Chapter 3: Time & Space

Time Well Spent

Time: A limited and precious commodity

We cannot go back in time. If we used our time poorly last Wednesday, we can do nothing to get it back. Other commodities may allow for accumulating more or starting over, but time does not. We cannot “save” time nor earn more time.

Technically, time cannot be managed, but we label it time management when we talk about how people use their time. We often bring up efficiency and effectiveness when discussing how people spend their time, but we cannot literally manage time. What we can do, though, is find better ways to spend our time, allowing us to accomplish our most consequential tasks and spend time with the people most important to us.

Since life does not come with an instruction manual, there is nothing to follow to know how we are supposed to spend our time. Most of us spend our time doing a combination of what interests us, what is important to us, and what we feel we “have” to do.

What is your relationship with time? Are you usually early, right on time, or late? Do you find yourself often saying, “I wish I had more time?” Are you satisfied with your relationship with time or would you like to change it?

Twelve, Time, Time Management, Stopwatch

If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves. Tibetan proverb

Time: Present Moment Awareness

How often are you distracted with thoughts of the past or future? Present moment awareness helps us to focus on the here and now in order to be present in our lives. We spend much of our time thinking about something other than what we are doing right now. As we do this, we can miss what is happening in the moment. The present moment is the only time we have control over. As you think about your use of time, reflect on how often you are actually living in the moment. It is certainly important to plan for the future to reach our goals, and intentionally planning our time can help us be in the moment as we schedule activities to focus on each day. Use the information contained in this chapter to non-judgmentally reflect on your current use of time as it relates to your values, goals, and priorities.

Since time is a popular philosophical concept, there are many sayings about it:

  • Time flies when you are having fun.
  • That is a waste of time.round Timex analog clock at 2:33
  • Time is money.
  • We have all the time in the world.
  • The time is right.
  • I’m having the time of my life.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • Time is precious.
  • The time is now.

What do these sayings about time mean to you?

The Value of Time

If someone were to negotiate for an hour of your time, how much would that be worth to you? We often equate time with money. Many of us work in positions where we are paid by the hour; this gives us some gauge of what we are worth to our employers. Similarly, some items we purchase because we think they are of good value for their price. Others we pass on. Are some hours of your day more important or more valuable than others? Why? Are you more productive in the morning or in the evening?

Once people realize how valuable time is, they often go to great lengths to protect it because they understand its importance. How much would you pay for an additional hour in a day? What would you do with that time? Why? What is the value of your time? How much is an hour of your time worth? $20? $50? If someone were to pay you $10 to do a job, how much time would that be worth?

One way to make sure you are valuing your time is to be sure to spend it on your priorities.

Do the Most Important Things First

People like to check things off that they have done. It feels good. But don’t confuse productivity with the accomplishment of tasks that aren’t important. A long list of unimportant tasks completed certainly isn’t the best use of time. The key is to plan time so that important tasks can be completed with time to produce results the meet or exceed the expectation. If we think about time as it relates to our goals, we can begin to assign importance based on whether or not the item on our to-do list will help us accomplish our goals. Creating a sense of purpose and direction when planning how we use our time is very important as we balance the demands of our lives with the demands of college.

Explore time management matrixes

Perform an internet search for “Time Management Matrix images.” The matrix shows how to categorize your activities and will help prioritize your goals, tasks, and assignments. Take a look at the matrix and quadrants and identify which quadrant your recent actions would fall into.

Quadrant I (The quadrant of necessity): Important and Urgent

In this section, we may be working on what’s important to our goals but not giving ourselves enough time to put forth our best effort. Crisis activities are in this category, for example dealing with an angry customer at work, filling an empty gas tank before leaving for school, or completing an essay the night before it is due. Students who include exams and papers here are probably not allowing themselves enough time to fully prepare. If they continue working with looming deadlines, they live with constant stress and may burn out. With planning, we can avoid Quadrant 1 and live our lives with more purpose.

