One of the biggest challenges I have seen as university professor and counselor relates to time management skills and adult learners. Many of the students and clients that I work with can be classified as “mid-career” professionals, which is a 25 cent term for folks who have reached a certain age in life where they are no longer in the “20-something” crowd but also not in their fifties.
Demographically speaking, one could say that I am considered part of this group.
Adult learners are my favorite kind of student because they are trying to better their lives and station in life through higher education. Here, we are talking about working moms and dads, single parents and down to earth folks who want something better for themselves and their families. I know something about this because I did not return to school until later in life.
Adult learners and time management
New college students who are adult learners find out fairly quickly that if they do not have a proper handle on time-management, something will eventually give. In plain talk, the “give” means grades. As a result of poor time management skills, a cycle of shame and guilt usually sets in for these students, which paradoxically worsens an already difficult situation. I say this because I work with many college students in my role as a wellness counselor in Chicago at the practice I belong to.
Preventing bad habits from starting
During the first week of every undergraduate and graduate course that I teach, I make it a point to address the importance of time management and college success. In doing so, my hope is to help prevent undesirable habits from setting in while encouraging the establishment and promotion of a healthy routine.
What follows are five practical time management tips for adult college students. The list was largely influenced through my own observations over many years working with the adult learner population, coupled with advice that I have gathered from mid-career professionals who have successfully completed a degree.
Let’s jump right in!
1. Build college studies into a daily time management schedule
At its core, this means dedicating time each day (or at least a few times a week) to college studies. While this may seem like a no brainer, I can share with you that many adult learners I have met over the years have found themselves in serious academic trouble because they did not carve out time each day for studies. I recommend a minimum of 1 hour a day. A variation of this might be 2 hours a day, several times a week.
2. Use a daily checklist
Hands down, one of the best time management and task related tools that an adult learner can use to stay on track to successful time management in college is the use of simple daily checklist. I personally encourage learners to use good old fashioned pen and paper. Before the end of each night, create a list that focuses on the next day’s “To Do’s” and make sure several of the items appearing on the list relate to school. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to check-off a given deliverable. Examples include locating a research article or reading a chapter from a textbook.
3. Turn off social media
One of the major challenges I have seen among adult learners relates to study time and social media. Specifically, I am talking about students who are trying to write a research paper while also having Facebook or Twitter open on their desktop. Here is the honest to goodness truth and it may be difficult to hear – essay writing while having social media open is a recipe for failure. My best advice is to simply turn off all forms of social media during study times.
4. Set boundaries
Another helpful tip that many successful adult learners have shared with me is to establish boundaries. Here, I am talking about students giving themselves permission to not answer the phone during dedicated study times. Another boundary example might be asking other household members to keep noise to a minimum.
5. Create accountability
While this may seem like psycho-babble, in truth, creating a network of accountability is a key ingredient for success if the goal is to earn that degree. Here, I am talking about gaining the support of friends, family and loved ones who will gently hold you accountable for your progress. These are the people that can be called upon to vent during stressful times while also helping to remind why the desire to earn that degree came about in the first place.
My final tip is offered here as a bonus and it is simply this – Build self-care into the daily routine! Many adult learners have shared with me in the classroom and the counseling office that they feel depleted and stressed out because of the daily grind. When I have asked them about self-care, most all of them have indicated they were sorely lacking in this area. Here is the deal – without wellness, we have nothing.
There is something very special about adult learners. I want to commend any person who has made the important life decision to earn a college degree while trying to create balance in the areas of family, work and school. Let’s be real – it’s not easy! The key to making it through with the end goal of a degree in hand is good old fashioned time management skills!