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Lesson 5: Budget Your Time

Gary North, Ph.D.
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What was your assignment for yesterday? Did you follow my instructions? If not, why not?

If you did follow them, what should you do next?

That's what Lesson 5 is all about.

Lesson 5


Writing things down takes a lot of practice. This discipline is not innate for most people. You must force yourself to do it.

The best way to learn anything new is to learn by doing. It's like a coach's new play. The team must practice doing it. It's not enough to read about it.

You're reading about how to get organized. Reading about this will not be sufficient. It's like trying to lose weight by reading diet books and eating the same old foods. Reading isn't enough.

You must develop good habits. Most people can adopt a new habit -- whether good or bad -- by doing the same routine for 30 consecutive days.

Maybe you can keep all of your assignments on one or two sheets of paper in your regular spiral-bound notebook. Maybe. Probably not.

You take your notebook to school. What if you lose it? You're in big trouble. That's why you need to keep a separate time scheduler at home -- two of them, actually. Maybe three.

You must buy a DayMinder or some equivalent monthly scheduling book. There are dozens of brands. Any of them is better than none. I like DayMinder because it's designed for the academic year. You can probably buy one at a local community college book store. Maybe you can buy one at Office Depot. It costs under $10.


There is a pocket weekly appointment version for $5. Here is what one page in an appointment DayMinder looks like.


[Note: sometimes Web links go dead. I included these links only because there are photographs of the products' pages. Unless you have high-speed Internet access, these pages take a long time to download because of the photos.]

To review: write down all of your assignments on one page in your notebook. Bring that page home. Then write down the assignments in a scheduler.


Bring home your assignment sheet for each course. Take out another sheet of paper. For each assignment, you must make a time estimate of how long it will take, in terms of hours, for you to complete the assignment.

Note: any estimate is better than no estimate. A bad estimate can always be revised later. If you stick to any schedule, you will get something done, even if you don't get enough done.

Estimating an assignment's time-cost is the hard part. I know how difficult this is. I do not minimize the difficulty of what I'm asking you to do. But if you refuse to do it, I can't help you much. Your academic success -- and much of your life's success -- depends heavily on your ability to estimate costs. The biggest single cost is your time. This is because time is your most valuable asset.

Why is your time so valuable? Because once it's gone, you can't get it back. An important sign of adulthood is the adult's realization that time is running out. Permanently.

Write down your time estimates in pencil. You may have to erase something later.

You must do this for each assignment. This gets complicated.

Part of your school experience is designed to help you learn how to juggle your schedule. Most students do this by instinct, which is why all but the very smart ones perform below par. Part of the academic learning process is to learn what you absolutely need to know and then learn it before you go to the next phase of your project (and your life's career). You must do your job within the time allotted to you.

Do you want to know the three keys to success in business? Here they are:

Do what you said you would do.
Do it on or before the deadline.
Do it for the price you agreed to.

Do you recognize these rules? They are variations of these questions:

What do you want to achieve?
How soon do you want to achieve it?
What are you willing to pay to achieve it?

Scheduling your time isn't easy, but if you learn how to do this, you will not be a failure in your field, no matter what you decide to do with your life. On the other hand, if you don't learn how to do this, you will struggle for the rest of your life, or else become satisfied with sub-par performance. Don't settle for less than you can achieve. Success requires time-management.

An appointments scheduler lets you organize things weekly. You also need a monthly scheduler. You can use a standard calendar. Hang it on a wall next to your work desk at home. Write down every deadline.

You would be wise to buy a desktop calendar, too. It sits on your desk, filling most of it. It has one calendar sheet per month, which you can tear out and toss away at the end of each month, or you can put into a "How I Did It" folder. You can save these sheets for your own teenagers, to show them how you did it and how self-disciplined you were in high school. This will drive them nuts. I highly recommend it.

The daily boxes in these calendars are large. There is room for more detailed notes. Using a pen this time, write down not only your deadlines, but preliminary deadlines for meeting the final deadlines.


The biggest single mistake that most students make is to procrastinate. This is a very bad habit, and it is very difficult to break.

Here is my motto: "Procrastination kills." You should not wait until the night before the deadline to begin working on any assignment.

Any assignment. This means . . . you may not believe this . . . every assignment. There is only one legitimate excuse for waiting until the day before an assignment is due to begin working on it: it's a one-day assignment.

Here is where you can lap the competition. In a long race with a lot of runners, the front-runners will sometimes lap those runners who are at the end of the pack. They race ahead of the slow ones. The slow ones cannot hope to catch up.

If you will do what I say here, you will gain a tremendous advantage over most of your competition.


Procrastination Kills

You are reading Lesson 5. This is a good sign. A lot of students have quit reading. They have not followed through. You are still in the race.

Staying in the race is basic to survival in every field. It is crucial to academic success. It is a step-by-step process. It begins with success in this week's assignments. Then next week's. Then next semester's. Then college.

Make use of every opportunity to gain an edge on your competition. That's why you ought to join this community Web site, with its Q&A forums. Your time is more valuable than your money. Make good use of your time. You can convert your spare time and spare money into academic success. This will pay off in the long run.

You can join the site here:



A, B, C

Unless you are studying for a big test, the last task of your work day is to identify what you must do tomorrow. What three tasks must you get done, no matter what? Write them down, in order of their importance: A, B, C.

You must do them. So, do them. The three top things on your list of priorities must get done. Do A first, then B, then C, unless there is a chronology problem during the day which forces you to do B or C first.

There is only one legitimate excuse for not getting one of these tasks done: something unexpected forces you to replace one of the tasks. You still get three things done that are on the list. The day after you make a substitution, you must accomplish four things. Put the task you bumped back on your list at the top.

When you select these three things the night before, use your calendar system. That's what it's there for. Your calendar should tell you what you must get done every day. Until you can make this decision daily, based on your calendar system, your calendar system isn't finished.

You should get more than three things done. But if you don't get three things done, you will inevitably fall behind. Your procrastination will catch up with you.


One more time: write down all of your assignments for the entire semester on one sheet of paper.

Buy a weekly time scheduler and a monthly time scheduler. (Maybe a desk calendar, too.)

In pencil, on a second sheet of paper, draw up a weekly and monthly estimate of what you must do, day by day (mini-deadlines), to meet each of the final deadlines.

Put these schedules together in one large plan.

When you've got your overall schedule on paper, write your weekly schedule in your weekly time manager. Write this in pencil. You may forget something and have to add it later.

Then write the monthly schedule in ink. Do this for each month in the semester.

Make a list the night before of the three things that you must get done the next day: A, B, C. Use your calendar to identify them.


Buy a time-manager. Start filling it in.

Don't forget to lecture to the wall: one page, one book.

If you want to make more money, keep more of your money, and enjoy your money more, subscribe to my free Tip of the Week. The subscription box is here: www.garynorth.com.
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