I had a time management problem and I didn't even know it.  I had never been an "A" student. By my second year of university, I had already amassed several insufficient scores. I was already repeating classes and moving nowhere fast. I thought I wasn't intelligent or dedicated enough. I blamed my school and my professors for leaving me behind. In hindsight, the problem was pretty obvious. Working full time while taking a full load of classes meant anything I did during my little remaining free time had to be carefully planned. It took me almost my entire college career but I think I finally got time management right.

Hunter College didn't enforce staff usage of the school wide learning management system (Blackboard) so I had to manually keep track of any assignments, exams, and their due dates. I noted every deadline in my calendar. I set repeating reminders for days, or sometimes weeks, in advance. But eventually, getting a reminder notification on my phone became an excuse to browse Reddit or Hacker News. My phone became too toxic to do the job. My solution was the distraction free whiteboard in my room. Every morning, the whiteboard stared at me. It woke me up with a list of things due that day. There were never any distractions. It couldn't run out of battery or lose a notification. It came with a 100% SLA on message delivery.

In addition to deadlines, I also had to know how well I was doing in each class. That affected the various trade-offs I had to make in my work and class performance. It wasn't as simple as answering "What are my grades?". I needed to know my grades in relation to each class syllabus. I tried to keep all of that in my head but every year, come midterm season, I would become less and less aware of my performance. Even if I could dig out an old syllabus, I would lose track of how many exams and assignments had been completed and their corresponding grades. My last summer of university, I built something that I now consider a must have for success. It's a basic spreadsheet.

Despite its simplicity, I credit my Semester Tracker document with being heavily responsible for my impending graduation. At the beginning of the semester, I took the time to transfer course requirements from every syllabus I received. I noted the types of assignments, how many of them were to be completed, as well as their relative worths. I also got to learn about Google Sheets formulas. As a software engineer I felt both impressed and constrained. Luckily the simple math I needed didn't require advanced knowledge or hacking on my part.

As grades started pouring in, I was able to get a detailed view of my class accomplishments. I could make predictions by inputting expected grades and seeing various possible outcomes. Making data informed decisions meant I was choosing to allot more time to the class I was struggling with rather than the one I liked the most. Making data informed decisions meant I knew when to ask for help. Making data informed decisions completely changed the way I look at time management. Time management isn't about giving every task an equal amount of time. It's about giving every task the right amount of time.

Feel free to duplicate the sheet and use it for your own purposes.


Google Sheets formulas cheat sheet:

Split a string by a delimiter
SPLIT(<string>, <delimiter>)

Count the number of cells
COUNTA(<cell start>:<cell end>)

Is a cell empty
ISBLANK(<cell>)

If statement
IF(<condition>, <value when true>, <value when false>)

Add values across cells
SUM(<cell start>:<cell end>)

Average values across cells
AVERAGE(<cell start>:<cell end>)