The key to good results

Time management and good planning can be a good tool for cracking the code for succeeding in Board examinations
Dr Samir Parikh

Do you often feel like 24 hours just aren't enough? Have you ended up skipping meals because you simply because there wasn't enough time to eat? Time is something that we all grapple to keep up with and feel it slipping through our hands just when we need it the most.

At the end of the day, we often end up wondering where our time really went, and what we've achieved in the course of the day, even if we felt like we were really busy for the most part. The first step to managing your time, then, is to understand how you've been spending it. It would be a good idea to chalk out a schedule of the week that went by we often end up underestimating the time we spend in front of the television, on the phone, playing games and the likes. It's therefore important to identify time wasters, and prioritise tasks based on their importance.

To be a good manager of time, you need to be a good planner. A time-table typically can be a great roadmap to help you along your journey to success. While we all do set time-tables, there are common mistakes we all end up making in the process. Rather than setting a fixed schedule for the full month, time-tables work best for short durations. A better approach would therefore be to make a time-table only for the next couple of days, so that you then have the flexibility of adjusting them in the coming days, depending on their workability. If you aren't able to accomplish enough during the first few days, you can always adjust your schedule in the coming days to ensure you put in more hours or work. A flexible timetable is always the way to go, in order to avoid disappointment de-motivation. Another common mistake is not factoring in contingency time. There might be an emergency at home or a friend in crisis or maybe you fall ill. An overly rigid schedule will not allow you the space to deal with these kinds of uncontrollable factors. Always be prepared for the unexpected and keep some spare unstructured time for it.

Include time for relaxation and recreational activities
Include time for relaxation and recreational activities

While preparing your time-table, make a schedule that you would enjoy following. This includes making space for your favourite TV show and a recreational activity. Also include an outdoor physical activity and time to meet friends. Structuring your work around these activities might make it a easier for you to stick to your schedule. And most importantly, be realistic! Do not underestimate the work you have to do, and at the same time, don't overestimate your own ability. A good way to get a realistic estimate of the time required is to note down not just the time you've scheduled for a certain activity, but also how much time you actually spend doing it - be it recreational or related to your work. Doing so over a period of time will give you a realistic idea of your pace, and also insight into where you're once again wasting your time.

When it comes to studying, it's not merely the number of hours put in that count, but rather, the effectiveness of your study methods that count. To ensure that you are able to maximise your levels of concentration, it's important to study in a distraction-free zone - this would entail studying on a clutter-free desk, with minimal noise and with the mobile phone kept far away. It's also a good idea to study in bouts of 45 minutes, with short 5-10 minute breaks in between. Break tasks down into small and achievable targets to sustain your motivation.

People experiencing a shortage of time often tend to multi-task in order to best utilise the limited amount of time in hand. However, increasingly it's been found that multitasking doesn't help in a time crunch. What it increases is your stress, and the likelihood of you making mistakes. Rather than juggling too many things, focus on one task at a time and then move on to the next.

Make a realistic schedule; you can't spend 16 hours a day studying
Make a realistic schedule; you can't spend 16 hours a day studying

Students often claim that last-minute preparation is the most effective; that they perform best under pressure. While it is true that the right amount of stress can in fact enhance one's performance, last=minute preparation is still a bad idea. Lots can go wrong when you leave things for the last minute - you or someone around you may fall ill, the nerves might get the better of you, or you may just have underestimate the work you need to put in and may therefore simply not have enough time left to finish it all. We all have a tendency to procrastinate and a tendency to find excuses not to do our work at that particular moment. Be aware of the excuses you make, find ways of overcoming these self-defeating patterns and get down to work in time.

The skill to manage time comes in handy not just while studying a vast course, but while attempting the test paper as well. It's all too common to come across students who knew the answers but were unable to complete the paper due to a lack of time. It's here that it's necessary for students to understand that there is no such thing as a "lengthy paper". Examiners expect students to only write as much as is necessary based on the marks allotted to a particular question. Divide your time based on the weightage a question holds, make it a habit to distinguish between how much you need to write in a two-mark question and a four mark question. In other words it's time to become cost effective with your time.

