Most of us probably don’t think of the emergency room as a classroom. That’s probably good. Ideally we’ll all spend the least amount of time possible at the ER.
My family tries to limit our trips to once or twice a year. We hit our quota for 2013 – we’ll see how this year goes.
Students can learn a lot, though, about time management strategies from the ER.
Remember that when we say “time management strategies” what we really mean is “task management strategies.” (If you missed our last two posts on student time management, you can find them here and here) You can’t change time – but you can get extremely effective at managing the tasks that fill your time.
That’s what the ER does as well or better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Their time management strategies involve knowing what needs to be done immediately, later, or never. They can then maximize the time they have.
We call this “triage.”
The best student time management strategies involve a sort of task triage.
We realize you may not be really familiar with the concept, so we’ll get really specific. Here are three lessons we’ve learned from the emergency room.
1. Urgent and important tasks go first
For the ER nurses and doctors, this means that people with life-threatening injuries get to see a doctor immediately.
There are a lot of people in the ER waiting room. None of them is in danger of dying on the spot. No pregnant women are about to give birth. If either of those were true, they’d be sent back first thing.
Students, your time management strategies should recognize that things that are most urgent and still important go first. Always. If you have a test tomorrow, you need to study. Don’t due next week’s Spanish assignment. Don’t work on a project due in two months. Don’t do another assignment because it’s more fun or easier. Study for the urgent and important events first.
Effective time management strategies must prioritize the important and urgent. It’s non-negotiable.
Can you imagine an emergency room where the doctors were busy treating cold symptoms and a paper cut while a woman gave birth in the lobby? Yeah, that wouldn’t be ideal. Urgent and important always need to be done first.
2. Important but not urgent tasks come next
Some tasks aren’t urgent but are still important. Your time management strategies should have a category for this as well.
This may be like the person who comes in with a massive ear infection (my family has been down that path). Does it hurt? Absolutely. Is it important to get it addressed? Without a doubt.
But will it kill you? Not any time soon.
It’s important, but not urgent.
For students, tasks like studying for a test coming up next week or working on projects are really important. It’s vital that you work on them a little at a time. Spreading out your study sessions is a tremendously beneficial study skill.
But you should only work on these tasks when you’ve completed the tasks that are both urgent and important.
3. Unimportant tasks get to wait a really, really, REALLY long time.
You may have experienced this in the ER. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like they have a time management strategy. It feels like they have a “make-you-wait-for-8-hours” strategy. Sometimes, that’s OK.
If you have a paper cut, your injury is neither important nor urgent. So you get to wait.
Great student time management strategies have a category for this: we call it unimportant. Unimportant tasks can be done if you’d like them to, but it doesn’t matter either way.
Beating another level in your favorite video game fits this category. No one dies if you don’t get there. Your grades won’t be hurt by not achieving the next badge. No scholarships are on the line with how well you do in the next round of Call of Duty.
By just creating this category, you can make a big difference in your study skills. You would be surprised at how helpful it is to simply know what you need to do and what you don’t need to do.
What we’ve seen in student time management strategies
We’ve heard a lot of “I’m too busy” comments from students. Usually those students don’t have this time management strategy down. When they do, the result is often a recognition that prioritizing tasks is an important first step in all great time management strategies.
Get these lessons down now, and it will pay of in the long run.
We recognize this was just a fly-over on the urgent and important idea of time management strategies. If you want more info – we didn’t invent this concept – you can check out this post on Dwight Eisenhower from the Art of Manliness. This is basically how he made decisions.
How about you? Could you share any thoughts on how to prioritize your tasks?