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Since you are already saving for your student’s college experience, you’re likely helping them develop intentional habits in managing money too. As you do, you’re teaching them a way of thinking that benefits them in more ways than one. The cognitive work of allocating resources will be useful to them in managing time.

How? Students today need a malleable strategy for managing time and real-time thought solutions for when things don’t go as planned. This is why I teach students the envelope system for managing time.

The envelope system is essentially a tactile, clear approach for managing a personal budget each month. It calls for the budgeter to make a plan at the beginning of the month, take out cash for all appropriate categories of the budget, and to stick to what’s available in the envelope for each category for the duration of the month.

Of course, things come up that cause us to move cash from one envelope to another throughout the month. We need a new tire. The grandparents pay a surprise visit. We forgot to budget in a gift for the neighbor’s graduation. But despite these being unexpected, we have the freedom to make changes to our budget confidently and peacefully, because we know what’s available to move around. We have clarity because we were intentional from the start.

Managing time is the same. We have a set amount of it. We use it according to our priorities and commitments. We can make a plan and change the plan when we need to. Unexpected things will inevitably come up. Changes can be accommodated. Changes to the plan do not need to cause us stress.

That’s my hope for students. That intentionality about the ways they manage their time will prevent stress and anxiety.

So, here’s a summary of my typical instructions to students for managing time like money:

  1. List all your class-related deadlines in a planner or digital calendar. Include reading deadlines, homework assignments, tests, labs, etc. Anything requiring effort in advance. I like to add deadlines to the top bar of my Google Calendar. (Note: I recommend using a calendar where you can see each hour of the day, as this provides a visible representation of the time that’s available.)
  2. Add to the same calendar other commitments in your life. Class times, work schedules, student organization meetings, religious activities, family time, etc. The goal is to be comprehensive.
  3. Refer back to your deadlines, and identify what steps will be necessary for each. What will it take to complete that paper? That lab assignment? That design project? Estimate how much time each step will take. Add these steps to your planner or calendar, assigning them a specific time on a specific day. (It’s okay to work just a couple of weeks in advance, instead of for the whole semester.)
  4. Work the plan, knowing you will need to adjust as you go. When an unexpected shift at work or a fun thing with friends comes up during your planned study time, you can take a steady look at your deadline and other times available to study before then, and make a confident decision to either change your plan or to continue studying. You have clarity because you know what’s available.
  5. I suggest doing steps 2 and 3 once a week, looking ahead at the next couple of weeks. If students are working part-time, they won’t know their work schedules beyond that time-frame anyway, so this rhythm aligns nicely.

When I talk students through this approach, they often like that it gives them a plan for making adjustments with less stress, since their schedules are often fluid outside of class and work. They like that they can feel more in control, directing their time instead of letting it happen to them.

This kind of intentionality can also boost their confidence. When they have clarity about the resources available to them, they position themselves to use their agency and build the days, weeks, and semesters they hope for—and that you’ve hoped and planned for as well.

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Dr. Jennifer Tharp is an alumna of Azusa Pacific University where she earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education. Dr. Tharp teaches at the graduate level and consults nationally in the area of student success. Visit Dr. Jennifer Tharp's website.