Time management skills (also known as how to hold a pumpkin underwater)


I started this blog several times and each time I began to write about time, the word ‘time’, started taking over the sentence (much like this one), so I kept scrapping the introduction and starting again. Not long afterwards, I was interrupted and lost my train of thought and had to begin again. Soon, I found my time slipping away from me. It was not a good start.

The countdown is on to our final exams in both IB Diploma and IGCSE and it is not going to be long before the students and teachers begin to think that there is simply ‘not enough time’ to get everything done.

Learning how to manage time is one of the most important skills that students will need prior to, and during, their exam session. It is also one of the most valuable skills that they will take with them beyond school.

But how do we do it?

Why does it seem like there is never enough time?

What is the secret to managing time effectively?

For me, it is all about ‘portion control’ and self-awareness.

It is hard to be self-aware…and be principled about it. Oftentimes we fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be far less capable, or more capable, than we actually are. Being truthful about our abilities is hard.

We need to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to planning and performing our work. For example, I would never think that in a 24-hour day that I could actually study and work for the whole 24 hours – and nor should anybody. It is more sensible to portion time out to eat and to sleep and to shower, but also to study.

We ‘run out of time’ if we don’t stick to the rules that we set for ourselves. If you commit to thirty minutes of ‘relax time’ after dinner before you begin to study, then have exactly that. Portion, or ‘chunk’, your study into different subjects, units of work or chapters and don’t forget to give yourself a short break in between each portion. Be realistic about your goals, but also be ambitious in what you can achieve.

I was once told that any time I said ‘I didn’t have enough time’ to do something important, I was really saying ‘I don’t care enough to get it done’. I don’t completely agree that it holds true in every instance, and I think it is more than fair to say that we care about our future, but sometimes ‘time’ gets the better of us.

Before I came to ISM, I was teaching in Shanghai and one of my colleagues at school shared a Chinese proverb that has stayed with me to this day. Loosely translated, it was ‘One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.’ When I first heard this proverb, I pictured myself waist deep in water holding a pumpkin under the surface while several others popped up all around me. Although it may seem comical to try and hold a pumpkin underwater, the sentiment holds true. We must aim to manage the time that we have and not try and to do too many things at the same time, otherwise we run the risk of not doing any task to the best of our ability.

My top five tips on how to manage your revision before exams:

  • portion out your study into manageable chunks
  • be realistic but ambitious about what you can achieve
  • stick to your schedule
  • ask for help when needed (because sometimes we need help to ‘hold all of our pumpkins underwater’)
  • take care of your mind and body in amongst all of the study. If you are not sure how, then read my last blog post on ‘Balance’

As this blog ‘goes to press’, we have approximately seven weeks before both the IB Diploma exams and the IGCSE exams begin and I encourage you to think about how to manage our time effectively.


Picture retrieved on March 9 from: http://www.rantnow.com/2014/10/24/20-reasons-apple-is-better-than-pumpkin/#slide_4