Time is our only finite resource.
168 hours a week are available for us to achieve our goals, pursue our passions, and spend time with family and friends. It’s actually closer to 80 or 90 hours once we’ve included sleep, eating, and the other menial tasks we complete on a daily basis.
In either case, it’s not a lot of time.
Because of this, many of us say things like “I don’t have time” to study, to read, or to learn an instrument. Lack of time is considered a reasonable excuse not to do something meaningful.
The real problem isn’t that we don’t have time. The real problem is that we don’t manage our time well.
We need to manage our time wisely if we want to achieve more, learn more, and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. The same applies to studying.
The Waterfall Method of Time Management can be a very effective method for managing your time.
1. Study Goal (Yearly Time Management)
In the Waterfall Method of Time Management, level one is about appreciating the big picture, staying aligned with our dreams, and taking charge of our lives.
Decide what’s important
By recognizing the important and meaningful aspects of our studies, we are able to create a daily workflow that helps us achieve our goals.
For most of you, your goal is probably to one day be a certified Athletic Trainer. You can make better study decisions if you have this goal in mind. If you’re not sure whether to study a particular subject, you can ask yourself “does this bring me closer to my goal of being an Athletic Trainer?”. In this case, it may be best to avoid it. Even so, there is always room to learn things you enjoy even if they do not directly contribute to these goals. Finding the right balance is the key.
Studying without a long-term goal can lead to thinking everything is important. Often we tell ourselves that we “just need to answer an email” or complete some other important (although unrelated) task first, unaware that this constant distraction is taking us further away from where we want to be.
The solution is to identify a clear study goal and develop a clear plan for achieving it.
Once we’ve figured out what’s important and know what we need to focus on, my advice is to begin by outlining the subject we’re looking to study. (*hint – the Quick Reviews on ATStudy Buddy are outlines for studying!)
We outline a subject to understand how each subtopic relates to the main subject as well as the final learning outcome.
The process is simple. Using Excel or Google Sheets (or even a pen and paper) we can create a list of all the subtopics we need to cover.
We now have a clear overview of the tasks we need to complete, an obvious learning path, and a helpful guide to manage our study time.
2. Study Schedule (Weekly Time Management)
Once we have a study goal in mind, we can begin to break it down into weekly targets. Studies have shown that this is critical to completing work efficiently, as well as managing our time effectively.
Mapping The Week
Why Map Our Week?
Good time management requires carving out enough time each week to dedicate to studying for our chosen goal. Spreading out our workload and maintaining consistency allows us to remain productive, relaxed, and stress-free.
We have more time to do the things we enjoy as well. When we schedule time for productive study, we can see the gaps in our schedule, allowing us to attend social events, pursue our hobbies, and feel guilt-free. It’s a win-win situation.
How to Map Our Week
When it comes to actually plan the week, I like to use Roger Seip’s method of categorizing our time into four categories (from his book Train Your Brain for Success):
- Green Time – Working on things aligned with our educational goals, such as studying
- Red Time – Time to plan activities that support our ‘green time’, e.g. time spent doing your clinical rotations
- Flex Time – Leaving room in our schedules for the unexpected and being overly optimistic about what we can accomplish in a given time frame
- Recreation Time – Time for hobbies, exercise, and relaxing
The most important thing to remember, regardless of how we choose to manage our weekly plan, is that we should make time for goal-oriented tasks while also staying flexible enough to keep a healthy balance in our schedule.
The Retrospective Timetable
Now that we have our weekly plan in place, we can start thinking about how we will spend our “green time”.
Studying specific subjects at regular times during the week is something most people enjoy. Personally, I dislike this method. The problem with fixed timetables is that they require us to look into the future and decide how many hours we’re going to spend on certain tasks before we’ve actually begun the work.
It is impossible (at least in the beginning) to know how much effort each subject will take when we’re at school studying. In a perfect world, we would have a weekly plan that takes this into consideration, allowing us to adapt our schedule according to what we’re struggling with. This is where a retrospective timetable comes in handy.
