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COMP2801 – Reflection on Time Management

For which I received eight of the eight allocated marks.

I didn’t have much idea what was going on during my first semester at uni – it was a steep learning curve. I tried to study and follow the guidelines, but fell badly behind in one subject when I had to prioritise the others. As a result I nearly died during swot vac, and nearly failed a subject. My second semester at uni, I tried to avoid this problem by attending all tutorials, doing them at home prior to the tutorial, actually studying, and all the other things that a good uni student should do. Unfortunately the result was very similar – a panic during swot vac and one subject that I nearly failed. To combat this recurring time-management problem, I vowed to study all third semester – but only at home. I vowed to go to uni, attend all my classes, practicals and tutorials – but do any additional study, and my assignments, at home. I would attend uni for the minimum time required, get home early, and study – every day. Not surprisingly, this didn’t work and resulted in the same swot vac panic and struggle to pass subjects. So, this fourth semester, I have tried a new plan – I will do absolutely nothing relating to uni at home. I will go to uni, do all my uni work at uni, and keep home for home stuff. So far this has been the most successful method I’ve tried – although swot vac is still going to be a big struggle.

I’ve been taking consistently more challenging subjects each semester. My logic was that I’d do all the compulsory subjects first, allowing me to choose my electives when I had more of an idea what direction I wanted to take. This has meant that I’ve not done courses in quite the order they were meant to be done – for example, even though I’m only in my second year I’m currently taking two third level courses, and also took two last semester. This has probably put higher demands on my time than if I was only taking second level courses. “Networks 1” (COMS3200), in particular, has had real killer assignments that have taken immense amounts of time to complete, and required total dedication to the exclusion of my other courses while attempting them. To make things worse, the other two courses I’m undertaking, “Data Structures and Algorithms” (COMP2502) and “Information Security” (COMP3502) have both had assignments simultaneous with my COMS3200 assignments, right down to being due on the same day. This has meant that I’ve spent a great deal of time buried away in the computer labs coding, writing, and going a little insane. It is worth noting here that 2 litres of L.A. Ice Cola allows one to see through time at 4 AM. The result of all this has been that this subject, COMP2801, has received the lowest priority of my subjects. This has partly been because it’s group-based, meaning that the other group members can take up some of the slack if required, and also that it has simply been a less time consuming course so far.

Time management with respect to lectures, practicals and tutorials is simple, at least for me – I just turn up at the required time, although getting to my eight o’clock practical hasn’t always been fun or easy, particularly after a late night, but it’s really just a simple matter of getting up when the alarm goes off. It’s probably worth stating here that I’ve inadvertently put down four hours of class time per week in the online time monitoring page, rather than five – a simple and stupid miscount that has propagated down from week one. Solo time, however, is much more difficult to manage. Right up until the second assignment, I was spending less than two hours a week solo time studying this subject. Because all my study was done in the labs, I often ran into my group members while they were also studying in the labs, resulting in impromptu group meetings, often with just one other member. Our first assignment, the presentation, was very unprepared from a group perspective. We had discussed and delegated various tasks to each group member during our practicals, but did not actually meet again until the hour before our presentation, during which we had a rushed half-hour meeting, decided everything would be ok, and went and presented – successfully. Even though we should have dedicated a little more time to a group meeting before our presentation, we had still prepared individually. Each group member had completed their assigned task, and emailed it to each other – and it is because of this way we’ve been able successfully delegate, email, re-delegate, and complete tasks individually that has meant we’ve had very few times that we’ve all met as a group.

My group has played a big part in my time-management decisions for this course. I’m fortunate to have a team of intelligent group members, who are reasonably dedicated, and who all seem to work together well. This has meant that we’ve used our weekly practicals as group meetings, negating the need for additional group meetings – which has been handy because the only free time in common each of us has is late in the evening. We’ve used email quite effectively, and met in pairs in the labs, often coincidentally, which has also helped negate the need for any additional dedicated group meetings. I’ve also found that the pressure of a deadline is slightly increased when the work is group work, as I don’t want to let my group down by being late, and that we all need to complete our work slightly earlier than we might otherwise have to because each member wants to peruse the other’s work, and merge it into a final document before submission.

