Upon re-reading the comments from my fall semester students on their success coach surveys (for a refresher, go to last week’s blog link to The Results are In!) , I realized that there was one comment which came up time and again. Many of my students, regardless of year, mentioned two particular “boulders in the road” that working with a success coach helped them to overcome: time management and study skills.
Study skills can seem like a no-brainer to most post-collegiate adults (though we will get into the complexities of this issue at a future date), I think we can all agree that time management is a skill not easily mastered by even the most conscientious of us. Over the course of the last four decades, I’ve been a student, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a working mom and graduate student, and a full-time teacher and success coach…and I’m still trying to master the art of time management! But, I can certainly testify to the fact that it’s a lot easier than it used to be because I’ve had…wait for it…practice! It takes time and experience to learn a skill like time management, and many first-time college students have had neither.
I always find it useful to remember that, upon entering college, most freshmen are not very familiar with managing their own time. Up to this point, much of their time has been managed by a confluence of parents, teachers, and coaches. Hours spent in high school are scheduled down to the minute, and an adult of some kind is almost always in charge of knowing where a student is assigned to be at all times. After school, there are practices and extra curricular activities; on the weekends, there are often family obligations and curfews. Then, a few short months after graduating from high school, students find themselves in college, entirely responsible for managing their own time and looking at a schedule that may involve only three or four hours of actual, scheduled class-time a day.
While some students can get lost in a surfeit of what appear to be free hours, others find themselves trying to fit what can seem like 25 hrs. worth of activity into 24 hr. days. Athletes, especially, can struggle because of the near full-time-job-like obligations imposed by some athletic programs. Many athletes juggle classwork and academic requirements with weightlifting sessions, early morning workouts, practices, and games – some of which may involve overnight stays or long drives to and from an away game. Thus, my athletes and I almost always have to have discussion about how to turn in assignments early or request a make-up test date prior (if possible) to a scheduled exam.
In addition, the management of coursework is often vastly different in college than in high school. Some high school teachers assign long-term projects or research papers, but more often work is done on a daily or weekly basis. In college, on the other hand, a student may enroll in a class in which there are two assignments for the entire semester, and the first of those two may be due a month or more from the start of class. As someone who can remember thinking that starting a paper at 8pm on a Sunday night seemed perfectly reasonable because it wasn’t due until 9am Monday morning (I’ll just pull an all-nighter! No big deal except…I’m only four pages in and I’m getting pretty sleepy…), I understand the learning curve. It takes time and experience to learn that writing a good ten or twenty-page paper, (and the sad truth is that some high school graduates have never been asked to write more than two pages at a time), takes more than eleven, coffee-saturated hours. It takes time to understand that starting a months-long project right away by breaking it into small, manageable pieces can save you an enormous amount of stress down the road.
And sometimes, it takes a success coach.
So how do I help my students develop this crucial skill? Here are three easy tips:
1. BECOME BFFs WITH YOUR PLANNER
I teach my students how to use and REALLY use planners, calendars, and whiteboards above their desks. You’d be surprised how many students have never made a weekly plan, and whether they put it all into their phones or copy it down on paper, the experience of laying out tasks both big and small in a way that enables a student to constantly keep track of their progress can make an enormous difference.
2. KNOW YOUR SYLLABUS!
Like…really really know your syllabus! You’d think students would refer to their syllabi more, but many don’t. And since so much information is now online, some live by the mantra- “I’ll just check the site for that class when I need the information.” And while that’s a great way to find out about a exam the night before it is scheduled to take place, leading to a panicked cram session and cries of, “noooooooo! why didn’t I look at the syllabus sooooooooner?!”- it’s not a great way to plan your semester. So during our first or second meeting, my students and I always scrutinize the syllabi for each of their classes like a bootcamp drill sergeant inspecting barracks. We don’t miss an un-tucked bed sheet or even a speck of dust in the latrine, and it makes a difference.
3. USE “SPONGE MINUTES” TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
We all experience at least a few hours’ worth of “sponge minutes” every day. We stand in line. We arrive 10 minutes early to something that ends up starting 10 minutes late. In essence, “sponge minutes” are those minutes we could squeeze a little more out of if only we were prepared for them. I encourage my students to bring work with them everywhere. If they end up waiting in line in the dining hall for 7 minutes, that’s 7 minutes they can go over notes from the class they haven’t had in a couple of days. If they know it only takes them 10 minutes to get to their next class despite having 30 to do so, that’s 20 minutes more to brainstorm possible topics for a looming research paper.
Sometimes, I get students for whom time management is the primary boulder in the road. These are students who, with just a little steering, a little push, and a few good ideas about when and how to start that term paper, are able to take the ball and start running at full speed.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.