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Time Management and Organization

Time management can take on a mythical quality for students. It can feel like there is never enough time. As a distance learner, you may also be juggling coursework along with a job, a family or other major commitments. You might find it tempting to put off readings, which can snowball into putting off assignments, and before you know it, the final exam or end of the course is approaching and you're not prepared. This scenario may lead to disappointment or course failure. Developing some strategies at the outset of your studies will help you stay on track.

Get Organized

Time can seem to evaporate, so make the most of what you have. Use all of the tools and resources at your disposal. Before you start the course, create a schedule. This will pay off later (even if you don't manage to stick to your schedule all the time). You might want to start with your Blackboard calendar - it's there, so take advantage of it, especially if you don't already use other tools to manage your time commitments.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Plan out your course term
    Use your calendar to plan your coursework and assignments within the time parameters of the course. (Your Course Manual may contain a suggested schedule.) Deadlines for assignments and exams will either be listed in the Course Manual or posted by your Open Learning Faculty Member in Blackboard. Enter the dates of assignments, exams, projects, presentations and any other important academic dates. There are lots of options in the Blackboard Calendar tool to help you get organized and remind you of important items as they come up.

  • Organize your week in detail
    Use your calendar to get specific. Map out your weekly tasks and use the week or day view to keep yourself on track.

  • Work hard, play hard, sleep hard
    Plan activities according to your own rhythm. Many people find it easier to concentrate at certain times of the day; take advantage of this by setting aside these times for your coursework.

  • Login regularly
    You can't keep up with a course that you don't log-in to. Be sure to give your coursework the time it deserves. Use reminders on your calendar or similar system to remind you when you are "in class."

  • Every little bit helps
    Maximize your time by studying whenever and wherever you can. Even five minutes of reading or studying is better than none.

  • Quality AND quantity
    Use the tips on defeating procrastination below to make the best use of time.

Avoid Wasting Time Online

Most of us have experienced this: we sit down to get a bit of work done and stand up four hours later with little to show for it. What follows are some ways to make your time at the computer more efficient. You might be able to implement all or some of them, but probably not all of them at once.

Keep these lists somewhere handy and choose a few items to try, or use the list as a reminder to work on changing some of your entrenched habits.

Do This Now

Implement these tips once and you may save a lot of time in the future:

  • Use RSS feeds for important content. Set up RSS feeds on your homepage so that you don't spend time trawling random sites. If you don't know what an RSS feed is, find out in the Online Tools section of this orientation.
  • Use social bookmarking to avoid continually searching for items you have already read.
  • Customize your web browser so that it is intuitive to use. Many browsers now have add-ons to make life easier.
  • Hide distracting applications. Don't make a desktop shortcut to games or your favourite social networking site.
  • Organize your online work. Use notebooking tools like Microsoft OneNote , Zoho Note Book or Notefish .
  • Take time to figure out how your software works: read the help files or look through some forums. There are bound to be tips that will help you get things done faster.
  • Increase your typing speed. There are hundreds of free applications online that train you to type faster. Don't let how fast you type dictate how fast you work!

Do This Every Time

There are some things you can do every time you sit down at your computer and some habits you can adopt that will pay off every day:

  • Clean your desktop. Spend five minutes a day organizing your computer and you won't spend hours looking for things. The more cluttered your desktop and folders are, the slower you (and your computer) will be.
  • Don't multitask. Make a list. Do the first thing on the list. Don't do anything else. If what you are doing takes more than 45 minutes, take a break and do something else for 12 to 15 minutes (off the computer) before returning to the task. Cross that task off. Do the next thing on your list. Rinse, repeat. Working like this will make you a lot more efficient than doing little bits of things all together.
  • Log out of Messenger (or whichever instant messaging system you may use), especially if you love Messenger. Yes, it's hard, but even if you don't think it takes a lot of your time, switching between your work and messaging is a huge time-wasting distraction.
  • Monitor your time on the Internet. Does "just five minutes on Facebook" become several hours? The simple solution is to set a timer. Give yourself a Facebook fiver and when those five minutes are over get back to work. Online timers like Rescue Time logs what you do and has a goal-setting option. There are lots of others. Look for "online timers" using your search engine.
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts. Using the mouse is slower than you might think. For example, knowing that "Ctrl +S" equals "instant save" can be invaluable. There are many shortcuts that make working on a computer easier and faster.
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