Quadrant II (The quadrant of quality and personal leadership): Important and Not Urgent

This is where priorities are defined. What’s important in your life? What will keep you balanced? For example, you may know that good nutrition, sleep, recreation and maintaining healthy social relationships are important, but do you consciously make time for them in your daily or weekly routine? Quadrant II includes preparations and actions that lead to achievement of your goals, such as practicing for a presentation due the next day or prewriting for a paper immediately upon receiving the assignment. Living your life in Quadrant II takes planning, but the time spent planning helps you achieve what is important to you.

Quadrant III (The quadrant of deception): Not Important and Urgent

Interruptions, unscheduled tasks, and some demands of friends or family can be examples of Quadrant III activities, which often leave students feeling pulled in too many directions at once. While they may feel that some activities, such as texting a friend, need attention right away, too much time spent on Quadrant III activities can seriously reduce valuable study time and increase stress. Again, the key here is to think of importance in terms of goals. Our relationships should be important to us and need our attention, but we may find it necessary to express our goals to those we care about. Hopefully, the conversation ends with us feeling supported in trying to reach our goals.

Quadrant IV (The quadrant of waste): Not Important and Not Urgent

Students who spend many hours on Quadrant IV activities are either having a great deal of fun or spending a lot of time procrastinating! Remember, the objective is balance. Social media and texting generally fall into this category. Although a case could be made that social media, texting, Netflix, and Youtube are important, how often are they urgent? Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide what is important and urgent to them, but for the context of our academic goals, attending classes, completing assignments, taking time to prepare, and studying should almost universally be more urgent and important than social media and texting.

Here is an adapted version of the matrix, with an emphasis on quadrant II.


Managing time well comes down to two things. One is identifying (and then prioritizing) goals, and the other is having the discipline to be able to work towards accomplishing them. We all have the same amount of time in a day, week, month, and year, yet some people are able to accomplish more than others. Often, it is because they are able to set goals, prioritize those goals, and effectively work on them until they are achieved.

Three Steps to Good Time Management

Powerpoint slide. At the top are three circles, labeled Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 (highlighted). Title: Get better at prioritizing. Then three images: one long rectangular one labeled "procrastination," with a drawing of a person's waist, walking and holding a book. Bottom left: "Don't Let it Happen," with a drawing of a guy playing video games. Bottom right: "To You," with a drawing of a person holding his head in his hands, sitting at a desk.

There are three important steps in learning to effectively manage your time:

  1. Identify your time management style
  2. Create a schedule
  3. Get better at prioritizing

Step 1: Identify Your Time Management Style

Click into the activity below and answer the questions to identify whether your time management style more closely aligns with the early bird, the pressure cooker, the balancing act, or the improviser.

Assessing Your Responses

Which of the four basic time-management personality types did you select the most? Which did you select the least? Do you feel your results are accurate? Do you feel you are a combination of the types? Take time to consider if your previous style has worked well for you or if you think it’s time for a change.

Learn more by reviewing the traits, strengths, challenges, and success tips for each of the four time-management personality types:

The Early Bird

  • Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that), because it lets you stay in control.
  • Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
  • Challenges: Sometimes you can get caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and not give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
  • Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.

The Balancing Act

  • Traits: You really know what you’re capable of and are ready to do what it takes to get the most out of your classes. You should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any class, as long as you keep your balance.
  • Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well-rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
  • Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut and begin to coast in class, rather than really challenging yourself.
  • Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.

The Pressure Cooker

  • Traits: Full of good ideas, you always get things done and almost always at the last minute.
  • Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you do finally sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to complete what’s needed.
  • Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Although you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, is it really the best work you could produce if you had had a couple of days of cushion?
  • Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they’re goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork.

