It’s a scenario we’re familiar with because we’ve been there ourselves: your schedule is set. Then an issue comes up. Followed by another last-minute meeting. Something else runs late. Before you know it, you’re drowning in commitments. Things start to slip. Deadlines pass. Meetings are missed. Others notice. You have trouble focusing on the things you DO make time for.
For many of our students, the scenario described above isn’t fiction, or even rare – it’s their day-to-day. They struggle to keep juggling, all the while eagerly saying “yes” to new commitments, taking up others’ slack, and rushing to complete their “priority work.” We receive – and sometimes create – the busiest, most overwhelmed generation of students. There are serious risks of this lifestyle, including general burnout, academic failure, substance abuse, and increased risk of suicidal behaviors.
It is critical that we as Student Affairs Professionals do a better job of teaching our over-involved students the differences between time management and time juggling. Helping our students identify – and form behaviors around – successful time management strategies can help them avoid the juggling act that sets in when there’s simply too much to do. In general, good time management tends to look like:
- Prioritizing: understand what has to get done, by what time. What commitments are the most critical? If your answer is “all of them” then try raising your priority-bar even higher.
- Organizing: whether a leather-bound planner or a smartphone calendar, good time management requires a system. And keeping it current. And sticking to it.
- Reflecting: we take time to evaluate programs, relationships, projects, and job performance – why not make reflection on the day/week/month’s organization a priority as well?
Obviously, everyone approaches time management differently, and will develop their own takes and strategies. While the same can be true of time juggling, there remain a number of warning signs that may help a student realize that they’ve entered the juggling realm:
- Never Taking Breaks: are our students literally “on” from wake until sleep, day after day? The body and mind both need rest to be our best – even small breaks help us relax and recharge.
- Changes in Appetite and Sleep: it’s one thing to rush a meal or work late one night. It’s another when eating habits fall off completely and sleep becomes a “luxury.”
- Emotional/Cognitive Issues: our leaders tend to be bright, energetic people. While lots of situations can impact this, it can also point to over-involvement. Stay tuned-in to them.
Of course, it’s important to consider that students stuck in juggling-mode might not be aware of what’s happening. Our efforts to help students spot these situations and respond appropriately are critical. Ultimately, we must keep a vigilant eye on our students – and ourselves, and our peers – to help others avoid becoming over-involved and facing negative outcomes as a result.