It can happen to the best of us. We’ll be engaged in an important task, and suddenly feel the pull of a distraction. We’ll decide to check our email, browse the Web, or get settled into a compelling television show for just a few minutes.  Unfortunately, those “few minutes” can quickly (and almost unknowingly) become far more time than you initially intended to spend.

Students are just as easily susceptible. They’ll have every intention of focusing on their homework, but they’ll decide to watch “just one more” funny video, or spend a couple more minutes on IM, or play a few more rounds of their favorite game. Before they know it, they’ll have far less time for their studies than they hoped.

In and of themselves, these activities aren’t necessarily bad. However, they can quickly become problems if they’re allowed to take precedence over more important activities and more pressing priorities. So, how can students (or any of us, honestly) begin to address the “time wasters” that distract from the things and people that matter most?

In Student Success in College: Doing What Works! 2nd Edition, author Christine Harrington PhD shares some valuable insights and information that students can use to stop themselves from expending too much time and energy on what she calls time traps: “…an activity that takes up a lot of your time and is typically unproductive in nature” (98). We’ve shared some of them below.

Evaluating how time-wasting activities impact your academic achievement

In her book, Harrington includes the following activity, which will help students learn to recognize their “time traps” and evaluate the impact that they have on their academic efforts:

Spend a few minutes thinking about your time traps. What activities take up a lot of your time? Do these activities help you move toward your goals or distract you from what you want to achieve? How do these activities impact your studying behavior? What is one thing you are willing to do (or not do) to increase time for academic tasks? (Harrington, 99)

Three steps students can take to avoid time-wasting activities

Once students have identified the activities that detract from their efforts to be productive, it’s now time to work on reducing their impact. Christine Harrington also offers students some guidance for avoiding those time wasters, which we’ve paraphrased here:

1. Know your “time traps.” Take note of the activities that tend to distract you from your more important priorities, and be especially alert during those times when they typically tempt you.

2. Set a time limit. Manage your “time traps” by defining and limiting the amount of time you spend on them. To keep yourself accountable, set a timer… and step away from the activity once it goes off. (No hitting “snooze”!)

3. Use your “time trap” as an incentive. Everyone needs a break now and then. So work it to your advantage: Determine that you’ll focus on a critical task (such as a reading assignment, exam study session, or research paper) for a set period of time, such as an hour. Then, allow yourself a brief ten- or fifteen-minute break to enjoy your diversion, after which you go back to your studies. (Harrington, 98-99)

As we noted above, a few minutes spent on social media, or a bit of time playing a video game, won’t completely derail students from their life goals. But in order for students to stay the course, it’s important for them to learn how to manage their time wisely, and expend the greater portion of their time and efforts on the activities that serve as stepping stones to greater academic, personal, and professional success.

What steps do you take to avoid time-wasting activities? Share your tips and ideas in the comments.

Reference: Harrington, Christine. 2016. Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, 2nd EditionBoston: Cengage Learning.

© 2016 Cengage Learning.