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Managing Time & Behavior to Achieve Well-Being and Balance in College

Managing Time and Behavior to Achieve Well-Being and Balance in College: Start With The 8-8-8 Formula - In this article guest author Dr. Laurie Hazard shares her views to support students and deliver effective First-Year-Experience programs on campus. For more FYE resources, check out some of our recent webinars, including 'Mastering Executive Functioning Skills: A Key To Academic Success' featuring Dr. Laurie Hazard.

Managing Time and Behavior to Achieve

Well-Being and Balance in College:

Start With The 8-8-8 Formula


Countless studies over the past few years have consistently highlighted the detrimental impact of the shift to online learning on students' focus and motivation (Ann Denon, Best Colleges, April 2021). Throughout the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression surged, and today, many students still grapple with lingering effects. Students at every level are contending with the enduring consequences of stress, including emotional reactivity, overwhelming feelings, an inability to focus and concentrate, and even physical symptoms. Managing emotions, sustaining focus and concentration, maintaining overall well-being, and planning ahead are all indispensable skills for academic achievement and student success in college.

While the majority of college students recognize that time management is crucial for success, they often struggle to fully comprehend the behaviors necessary to achieve the well-being and balance required to thrive in college. As first-years, they may not be adequately prepared to consider the myriad ways they must adapt to the changing learning environment from high school to college. For instance, college grades hinge on effectively managing a variety of tasks with different deadlines. Students are expected to "multitask" and meet the demands of coursework from four or five different professors, with their grades largely dependent on this ability.

Students must recognize that intellectual and educational achievements require time, and they need to devise strategies to manage the diverse demands placed on them. College students often find themselves facing a multitude of tasks within tight deadlines. Consequently, many first-years feel overwhelmed and stressed, prompting them to explore more effective time management methods. This is promising because psychologists have extensively studied time management practices and concluded that effective strategies significantly impact college achievement. Although most college students acknowledge the importance of efficient time management, many still struggle to establish a practical system. While the 8-8-8 Formula provides a good starting point, an essential first step is for students to thoughtfully consider the structure of the learning environment in college.


The Illusion of Free Time 

The shift in the structure of the learning environment from high school to college often creates an illusion of free time. How does this happen exactly? Well, many new college students transition from a secondary education environment where teachers and administrators meticulously planned and prioritized how students utilized their time during a six-hour school day. Teachers prioritized learning activities in school, and parents likely organized activities outside of school. In other words, others had created a balanced schedule for them.

As a result, first-years, recent high school graduates, often get excited about transitioning from a highly structured six-hour-per-day learning environment in high school to a more free and flexible schedule in college. They examine their class schedule and conclude that full-time students are typically expected to spend an average of three or four hours per day in the classroom.

The shift in the structure of the learning environment creates an illusion for some first-year students that college will require a minimal time commitment. They might think, "Wow, this is great! I'm only going to be in school a few hours a day. I'll have tons of time to have fun with friends and family, make some money, and get my work done." Students with this mindset often fail to recognize that time is more limited than they may realize, and they simply cannot afford to waste it. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, seven days in a week, and about fifteen weeks in a college semester. Students will likely be surprised at how much they're expected to accomplish within these limited time frames. Consequently, in college, they will have to engage in both short-range ("How will I use my time today?") and long-range ("How will I map out my semester?") planning, prioritizing, and goal-setting. In other words, they will have to look to the future and plan ahead. The good news is that predicting and determining how students can use their time effectively is a learned skill called time management, and there are ways for students to conceptualize their time management practices and adopt behaviors that will lead to college success.


A Balancing Act

The question for students, then, is, “What are sound time management practices, and how and when do I implement them?” Naturally, in college, students need to spend considerable time outside of class reading and studying. This is not to say they won’t have time to relax and have some fun, but they must balance their time effectively, considering the demands on them to work, socialize, relax, and study, among other activities. They may also, for example, be involved in volunteer work or care for family. This balancing act is challenging because some may think that schoolwork demands an average of just three hours per day (the time spent in the classroom), failing to include the time needed for coursework outside of class. They will have to self-regulate and manage their own learning, finding time to recharge to strike that healthy balance. Unlike in high school where they may have had teachers and parents helping them manage reading and studying time, in college, this process is their sole responsibility.

Students may be surprised to learn that when professors structure their courses, they do so with the expectation that students will spend an average of two to three hours studying outside of class for every hour spent in the classroom. If they have five classes, then, with approximately three hours per week per class, the expectation is that students will be doing out-of-class work for thirty to forty hours per week. You can see why many people consider college a full-time job, where the currency earned is knowledge and a sense of achievement.

