitive, sleep is also a critical part of the productivity equation. Beyond the other health consequences of sleep deprivation, it has also been found to decrease individual productivity, as a paper by Marshall University reports. Gee highlights the importance of this balance as she says, “ Incorporating a social life, exercise, personal time, and a healthy amount of sleep into a busy schedule are all crucial aspects of allowing yourself to excel when working on school projects/homework. Having the chance to be rejuvenated by other activities helps me to fully apply myself to homework and projects.”

Combining these techniques, say, putting your phone out of reach and using the extra time to get more rest, can start a positive cycle of time management. The reality is that when we are deliberate in the way we work, we can have more time for other meaningful activities. Often it’s more about working intelligently than just working more.