Tests, presentations, essays, projects, applications, interviews, volunteering, friends, family, sleep… all in 24 hours. There is no doubt that time management is one of the biggest concerns for all students at Warwick, and in particular, for Warwick Volunteers. Irrespective of whether you are a first-year undergraduate, finalist undergraduate, or postgraduate student, if you are determined to do your best and make the most of your time at university, it is likely that your daily schedule looks something like the one in the picture above. As the end-of-term assessments imminently approach for most of us, time management is becoming all the more critical.
I am thus aiming to (succinctly!) share below some ideas and principles which seem to usually work for me, gathered throughout my experience of juggling my studies, applications, and extracurricular activities. Give them a try, and see if they work for you as well.
1. Get to know the times at which your brain functions at its highest performance, so that you maximise your productivity across the day.
Are you a morning person who can concentrate well at early hours? Then make sure you complete all tasks requiring your full concentration at the start of the day, and leave volunteering and other extra-curricular activities for the end of the day.
Perhaps you are a night-owl, who can reach full performance in the evening/night? In that case, consider reserving the second half of the day for intellectual activities, and the first one for tasks which are less reliant on you being 100% concentrated, such as volunteering, doing sports, or spending time with friends.
If you have a task involving creativity, what time of the day do you feel most creative? If you have a two-hour gap between classes, in which you know you`re not going to get much done anyway, then perhaps opt for doing something quick and not super brain-intensive, such as preparing for your next volunteering activity.
2. Take breaks and don`t feel guilty-volunteering can help.
In critical times, when you feel overwhelmed, breaks seem like the last of your worries, but their importance cannot be downplayed. Again, think about what type of person you are.
Do you need regular, short breaks, or are you the kind of person who can remain alert for a long period of time, taking longer, but rarer breaks? If you identify more with the former, then think about joining one-off volunteering opportunities. If you think that the latter description fits you better, then consider joining a long-term volunteering project, in which you volunteer at regular intervals throughout the term for multiple hours each time. In this way, you have the opportunity to detach yourself completely from your routine.
I know many students (myself included) feel guilty if they take too long a break. Instead of making them feel better and less stressed, breaks can have the counter effect, as the feeling of guilt accentuates the already existent burden posed by the huge workload. I found that spending your free time volunteering solves this problem, as it makes you spend time in an enjoyable and productive manner at the same time. It`s unlikely you`ll feel guilty after you have cleaned the wood, helped some young students or old people, for instance. So if you want to get rid of the feeling of guilt when you take the break that your body needs, consider volunteering rather than…spending time on YouTube, Instagram, or Netflix, for instance.
3. Be selective.
Know your time limits and other commitments, be realistic, and do not make promises which you cannot fulfil. Remember, your priorities are (most likely) your studies and academic performance while at university. Be selective when you choose what extra-curricular activities you want to participate in. When you make your selection, think about what skills you want to develop, how you can relate these activities to your aspirations later in life, how much time you have available, how close the activities are with respect to where you are located. Pick the activities that best match your criteria only.
4. Learn to say ‘no’ when needed, and delegate diplomatically.
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. There may be times when the amount of work is over the top and it is humanly impossible to manage everything. What is optimal for you to do in this case? As always, do your best and make sacrifices. We`ve all made them occasionally, whether it was staying late at night, or cutting down drastically on recreational activities. But remember, always doing your best should not come at the expense of not taking good care of yourself. Nothing comes on top of your health. So plan ahead.
Anticipate when you expect to have a busy period and let the people you work with know (whether team members, fellow volunteers, adults who rely on you for your volunteering activity) that you may experience difficulties during period X in doing what you normally do. As long as you have reasonable things going on (interviews, tests, etc), you should be able to find understanding. Make sure you announce in advance and contribute towards creating alternative arrangements if you are not able to deliver. Make up for your work at another time, and make sure you return the service to your colleagues, when they also have super busy periods. In essence, if you think about it, splitting tasks according to people`s needs and time availability is part of one`s crucial collaboration and communication skills-set.
5. Reflect and feel proud.
It is beyond doubt that being a Warwick student, coupled with being a Warwick Volunteer, is tough. That is why, whenever you have a few free moments, think about what you have achieved, how you have made a difference. There does not lie more motivation power, I believe, than in your own inner satisfaction.
My list finishes here. As a final advice, remember: tomorrow is also a day. Now, I`d rather take a two-minute break to stretch my limbs, and then continue working on my dissertation.
Good luck everyone, manage your time well, and enjoy your volunteering!
P.S.: If you have more ideas to add to the list above, we`d love to hear your insights in the comments section below. Also, let us know how you it goes if you apply any of the tips above. We`re all learning from each other!
Cassandra, Warwick Volunteers Media and Communications Officer.