As the cliche goes, time is money. For graduate student slaves like me, this is particularly true. After all, every day spent in grad school translates into lost potential wages and career opportunities. A career-minded grad student must therefore learn to use time judiciously, if he wants to have time for work and play. Of course, the same can be said of many other people -- indeed, most of us, in today's frenetically paced society. Hence, this article. Here are some of the things I do to manage my time effectively.
I think it's very important to always have your standard office gadgets and supplies within easy reach. After analyzing my work patterns and those of other students around me, I realized that we often waste time hunting for tools, borrowing staplers and tape dispensers, looking for pens and asking for stamps. So a few months ago, I bought some implements (three- hole punchers, staplers, etc) that I frequently need and that people often don't have handy, and installed them at home and in my office desk. I also stocked up on paper, tape, correction fluid and other commonly-used materials. The result? Nowadays, while my colleagues waste time looking for these vital tools of the trade, I can usually reach into a desk drawer and produce whatever I need.
Here's another problem. I used to keep forgetting little things that I needed to accomplish -- writing a letter, making phone calls, bringing stuff home or to work, or whatnot. So I placed some small notepads in my lab desk, in my bedroom, and in our living room at strategic places. I also put some pencil cups in the living room, with an ample supply of cheap pens. (They need to be cheap, since my friends have a habit of accidentally walking away with one.) Nowadays, when I remember something that I need to accomplish, I write myself a note and place it in my wallet or my pocket. This serves as a reminder, and has worked extremely well. These little tasks still fall through the cracks on occasion, but not nearly as often as they used to.
In addition, I always have a supply of Post-It notes handy, so that I can post little reminders on my computer at work, and on my bedroom mirror and bulletin board. These have been really useful in reminding myself of urgent tasks or upcoming appointments. It's very hard to forget about something when these reminders are staring you in the face everyday.
Of course, it's important to maintain a "to do" list as well -- and I don't mean a mental list, as many are wont to do. A mental list is only as effective as your memory, so if you're like most of us, it's probably not very effective at all. I mean an actual written or printed list, one which you can readily see and update. I keep mine on my office computer, since I use it so often. This gives me maximum flexibility in updating the list, and allows me to print copies out for my corkboard at home.
My final tip may be a little hard to swallow: Cut down on your TV time, or eliminate it altogether! The way I see it, TV time is essentially wasted time. You're sitting there, being informed or entertained, but otherwise accomplishing nothing. Even if you watch only two hours a day, that's essentially 1/8 of your waking time gone to waste -- probably about 1/3 to 1/2 of your free time, if you maintain an eight-hour workday. If you cut that down by one hour a day, you'll be liberating hours a year, or about 15.2 whole days! Personally, I could use another fifteen days in a year; can't you?
If you do feel the need to watch TV though, don't just sit back and thumb the remote control. There are many things you can do to make your TV viewing hours more productive. I use my TV time to accomplish important tasks that don't require much mental effort -- things like getting some exercise, tidying up the house, or sorting through my mail. Now I can enjoy my favorite shows, while staying physically fit and not feeling guilty about the time I spend in front of the tube.
Virgilio "Dean" Velasco Jr. is a doctoral student slave at Case Western Reserve University who is desperately trying to graduate. As such, he readily appreciates the importance of saving both time and money. If you can spare either of those items, please send them to him immediately.
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