Tag Archives: sleep

Time Management and To-Do Lists

Allow me to convince you why you need to own a time-machine in order to survive university :

[start math]
In university you are expected to build a 15+ credit timetable per semester. This translates to at least 15 hours of lectures and anywhere from 0-6+ hours of labs and 0-6+ hours of tutorials per week. In addition, most professors recommend 2 hours of study for every hour spent in class, so that adds up to 45-57 hours per week. But the best part is that if you are an engineer you will be taking 18-20 credits per semester. So we have a minimum of 57 hours of study for 19 credits, without counting the tutorials and labs.
[end math]

It comes down to 8+ hours of work 7 days a week. Way more than a full-time job!

Therefore, you will arrive at a crossroads: sleep, party, or study – And you will only be able to pick 2 out of 3. You can either:

  • Party and sleep – and have a lousy GPA.
  • Study and sleep – and be a lonely integral solving hermit.
  • Study and party – and not sleep at all.

Therefore, you can’t have all three… unless you own a time machine. Or have access to the technology and facilities to make clones of yourself that will do the work for you. Or have evil minions, Santa’s elves, Oompa-Loompas or the like under your command. Or have time management and organizational skills and some common sense… or something along those lines. Here are some pointers:

  1. Know what’s coming (make a to-do list)
  2. Identify what is important (set your priorities)
  3. Plan accordingly

Check out this guide and you will realize that 24 hours a day is more than enough to get studying done AND to get enough sleep AND to have fun. And it all starts with:


1.) Writing To-Do Lists

A to-do list can be anything you like: a small notebook, your smartphone, a piece of software, even a cleverly folded piece of paper. It really isn’t rocket surgery: if you need to do something, and can’t do it right now, write it down so that you can do it later.

That’s pretty much it. However…

… there are a couple of things you will need to keep in mind about what you write down in your list and how you manage it.

So what goes on your list? The short answer is tasks – “non-routine non-trivial expenditures of effort” (this is my definition of a task, and it is a damn fine one if I may add). By that I mean that you should NOT write down things like “brush my teeth”, “make breakfast”, “wash dishes”, “feed the gimp”, “go to class” or routine everyday stuff like that. Why write those things down, when you do them automatically on an everyday basis? Tasks that DO belong on to-do lists are things like exams, assignments, holding a presentation, paying the bills etc… They aren’t something you do every day, despite the fact that some of them occur predictably (like paying the bills).

Another thing you have to watch out for is not to over-manage your list. While it is true that your list should be organized and relatively “tidy”, you might actually get less work done if you are constantly fiddling about with it. The point of this whole time management thing isn’t bookkeeping but getting stuff done.

And at last, let’s talk about the least important thing about to-do lists: how they should look like. Feel free to ignore other people’s advice on categories, columns, no columns, having one list, two, five… those things really don’t matter, what matters are YOUR preferences. What works well for others might not work so well for you, so do whatever feels best and whatever you feel most comfortable with, because in the end, there is really no “right way” of organizing to-do lists.

Let’s say that after reading this you go ahead and write a to-do list. After writing it, you will know what needs to be done. Unfortunately, by itself that information is of limited use, because this is only step one to managing your time effectively. Your next steps are setting up priorities and laying out a course of action, which you will be able to read more about in the Saturday post.

Study Tip #1: Sleep


Sleep, or your brain will murder you.

This is a fact that most university/college students seem to forget: sleep is kinda important and should be exercised regularly. Ever heard about REM, the “dreaming part” of sleep? Well, REM turns out to be more important for your grades than books and good notes combined.

That’s because REM sleep is a key part of the learning process. During the day, you pick up an immense amount of information from various sources: lectures, labs, tutorials, but also trivial sources like the billboards on your way to school or stories you hear from friends. Your brain makes neuron connections linking all that info together so that you can remember it later. However, your brain doesn’t really organize anything at this stage. That’s because you are still using your brain. Why is that such a big deal? Imagine you were trying to organize your CD collection, but while your roommate randomly borrows your Celine Dion Ultimate Fan Bootleg Collection CDs ™ – all 50 of em – listens to them, and returns them to you in random order. You wouldn’t be able to organise anything. Eventually your brain will get tired of keeping track of that unorganized mess: then it will start to hate you. It shows that relentless hate by making you sleepy and thus lazy and useless.

Eventually, you give in to the pressure your brain is putting on you and go to bed. Then your brain finally has time to get to work and make sense of all the new stuff that happened that day and store it into your long-term memory – think of it as archiving on a computer: archived stuff takes up way less space, but it’s still there and easily accessible. So when you wake up in the morning, yesterday’s events are clearer and make more sense. Also, you are well rested and ready for more stuff to happen.

In an average 8 hour sleep, there are 4-5 bouts of REM sleep that take up 20-25% of that time. That comes down to less than 2 hours of REM: and you need all of it. So, if you disrupt your sleeping pattern (let’s say with an all-night study run before a test), not only are you making yourself tired, but you are also preventing any new information from setting in. By not giving your brain time to organise all the stuff you are learning, you are ensuring that it won’t be properly ready for recall.