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College Success Concise

2.5 Enhanced Strategies for Time and Task Management

College Success Concise2.5 Enhanced Strategies for Time and Task Management

Estimated completion time: 18 minutes.

Questions to Consider:

  • What strategy helps me prioritize my top tasks?
  • How do I make the best use of my time when prioritizing?
  • How do I make sure I tackle unpleasant tasks instead of putting them off?
  • What’s the best way to plan for long-term tasks?
  • How do I find time in a busy schedule?

Over the years, people have developed a number of different strategies to manage time and tasks. Some of the strategies have proven to be effective and helpful, while others have been deemed not as useful.

The good news is that the approaches that do not work very well or do not really help in managing time do not get passed along very often. But others, those which people find of value, do. What follows here are three unique strategies that have become staples of time management. While not everyone will find that all three work for them in every situation, enough people have found them beneficial to pass them along with high recommendations.

Daily Top Three

The idea behind the daily top three approach is that you determine which three things are the most important to finish that day, and these become the tasks that you complete. It is a very simple technique that is effective because each day you are finishing tasks and removing them from your list. Even if you took one day off a week and completed no tasks on that particular day, a daily top three strategy would have you finishing 18 tasks in the course of a single week. That is a good amount of things crossed off your list.

Analysis Question

Analysis: Think about what would be your top three tasks for today? What would you have on the list tomorrow?

Pomodoro Technique

A Pomodoro kitchen timer, resembling a tomato with a scale marked on its body.
Figure 2.10 The Pomodoro Technique is named after a type of kitchen timer, but you can use any clock or countdown timer. (Marco Verch /Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo. The basic concept is to use a timer to set work intervals that are followed by a short break. The intervals are usually about 25 minutes long and are called pomodoros, which comes from the Italian word for tomato because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep track of the intervals.

In the original technique there are six steps:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the timer to the desired interval.
  3. Work on the task.
  4. When the timer goes off, put a check mark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four check marks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to Step 1 or 2 (whichever is appropriate).
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your check mark count to zero, and then go to Step 1 or 2.
The Pomodoro technique is illustrated.
Figure 2.11 The Pomodoro Technique contains five defined steps.

There are several reasons this technique is deemed effective for many people. One is the benefit that is derived from quick cycles of work and short breaks. This helps reduce mental fatigue and the lack of productivity caused by it. Another is that it tends to encourage practitioners to break tasks down to things that can be completed in about 25 minutes, which is something that is usually manageable from the perspective of time available. It is much easier to squeeze in three 25-minute sessions of work time during the day than it is to set aside a 75- minute block of time.

Eat the Frog

Of our three quick strategies, eat the frog probably has the strangest name and may not sound the most inviting. The name comes from a famous quote, attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Eat the Frog is also the title of a best- selling book by Brian Tracy that deals with time management and avoiding procrastination.

How this applies to time and task management is based on the concept that if a person takes care of the biggest or most unpleasant task first, everything else will be easier after that.

Although stated in a humorous way, there is a good deal of truth in this. First, we greatly underestimate how much worry can impact our performance. If you are continually distracted by anxiety over a task you are dreading, it can affect the task you are working on at the time. Second, not only will you have a sense of accomplishment and relief when the task you are concerned with is finished and out of the way, but other tasks will seem lighter and not as difficult.


Try Three Time Management Strategies

Over the next two weeks, try each of these three methods to see which ones might work for you. Is there one you favor over the others? Might each of these three approaches serve you better in different situations or with different tasks? Do you have a creative alternative or possibly a way to use some combination of these techniques?

In addition to these three strategies, you could also develop whole new approaches from suggestions found earlier in this chapter. For example, you could apply some of the strategies for avoiding procrastination or for setting appropriate priorities and see how they work in combination with these techniques or on their own.

The key is to find which system works best for you.

Breaking Down the Steps and Spreading Them Over Shorter Work Periods

Above, you read about several different tried-and-tested strategies for effective time management—approaches that have become staples in the professional world. In this section you will read about two more creative techniques that combine elements from these other methods to handle tasks when time is scarce and long periods of time are a luxury you just do not have.

The concept behind this strategy is to break tasks into smaller, more manageable units that do not require as much time to complete. As an illustration of how this might work, imagine that you are assigned a two-page paper that is to include references. You estimate that to complete the paper—start to finish—would take you between four and a half and five hours. You look at your calendar over the next week and see that there simply are no open five-hour blocks (unless you decided to only get three hours of sleep one night). Rightly so, you decide that going without sleep is not a good option. While looking at your calendar, you do see that you can squeeze in an hour or so every night. Instead of trying to write the entire paper in one sitting, you break it up into much smaller components and schedule them over the week as shown in the two tables below:

Breaking Down Projects into Manageable-Sized Tasks
Day/Time Task Time
Monday, 6:00 p.m. Write outline; look for references. 60 minutes
Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. Research references to support outline; look for good quotes. 60 minutes
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. Write paper introduction and first page draft. 60 minutes
Thursday, 6:00 p.m. Write second page and closing draft. 60 minutes
Friday, 5:00 p.m. Rewrite and polish final draft. 60 minutes
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Only if needed—finish or polish final draft. 60 minutes?
Table 2.6
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
8:00–10:00 Work Work
10:00–12:00 Algebra Work Algebra Work Algebra 10 a.m.–11 a.m. Only if needed Work
12:00–2:00 Lunch/study 1 p.m. English Comp Lunch/study 1 p.m. English Comp Lunch/study Family picnic Work
2:00–4:00 History English Comp History English Comp History Family picnic
4:00–6:00 Study for Algebra quiz. Grocery Study for History exam. Study for History exam. 5 p.m.–6 p.m. Rewrite and polish final draft. Family picnic Laundry
6:00–7:00 Write outline; look for references. Research references to support outline; look for good quotes. Research presentation project. Write second page and closing draft Create presentation. Meet with Darcy. Prepare school stuff for next week.
7:00–8:00 Free time Free time Write paper introduction and first page draft. Research presentation project. Create presentation. Free time
Table 2.7

While this is a simple example, you can see how it would redistribute tasks to fit your available time in a way that would make completing the paper possible. In fact, if your time constraints were even more rigid, it would be possible to break these divided tasks down even further. You could use a variation of the Pomodoro Technique and write for three 25-minute segments each day at different times. The key is to look for ways to break down the entire task into smaller steps and spread them out to fit your schedule.

Analysis Question


Analysis: Identify areas in the way you spend your day where you may be able to recapture and repurpose time. Are there things you can move around to gain more time? Are there ways you can combine tasks or reduce travel time?

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