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Its The Final Countdown

ellenv's picture

 It happens twice a year. The panic. The late-night coffee runs. The sudden urge to escape your room filled with textbooks. Finals: we know that they are coming; yet, we still find ourselves scrambling as the hours, minutes, and seconds counting down to that next exam. E-mails appear daily calling all students to take a break from studying and come to concerts/meetings/food extravaganzas. What to chose: an extra hour of sleep, that additional 30 minutes of study time, or going to the dance showcase with the free food? In many people’s mind, the decision comes down to time management. But how well can we really “manage” our time? Time isn’t something that can be bought, packaged, or parceled out when we need it. Does this mean instead that time is the manger and we are the puppets?

            There are several ways to approach this question using the texts that we have studied this semester. One way that time management can be understood is as a result of the human need for structure in the world. In her article tilted “The Odds of That,” Lisa Belkin argues that humans are pattern-seeking beings that are “discomforted by the idea of a random universe” (Belkin). This means that time management serves a hidden purpose beyond being used as a practical way to survive finals week; time management can also be seen as a human response to the unpredictable nature of the future. The man-made arrangement of the hours in the day is a testament to the fact.

With time functioning as a standardized unit of measurement, humans have an established system to understand the future. However, this reliance on a standard pattern then creates a secondary problem. With a standardized time system, humans gain a sense of control/power. With that sense of power only comes the modification of time into something to be manipulated. This is where time management comes in. Ultimately, time management is a human attempt to manipulate time, which itself contains a man-made component. Because individuals feel that they have an understanding of the future based on their concept of “time,” they want to ensure that the movement from the present to the future is balanced. This balance refers to a combination of both unpleasant (but necessary) activities and activities that individuals enjoy. The ideal time-manager is one who is able to strike this balance with little resistance. A lack of resistance comes from an ability to devote time in the present to things occurring in the future. Rather than leaving all of their unpleasant tasks to the last minute (at which point the present is transitioning to the future), time managers are able to parcel out their work so that the present is always manageable. Under this interpretation of time management, time managers would be seen as powerful and procrastinators would be seen as powerless individuals. This is because power in this sense is coming from proper management of time.

Time management, and time in general, can also be understood in terms of nudges. In their text Nudge, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein make the argument that individuals are not entirely responsible for the decisions that they make. Instead, there are constantly outside forces that influence how individuals perceive their choices.  In terms of time management, these outside forces can range from professors to television. On the one hand, a professor may nudge a student to being their work earlier using a system of progressing deadlines. On the other hand, the presence of a television could nudge a student to focus on pleasurable activities in the present rather than unpleasant activities that have to be accomplished in the future.

Because the relationship between the present and the future is so fluid, however, it can also be argued that time itself is a nudge. As the amount of time to complete a task decreases, the pressure (nudge) that an individual feels to complete that task increases. Sometimes, it is only when a person begins to feel that sense of pressure that they are finally able to acknowledge that what was once the future is now the present.

To what extent can time management practices really be put to use in a college environment though? If there are nudges coming from all directions, which one is the one that has the biggest effect over all of the rest? To me, it seems like the college environment in one in which time is the ultimate nudge. While professors and other student alike might nudge an individual to get their work done earlier rather than later, time is ultimately driving when and how things get done. This idea of time as a nudge incorporates both the man-made and natural concepts of time. On the one hand, the man-made sense of time defines when things are due. On the other hand, the actual passage of time that puts pressure on students is a natural occurrence; even outside of the human structure of time, the passage of time does occur.

If time is the nudge, then, does that mean that the time-crunch of finals week is inevitable? Or is it necessary to completely do away with this nudge in order to be an effective time manager? For, a time manger is one that does not put themselves in a position where the pressure of time is relevant. In the end, these two ideas of time management do not outline how to deal with a time-crunch; rather, these two interpretations of time management illustrate the flaws of time management. The man-made nature of the time structures creates a false sense of power over the future. This false sense of power then causes individuals to repeat the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to their use of time.