The writer is Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi

Tips for exams

n Identify testable material: Review course outlines and make a list of material to be covered for each exam. Speak to teachers if clarification is needed.

n Assess your situation: Do you have a good understanding of the testable material? Are you caught up on the readings and other course responsibilities? List any outstanding tasks for each course.

n Realistically determine of time for studying: Use a day planner or a weekly schedule to help you determine your available time. If applicable, plan time for end-of-term assignments and allocate time to prepare for and attend remaining classes. Identify time for catching up on course work and studying.

n Make studying a priority: During exams, decrease socialising but don't cut back on sleep, meals, and exercise these contribute to quality study time.

n Prioritise among and within courses: Identify your course and content priorities. You may decide that it's best to spend more of your study time on the courses that are required for your program than on electives. Also, certain parts of courses may warrant more time than others if they are considered especially important or if they have not yet been tested.

n Be strategic with shortcuts: If you don't have enough time to prepare fully and have to omit material, try to minimise the damage. For example, if you have good lecture notes for a chapter that you haven't read, you may skip reading that chapter and instead cover the required readings that the professor did not cover in class.

n Set a reasonable schedule: Be realistic. Don't plan to spend 16 hours a day studying. Determine how many study hours are reasonable in a productive work day. Identify blocks of time for studying and allocate time for meals, exercise, and sleep.

n Practice good time management in the exam: Consider how many questions you need to answer, how heavily they're weighted, and how much time is available, and then develop a plan. For example, for three equally weighted essay questions in three hours you may want to allocate approximately 45 minutes per answer, with some time at the start to read over the exam and some time at the end to revise. For a multiple-choice or true/false exam, monitor time periodically to assess whether you're on schedule. If you're spending too much time on a question, attempt an answer and flag the question; come back to it later if there's time.

Health Capsules
Less night sleep ups risk of major depression

Washington: Sleeping for six hours or less per night may increase the risk of major depression especially among adolescents, a new research has warned. Two studies reported novel links between sleep duration and depression. A study of 4,175 individuals between 11 and 17 years of age is the first to document reciprocal effects for major depression and short-sleep duration among adolescents using prospective data. Results suggest sleeping six hours or less per night increases the risk for major depression, which in turn increases the risk for decreased sleep among adolescents. "These results suggest that sleep deprivation may be a precursor for major depression in adolescents, occurring before other symptoms of major depression and additional mood disorders," said Dr Robert E Roberts, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. Another study suggests that sleep durations outside the normal range increase the genetic risk for depressive symptoms. Among twins with a normal sleep duration of seven to 8.9 hours per night, the total heritability of depressive symptoms was 27 per cent. However, the genetic influence on depressive symptoms increased to 53 per cent among twins with a short sleep duration of five hours per night and 49 per cent among those who reported sleeping 10 hours per night. Dr Nathaniel Watson, University of Washington Medicine Sleep Centre, Seattle, said, "Both short and excessively long sleep durations appear to activate genes related to depressive symptoms." The studies are published in the journal Sleep. PTI

Too much salt can cause obesity

Adolescents consuming more than twice the recommended daily allowance of salt increases their high sodium intake that correlates with fatness and inflammation regardless of how many calories they consume, a new study has found. In the study of 766 healthy teens, 97 per cent self-reported exceeding the American Heart Association's recommendation of consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily. "The majority of studies in humans show the more food you eat, the more salt you consume, the fatter you are," Dr Haidong Zhu of Georgia Regents University, said. These high-sodium consumers also had high levels of tumour necrosis factor alpha, which is secreted by immune cells and contributes to chronic inflammation as well as autoimmune diseases like lupus and arthritis. These adolescents also had high levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that normally suppresses appetite and burns fat, but at chronically high levels can have the opposite effects. Reductions would result from not automatically adding salt to food and choosing fresh fruits and vegetables over French fries and processed meats and snacks. The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Blue light could help us fight fatigue

Researchers have found that exposure to short wavelength, or blue light, immediately improves alertness and performance. Lead researcher Shadab Rahman, BWH's Division of Sleep Medicine, said that their previous research has shown that blue light is able to improve alertness during the night, but their new data demonstrates that these effects also extend to daytime light exposure, asserting that these findings demonstrate that prolonged blue light exposure during the day has an alerting effect. The researchers found that participants exposed to blue light consistently rated themselves as less sleepy, had quicker reaction times and fewer lapses of attention during the performance tests compared to those who were exposed to green light. The findings have been published in the journal Sleep.

Some lubricants could block conception

Couples trying to conceive may want to avoid using certain common sexual lubricants, claims a new study. According to the study, some lubricants can harm sperm and reduce the chances of pregnancy. "Lubricants available on the shelf are not lubricants any couple should use if they are trying to have a baby," said Kazim R. Chohan, senior author of the study and director of the Andrology Laboratory at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

Parents underestimate children's weight

Half of parents with an overweight or obese child think their kids are slimmer than they actually are, according to a new review of past studies. In 69 studies of more than 15,000 children, researchers found many parents with an overweight child thought their son or daughter was at a healthy weight or below. Others with an obese kid thought the child was normal or just a bit heavy. Agencies