Many students, when considering the demands on their time, immediately deem them unreasonable, musing: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day. How can I spend that much time on schoolwork, not be stressed out, and still have a life?” Students can rest assured that if they manage their time and behavior effectively, they can enjoy both a fulfilling college life and handle their schoolwork. This is not to say that there won’t be periods of stress, but there are strategies, such as understanding the 8-8-8 Formula—a way to conceptualize balancing time—that can help them achieve a sense of balance.


The 8-8-8 Formula

What is the 8-8-8 Formula exactly? There are twenty-four hours in a day. Let’s consider that the average human adult needs eight hours of sleep per night, give or take. For optimal health benefits, students should attend to their sleep hygiene and ensure they get enough rest. Students might allocate eight hours to leisure time, either spent alone or with others. Some may need to use this time to work outside or within the home. That leaves eight hours remaining. If they spend three of those remaining hours in class, they will have approximately five hours left for out-of-class work, in other words, eight hours of schoolwork. That is the 8-8-8 formula.

Now, take those five hours per day for out-of-class work and multiply that by five. That brings them to twenty-five hours of schoolwork. On the weekends, they will need to find another five hours or so for studying, reaching the expected range of thirty to forty hours per week. Think of thirty hours as the minimum and forty hours as the maximum. Of course, this assumes a full-time student schedule, but adjustments can be made for a part-time course load. Achieving balance is crucial, especially for students working full-time or nearly full-time to pay for their college courses. Those with families to support must carefully consider where their time will be allocated each day.

The purpose of the 8-8-8 formula is to demonstrate to students that there is enough time in the day if they are prepared to manage their time and behavior. There will be times when students need to dedicate more hours to studying and forgo some of their leisure time. These time commitments will vary depending on the demands of their classes and the time of the semester. For instance, during midterms and finals, they may find themselves working forty hours per week outside of class. They might consider stockpiling their coursework hours during the week and taking weekends off from studying. Alternatively, they may prefer to reserve their leisure hours and time to recharge for the weekends. The possibilities of how they can plan and organize their time are endless. They will need to tailor their time management practices to their personality, values, lifestyle choices, and college activities. It’s all up to them.

The purpose of the 8-8-8 formula is to demonstrate to students that there is enough time in the day

You may observe that the 8-8-8 formula is rather straightforward and, on the surface, doesn’t necessarily account for unique situations in which students may find themselves. Well, sometimes students will have to cut into their leisure time and make some difficult choices because, after all, college is a sacrifice. What if students have to work twenty hours per week or are student-athletes, for example? Where would they find the time in the 8-8-8 formula for such activities that are not clearly outlined by the formula? Well, these students would be faced with having to make some difficult decisions. Let’s say a varsity tennis player has team practices from three to six p.m. every day, or another student has a job on campus that takes up three hours daily. From where within the 8-8-8 formula would they borrow these hours?

Most experts on sleep would likely agree that sacrificing healthy sleep habits and operating in sleep deprivation mode would not be the best solution. Sleep deprivation results in lower tolerance toward fighting off infections, for instance. Given the pace of a college semester, students can't afford to get sick. Imagine having to make up missed work and, at the same time, keeping up with current assignments if you had to take time off for an illness. That would be challenging. Sleep hygiene is an important consideration. Encourage students to get the requisite eight hours of sleep per night, as the lack of sleep has numerous negative consequences.

How about borrowing from those eight hours dedicated to classes and schoolwork? That may work during some weeks, but overall, it likely is not the best solution. Unfortunately, what none of us like to do is dip into our leisure time, but participating in a demanding activity like a varsity sport or having to work out of financial necessity may require doing so. Remember, though, that there is a payoff for this dedication, hard work, and perseverance. A typical college semester is fifteen weeks, so forfeiting some leisure time for that distinct period will, in the long run, be well worth the sacrifice.


8-8-8 Conclusion

Most college students know that college is a sacrifice. Indeed, they understand the importance of managing their time and behavior and finding ways to achieve well-being and balance. They are aware that managing time and behavior effectively can offer one solution to better cope with stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, the challenge is that many first-year students simply do not know where to begin, particularly when feeling overwhelmed and unable to focus.

The 8-8-8 Formula offers a starting point for students to conceptualize how they will manage their time and behavior in college: eight hours for sleep, eight hours dedicated to college and college-related activities, and eight hours dedicated to leisure and recharging while taking into consideration the sacrifices that may have to be made in this area.

About the Author

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Dr. Laurie L. Hazard, Ed.D.
Founder, Recognize Your Potential
Educator, Counselor, Student Success Expert

Laurie Hazard is an award-winning educator and nationally recognized student success expert who researches how students make successful transitions from secondary to higher education. She studies and writes about student personality types, academic achievement, and classroom success. For more information on Laurie's speaking, writing, and consulting: www.lauriehazard.com.