The Improviser

  • Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes. Sometimes you miss an assignment or two or have to pretend to have done reading that you haven’t actually completed.
  • Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
  • Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
  • Tips for Success: The good news is you can turn this around! Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Immediately upon receiving them, break big assignments into small, achievable tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, and be sure to do it before, rather than after, you fall behind.

Step 2: Create a Schedule

Powerpoint slide, with three circles labeled Step 1, Step 2 (highlighted), and Step 3 at the top. Title: Create a Schedule. Three panels appear in the middle, labeled "Manage and Implement." On the left, a close-up drawing of a person writing on a wall calendar; in the middle, the same scene zoomed out to show the larger calendar on the wall, while she still writes on it; final scene, she stands in front of the calendar staring at it.

Now that you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time well going forward. The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as unexpected situations and circumstances will likely arise during your time as a student.

Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things—due dates and exam dates, for example—that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule, as well.

Do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.

Your schedule will also vary depending on the courses you’re taking. The first thing to do for each class is consult the syllabus and try to determine its rhythm by looking at the following factors:

  • Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
  • Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
  • Are there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others

Exploring MCC technology: Technology for time management

There are many useful resources online that will help students keep track of their schedule. Some are basic, cloud-based calendars (like Google calendar, iCal, Outlook), and some (like iHomework) are specialized for students. Choose one or more of the activities below and be prepared to share what you learn:

  1. Do an online search and explore several schedule makers/calendars that might work for you.
  2. Explore the calendar available to you via your MCC email account.
  3. If you have a smartphone, explore time management apps available to you.
  4. Check out Evernote, One Note, or Stickies.

We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? How much time will you be willing to devote to your studies? In the following section of this text, “Your Use of Time,” we’ll work more on mapping out and prioritizing our time. In addition to blocking out class time and important due dates on your schedule, remember that you’ll need to allot 2 to 3 hours of work/study time for every hour you’re in class for every class you’re taking. The most effective students prioritize their class and study time over other, less important tasks.

Step 3: Get Better at Prioritizing

Powerpoint slide, with three circles labeled Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 (highlighted) at the top. Title: Get Better at Prioritizing. Four panels in the middle: top left, "Today" shows a hand-drawn calendar with the date of the 3rd circled. Top right: "This Week" shows the same calendar, zoomed out to circle the whole week. Bottom left: "Month" shows the same calendar, zoomed out to circle the month of September. Bottom right: "This Semester" shows the calendar with August, September, October, November, and December circled.

Due dates are important. Set your short- and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What needs to get done today?
  • What needs to get done this week?
  • What needs to get done by the end the first month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end the second month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end of the semester?

Your time is valuable. Treat it accordingly by getting the most you can out of it.

We have a limited amount of time. Most of us cannot complete everything we wish to complete—either in a day or in a lifetime. We hear people say, “I wish there was more time” or “If there was more time, I would have done this.” We have enough time to do many of the things we wish to do. People run into difficulty when they spend time on things that are not the most important things for them.

Mayonnaise jar

A professor walks into class one day and places an empty mayonnaise jar on the desk. She fills the jar with golf balls and asks the students if the jar is full. The student reply that it is full. She then adds small gravel to the jar and asks again if it is full. The students say that it is. The professor pulls sand from her bag and adds that to the jar and says, “Is it full now?” Again the students confirm that it is full. Next, she takes her cup of coffee and pours that into the jar. At this point, the students are laughing. The professor goes on to explain that the mayonnaise jar is our life. The golf balls are the major parts of our lives, such as our family and health. The gravel represents smaller, but still important parts of our lives like our car and job. The sand represents all the other small stuff in life. She explains, “It’s important to keep in mind that if we fill the jar up with sand first, we won’t have room for the more important things in our lives.” Lastly, the professor explains the cup of coffee by saying we should always have time for coffee with a friend.

What’s your response to this story? Do you find small things getting in the way of more important tasks? How can you focus more on the important areas of life and avoid getting caught up in the small things?

  1. By Rorybowman - Own work, Public Domain,


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