Managing Your Time

THE FUNDAMENTALS: The basic issue of time management for college students is to establish appropriate patterns of sleep and rest, because neglecting these areas deeply degrades the ability to study and concentrate.

Students who are aware of their need for rest and recreation and who plan it into their schedules do well in their classes as well as in their lives outside of school.

Appropriate rest includes enough nighttime sleep plus periods of rest and recreation during the day.

Research shows that college students who makes all A’s and B’s get seven or more hours of sleep each night. It makes sense, therefore, that “pulling all nighters” for study produces some of the poorest grades.

The sleeping brain is not inactive. It is constantly processing memories, emotions and ideas from the waking hours, as well as eliminating toxins both physical and psychological. The student who gets enough sleep has the advantage of having overviews which the brain has worked on all night. The sleep-deprived student is something like a drunk or drugged person who cannot learn much.

Question: How many hours of sleep on average do you get on the nights before you attend class?

Make some notes for yourself on this question. If the answer is less than seven, write about some ways you can increase it.

FOCUSED WORK: College students often fall into a pattern of doing their study and homework whenever they can fit it in around their class and work times, often doing most of it late at night. However, research shows that productive people follow a pattern of a few hours of focused work a day, usually in the morning, followed by twice or three times as many hours in rest and recreation, every day.

Unfocused time allows the brain to rest while still being active. It can include catching up on work-related tasks such as answering emails and doing research, but it is best used when it is mostly devoted to recreational activities: exercise, taking quiet reflective walks, and spending time with family and friends. It can even include taking naps. This pattern is successful if a person performs work that is fully focused and completely without distraction, in blocks of thirty minutes or more at a time, with no attention whatever to one’s phone or email. If using a computer, turn off or ignore “pop-up” notifications.

One can effectively do focused work for thirty to ninety minutes before switching subjects. Very brief breaks every thirty minutes assist the work. If one is obliged to work more than ninety minutes on a single subject, a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes of break time is necessary to maintain freshness of mind. Neurologists have revealed these patterns from thousands of hours of observation.

Locating your three hours of optimal work time can require flexibility. Attending class does not count as focused work time, because it is mostly a passive activity. A student may need to schedule their focused work in thirty-minute blocks between classes. It is best not to schedule this work late at night because (1) the late-night mind is never as capable of focus, even for “night owls” (2) focused work should occur before one’s daily rest and recreation time; rest and play then become earned rewards and not the subjects of guilt or anxiety.

These may seem like big changes to make, but remember that the reward can be making all A’s and B’s more easily than you had imagined.

Focused work is many times more productive than unfocused work. To work in this way, one must know why they are doing it. A strong motivation and desire must drive one’s work for it to be truly focused. This motivation and drive are best when they come from oneself rather than from authority figures or other external sources. A student does not have to be completely certain of their career path or even their major, yet they must know what interests them and be willing to focus on it.

Question: Do you know what pursuits can motivate you to do focused work?

Write down one to three pursuits that you feel so strongly about that you would gladly work on them at any time. If you are not sure about what your pursuits ought to be, go to

Many people believe that they are obliged to do a large variety of tasks instead of focusing on a limited number of them and doing them well. This results in overall mediocrity. It is the enemy of excellence.

The importance of taking time when you’re detached from work. Don’t leave work papers open on your desk or they might draw you in. File them away in easily accessible files, but have a clear desk when you’re not working. Clutter leads to overwork and encourages fixed-mindset patterns of self-imposed stress and tension.

Question: How many hours of sleep on average do you get on the nights before you attend class?

The most productive people have been shown to have a pattern of a few hours of focused work a day, usually in the morning, followed by twice or three times as many hours in rest and recreation of many kinds, including spending time with family and friends, and even taking naps. This pattern is successful if a person performs work that is fully focused and completely without distractions, in blocks of thirty minutes or more at a time.

Focused work is many times more productive than unfocused work. To work in this way, one must know why they are doing it. A strong motivation and desire must drive the work for it to be truly focused. A student does not have to be completely certain of their career path, yet they must know what interests them and be willing to focus on it.

Historical  figures who have applied this include Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Beethoven, Ray Bradbury, and many mathematicians and physicists. Successful people realize that the unfocused mind that allows too many distractions cannot produce their best work. 

Do you know what pursuits can motivate you to do focused work?

Make a list of things that you would do passionately whether you had convenient time for them or not!

VIDEOS FEATURING ALEX PANG: Alex Pang, the author of the book Rest, has done outstanding research on the subject of focused and unfocused work. During a sabbatical (extended time off work), he suddenly found himself to be much more productive than he usually was. When he started reading about the science of rest, he discovered that finding a balance between work and relaxation is the ultimate recipe for a valuable life.