Time Management

Sections on this page:

  • How hard do I need to work?
  • How can I keep on top of my work?
  • Is there any way of getting off the treadmill?

How hard do I need to work?

The short answer is, probably, rather harder than you imagined before you came up. The normal rate for many humanities degrees is three tutorials in every two weeks of full term. This does not allow much time for watching the grass grow. Exactly how hard you work will depend on your own goals and your particular personal circumstances. If you have family commitments it will obviously be very difficult to give as much time to your studies as someone who is completely unattached. Again, if you have a burning ambition to obtain a Congratulatory First you will have to put in rather more effort than someone who merely wishes to put ‘B.A.’ after their name without bothering too much about the class of degree. A good rule of thumb, however, is to treat your studies as you would a full-time job. It may very well be that you have given up a job to come to Harris Manchester College; if so, then it is surely worth a similar degree of commitment.

That said, even if you have designs on a Regius Professorship, it is not so much a matter of working the maximum number of hours the week will contain as using whatever time you give to your studies in a disciplined, organized and constructive fashion. If you do that, rather than spending your work time making cups of coffee, staring out of the window, and complaining to your fellow students about everything you’re not getting done, you’ll probably find you can keep on top of your work well enough, but you’ll also find that it’s mentally taxing, so that there is a limit to how much you can usefully do in any one day or any one week. To attempt to push yourself beyond that limit (whatever it may be for you) will almost certainly prove to be counter-productive (since you’ll lose far more through tiredness and inability to concentrate the next day than you ever gained by forcing yourself to work that extra hour).

What is required is sensible commitment, not fanaticism. A forty hour working week (including lectures and tutorials but not `dead time’ spent messing around or getting from A to B) would represent a good solid achievement. A thirty hour week (unless you are a rare and rapidly-working genius) is probably too little; a fifty hour week (except for a short spurt or unless you have remarkable stamina) is probably too much. These figures are meant to represent average weeks in full term and assume that you will also be working for a substantial proportion of each vacation (though here everyone must accept that your personal circumstances may limit your ability to do so).

How can I keep on top of my work?

The only answer is effective time management. This need not be anything very sophisticated, neither does it have to involve a punishing schedule. If, for example, you decide to spread your working week over six days (which you may as well do unless you need to go home at weekends) then on average you will have four working days per tutorial essay. If you then allow two and a half days for reading and one and a half for writing and checking over your essay, you simply need to work back from whatever deadline you set yourself for getting your essay done in days, hours or minutes before the tutorial time (according to temperament!).

Of course, this nice-sounding scheme can get upset in practice by tutors who insist on scheduling tutorials at awkward times that don’t fit it too well with your best-laid plans (particularly if both tutors you are working with in any one term force you to come early in the week). This can be mitigated by planning and working ahead to avoid any foreseeable crises (such as two tutorials on the same day in ten days’ time). If the worst comes to the worst, however, there may be nothing for it but to skimp on your reading and do the best you can in the time available.

Is there any way of getting off the treadmill?

However much you enjoy your studies, there will almost certainly come a time (probably around fifth week each term if not before!) when the need to keep meeting tutorial deadlines will start to feel like a treadmill. This is not surprising, since the production of three reasonably substantial essays every fortnight does make considerable demands on the student. The potentially good news, however, is that given favourable circumstances and co-operative tutors, there is a way in which you may be able to spread the load.

If your tutor is willing to give you an essay list and reading list in advance (some are, some aren’t), then the most profitable use you can make of any study time you assign yourself in the vacation is to do three or four of the following term’s essays (it is nearly always possible to borrow sufficient books from the various libraries to take home over the vac to make this possible). In my experience this is far more useful than doing general background reading, which I find tends not to stick in my mind half so well as reading which is directed towards a specific essay. It can also help you find time for the odd breathing space in an otherwise overcrowded eight week term.