Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Managing Your Time; Planning Your Best Life (Even as a Student)

One of the educators I follow on Twitter (@Aaron_Eyler) just posted a very interesting blog article:

In this piece, he makes the point that students don't blow off studying because they're lazy and irresponsible; they choose not to study (if, for example, there's a fun event they'd rather attend, or a show they want to watch) because they've been psychologically conditioned--by way of experience--to realize that they will get more out of brief joy than self-denial.

Also, perhaps, they will be angrier with themselves for missing a good time than they might be for getting a bad homework or quiz grade.


Our adult society is all about self-discipline, and beating ourselves up about everything--what we eat, how we waste our time, why we are self-defeating.

I do it, too, even though I know better. I waste time. I get distracted by e-mail. I do not accomplish as much as I'd like to on any given day.

I manage to get the important things done, however. I almost always exercise for at least an hour. I try not to eat junk (I don't even like junk, so that helps--but I do appreciate the occasional chocolate chip cookie).  I read to my kids every day.

I hardly ever sleep as long as I need to, though. Sometimes I even forget to eat. I have piles of bills to mail in. I have huge writing projects that need to be finished.  There's an e-mail sent by a former colleague (about a writing project) that I have yet to respond to, and it's been over a month--but I've been slow because I was sick.

So what is MY problem? I think it's actually prioritizing.

My priorities are my kids, my health and my work. I would add my husband, but he's pretty independent and a big boy--still, if he needs something, I will do it.  Don't forget my dogs; I love my dogs.

I try to blog often to build up a body of recent work, to keep my mind sharp, to sort out my thoughts (students: note my frequent use of polysyndeton). That can take an hour or more on the days I do it. Class/lesson prep typically takes a few hours a day.

I read as much as possible, too. I mostly read while at the gym, or when I am going online to check my mail. I also read before bed (which keeps me from sleeping).

All those things--my family, keeping fit, reading, writing, learning, are my idea of Good Times.

I do not watch TV much at all. Nothing makes me more restless than plopping on the couch and seeing how stupid most shows are.

The point is: I try not to waste time, and yet I still waste it. Wasting time is inevitable, to some extent, I think.

If students are learning by experience that they won't regret not studying as much as adults may warn them they'll regret it, what I do think they'll eventually learn to regret is wasting time.

Students may be concerned about missing opportunities. But we should realize that parties are experiences for them. They do learn things at parties, actually. They learn socialization, for one thing. They might learn not to drink.

I am not saying we should let our kids run off to crazy, unsupervised parties and allow them to skip their homework.  What I am saying is that it's understandable that they want to do that. It's human nature.

Eventually, people will realize that they may have missed opportunities to learn as much as they could have. That book they pretended to read? Maybe when they're older they'll wish they had read it. I bet they will.

Perhaps reframing the argument for "Why You Should Study" in terms of self-protection is what we need to do.

I exercise because I know from experience that I will feel awful (and my leg will hurt even more) if I don't. I eat well because I know it's important to my health and I will get sick otherwise. I read to my kids because I want them to be smart, accomplished, thoughtful people who can make connections to literature and thus better understand life. (I have seen what happens when parents don't read to their kids; it's a big problem.)

I spend time preparing to teach because I can't imagine how stressful it would be not to have anything prepared.

Kids should study because if they don't, they will learn from experience that Falling Behind is a terrible feeling, that not getting into the college of their choice can be absolutely devastating, and that once you fall behind it's very hard--nearly impossible--to ever catch up. At that point (after it's too late, or nearly too late), they will have been psychologically primed to realize its importance.

We can tell students what to do, or we can let them learn it for themselves (as I think they need to).

Of course, it's only natural to want to share the knowledge (so please study!) and prevent people from suffering they way we ourselves might have suffered, but you can't change people. You can only try to  guide them, gently.


  1. Teachers Are GreatApril 14, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    Loved this! I have been struggling with a child and this made sense. You have inspired me to try harder; just hope it isn't too late. Thanks again, as always!

  2. Thanks-I think the more compassionate approach could work. Less punitive, more understanding--as in, "Honey, I know you want to go to the Phillies game, but you have this final exam and you'll be applying to college soon.." Plus, of course, the Phillies have many games; it's not like it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

    Time management was my catchphrase for this year. Hope it got through, at least a bit. I will blog specifically about that later.

    Thanks for reading!