When we study a subtopic from our outlined subject list (as seen below), we color code it based on our understanding (e.g. red if the subtopic was difficult to understand, green if it was easy).
When we plan out the following week’s schedule, we should fill our ‘green time’ with those subtopics that we find challenging (those colored red). Practicing our weak areas and completing cognitively demanding tasks more often allows us to maximize the productivity of our studying time.
This time management hack really works.
3. Study Blocking (Daily Time Management)
We can only manage our time effectively through ‘blocking’ once we’ve defined our study goal and constructed a weekly plan that helps us achieve that goal. And that is the third step in the Waterfall Method.
Study blocking includes three components:
- Prioritized To-Do Lists (guiding what we do within a study block)
- The Pomodoro Technique (this guides the length of each block)
- Interleaving (guiding the order of our blocks throughout the day)
Prioritized To-Do Lists
Writing to-do lists may not seem like a particularly groundbreaking idea, but they help us visualize our goals. Every task we complete moves us closer to our larger goal, much like putting one foot in front of the other will help us finish a marathon. It’s simple, but it works.
However, it is also important to remember the Pareto Principle:
20 percent of our activities will account for 80 percent of our results
Having a well-ordered to-do list that puts the Most Important Tasks (MITs) first is vital for good time management because it focuses our attention on the 20% of tasks that will give us the most results. Plus, if we do these tasks earlier in the day or at the beginning of a new study block, we approach them with more energy and efficiency.
Although there are many micro time management techniques, the Pomodoro Technique is perhaps the most well-known.
Every work block throughout the day is split into 25 minutes of focused study, followed by a 5-minute break. After repeating this process 3-4 times, we take a 15-minute break.
It is easier to avoid “half-work” if we split our work up this way. By blocking out smaller chunks of time in our schedule, we can more easily eliminate distractions that divide our energy, such as checking phone notifications while studying.
The order in which we study throughout the day also impacts the quality of our learning. This impacts our time management as well.
We spend many hours studying the same subject when our time is mismanaged. Consequently, it’s harder to retain knowledge, meaning we have to spend even more time reviewing the material.
In a well-managed time schedule, we interleave study sessions. Our study schedule is varied from day to day so that we do not spend too much time on one subject – abcbcacba instead of aaabbbcccc.
It makes sense to jump between subjects and spread out our learning when it comes to our daily tasks (or Pomodoros). By doing so, our brains have a better chance of strengthening memory associations and can grasp the material more quickly.
4. Study Flow (Continuous Time Management)
In the final level of the Waterfall Method, we find our study flow – using strategies that keep us motivated, productive, and having fun.
- Find our natural rhythm – Our circadian and ultradian rhythms determine our energy levels throughout the day. Understanding how our bodies work allows us to adapt to these changes and schedule relevant work at the most productive times.
- Take regular breaks – Good time management doesn’t mean we’ve got to be busy all the time. Taking regular breaks will help us avoid procrastination and mental exhaustion (not helpful, obviously). Along with getting enough sleep, exercise is a great way to replenish energy levels.
- Allow flexibility -We need to keep our schedule flexible. Since nothing always goes as planned, we need to actively leave gaps in our schedule to mitigate any time management breakdowns. Even Warren Buffett doesn’t fill up his schedule so he can be flexible and adapt to unexpected events.
However, some distractions throughout the day are healthy. Being efficient and productive isn’t always possible. It’s okay to be interrupted by your friends at college, it’s part of the experience. You shouldn’t feel bad about it. Take it as a welcome distraction that makes your day more exciting and interesting.
Usually, the best students are also the best time managers. Throughout their lives, they plan out their yearly goals, weekly plans, daily schedules, and find their study flow.
With the Waterfall Method of Time Management, we can become brilliant learners, too. Rather than wasting time on things that are unplanned and ineffective, we should devote more time to activities that are planned and relevant to our academic goals.