Our second assignment was done similarly to our first assignment, from a time management perspective. We met during our practicals and discussed the assignment, divided it into individual components that we delegated to each other, and discussed any problems via email and IRC without actually meeting as a group. I did meet the other members at various times in the labs while doing individual study, during which we would discuss the assignment and the progress of each member, but these meetings weren’t planned. As with most of my time-management efforts, I initially slacked of, getting consistently busier as the deadline approached. The day (and night) before the assignment was due, I was in the labs catching up – as I do with everything. It would obviously be much better if I could manage my time in such a way that I didn’t have to do these last minute panics, but so far I’ve never actually managed to – I’d almost consider it a mental problem if everyone else I know didn’t have the same problem. Only one of my group members managed to have all his tasks completed on time – the other three of us had to spend a late night working, but we did manage to get everything we wanted to do completed, leaving the actual due day spare for proofreading and any final panic changes, as per our initial plan we formulated when we met during our practical and delegated tasks to each other.

Assignment three appears to be the larger of the assignments, and is also the one to which I’ve devoted most of my time (for this course), as assignment two has shown me that I will need a lot of time just to understand what is going on. Once again, we have delegated various tasks during our practical, and aren’t planning to meet up again as a group until our next practical, so most of the work I will do on this assignment will be individual work, up until the end when we will need to merge it all back together. I am also aware with this assignment that some of the other group members may not complete their particular tasks on time, and that I will need to keep a bit of an eye on our overall group progress to ensure that no one is falling too far behind, because our delegated tasks overlap in such a way that the failure of one could cause them all to fail. This puts pressure on me, as I realise that the other group members will be keeping an eye on my progress to ensure I don’t let them down. Partly due to this increased pressure, and partly due to the increased complexity of this assignment, I am devoting considerably more solo time, currently on the programming aspect, than I have in the past. I am determined not to let the deadline sneak up on me without me having completed my designated tasks, so I am planning to spend this weekend in the labs coding, and have been dedicating the evenings after my lectures to this assignment. Having just finished assignments for three other subjects on Monday has also been a great help, giving me much more free time to devote to this subject.

In retrospect, I haven’t (yet) learnt a great deal, regarding time management, from this course. I was already fully aware of the shortcomings of my time management before this course, and I’m still very aware of them as swot vac approaches and I realise I have not yet studied enough to pass the exams for any of my courses. What I have learnt, though, has been related to the group aspect of this course. I’ve learnt that, while all the same time management principles apply to group work as to individual work, failure of one group member can mean the failure of the entire group, so the time management skills of all the group members must be taken into account when delegating work, and subtly monitored to ensure that each group member is coping with their tasks. The fact that we’re all at uni, and each studying our own courses with our own assignments and time commitments has also meant that we have each had to juggle our time between our current courses, and that as a group we’ve had to realise that at various times various members will be giving this course a lower priority than their other courses. To counter this we’ve had to adjust the tasks we initially delegated to each group member in such a way that those members able to devote time to the subject earlier can do parts of the assignments that can be done earlier than others, and those able to devote time closer to the due date can work on tasks suited to that time. This has both a positive and negative aspect, making it more difficult to split group tasks into individual components, but on the other hand, when one group member is struggling or unable to devote as much time to this course as they perhaps should, other members can cover for them, and the resulting outcome is the same.

When thinking about things I, or my group, could do differently to be more productive, two things come to mind. The first is obvious, and applies to every student I know – I could stop procrastinating, and start assignments as soon as they are released, rather than waiting until there’s only just enough time to complete them, and staying up all night the night before the due date. The second is group related, and something I’ve learnt from this course. When we get a task, we have each split it up into various parts and attempted to assign a roughly equal proportion to each group member. This seems to be the logical way to do a group assignment given that we each get marked on our individual contribution, but I have realised that it is not necessarily the best way to achieve the best possible result. In addition to the amount of time they are able to dedicate to this subject, each group member has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and a better way to delegate would take into account all this, and apportion work accordingly. We would probably achieve higher marks if some members did what might appear to be significantly more work than others, as even if a member’s individual contribution was not as high as it might have been, the overall result would be that much better. This also takes into account that time, or the amount of time taken to complete a task, is not necessarily proportional to the difficulty of the task, and that the effort contributed by group members isn’t always related to the amount of time they’ve spent on an assignment.

Ironically, I am writing this with less than a quarter of an hour to go before it is due, and haven’t yet PDF’ed it, so I think the best way to conclude is that, when it comes to time management, I still have a long way to go – and that I’m much less productive after midnight, but that could be due to cola-induced euphoric stupidity.