True Time Management for Non-Traditional Students

A massive ice storm ravaged northern New York’s Thousand Island Region, in the twilight of 2013.  As freezing rain poured down on my small village, the weight of the newly formed ice tore down tree limbs; sending them crashing through power lines, and plunging the area into darkness.  In locations outside the heart of the village, conditions would not relieve themselves (in some cases) for up to a week.  During this time my wife and I occupied ourselves with caring for the needs of our family, while I coordinated  restoration of my office’s computer network, and caught up on some much needed reading associated with my ecology studies.  Empire State College (ESC)’s fall semester was challenging for me; traveling for work, technical issues with my aging Toshiba laptop, along with challenges specific to my 4 year old daughter transitioning through another phase of sleep development, and growing pains (for faculty and students) as the college switched to the Moodlerooms learning environment compounded to make my nights very late and my days very long; sometimes not very productive.  My fitness level plummeted, my eyelids became heavy, my prayer life became a haze, and my focus became frazzled; 4 hours of sleep seems much harder now than when I was 23.  I did a lot of bending during this period, but didn’t break; and thanks to my very supportive, generous, and dedicated professors I survived the term.  Also Santa bringing me a new HP Pavillion for Christmas didn’t hurt.  Thanks Bride!  Although it took extensions in both classes, I scored an A in my ecology course; and I’m waiting for the results of my other degree planning course (but I have positive expectations).

So where am I going with this? The zealots of time management out there may be quick to conclude that I need to improve my time management skills; that may or may not be true. I’ve done pretty well this far in life. However, being the diligent evolving creature I am, I chose to look into the option of improving my time management skills anyway. To do so I made an attempt to uncover what other college students had done before me. What I found was a mix of strategies ranging from micro managing of schedules down to the minute, or the idea of doing away with schedules to focus only on the top three items you need to focus on (on any given day). I don’t think either of these ideas works particularly well, by itself, in the real world.

Culturally speaking there are two major methods people use to perceive (and manage) time; m-time (meaning Monochronic), and p-time (meaning Polychronic). Monochronic cultures are oriented towards scheduling time use in blocks, to maximize focus on singular task and minimize relational interruption. Polychronic cultures are oriented towards relationship, as opposed to result, which produces the effect of several task happening at one time. In America we are conditioned to operate within the structure of an m-time culture. This leaves us somewhat at an impasse, because the m-time climate would seem to function reasonably well in a structured office environment; although not as well in a open office format (which seems to be trending today), and certainly not in our homes.

As a non-traditional college student I’ve often been advised to manage my work, social, family, athletic and academic lives within the context of the dominant m-time culture. Personally, after several instances of failure doing this, I’ve concluded doing so is far too linear to properly function in application. The reason for the inclination to failure, of m-time methods of time management, is that they fail to address the necessary holistic nature of my life. The reality of this situation is most visible in my life during my evening study time. In a perfect world my two toddlers would be safely tucked into their beds promptly by 7:30 each night, peacefully asleep by 8:00, to remain that way for the remainder of the night; until 7:30 in the morning, when they would wake to greet me with warm hugs. If this were the case I could then settle into my evening routine of sipping herbal tea; while waxing poetically over the intricate spiritual meaning of Microsoft Visual Basic programming code. But it is not. The reality is that my children, like many others, do not easily go to bed and stay that way. The sleep of my toddlers is easily hampered by their desire to be near me, the stress of their day, and the beckoning comfort of me and their mother’s bed; a condition I secretly love, as it affords me an opportunity to spend more time with my tiny friends in the evening time. I cherish these intimate evenings with my children. However, it does make isolating a block of time in the evenings for personal development impractical. I’ve learned to remedy this situation through compromise; as my children rest I engross myself with my studies (by the light of a princess nightlight, and a reading light). I allow for small interruptions to my thoughts by peacefully listening to, and answering, any questions they ask me; and coaxing them gently to close their eyes and go to sleep.

As my family has matured I’ve increasingly became aware of the need to integrate p-time attributes into my time management system. I’m sure that my time management system will continue to evolve into the future. For now my system consist of a holistic blend of different techniques that facilitate me using a typical monthly calendar to track large events, important dates, assignment due dates, aspects of my physical fitness plan, and practical notes to organize my household responsibilities. This information gets prioritized and distilled loosely to a weekly planner; and then once again to a weekly “to do” list of items of less complexity (but still necessary value in completion).

What methods have you developed to incorporate holistic time management strategies into your life?

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