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Explaining the Art of Time Management

By Bill Jackson
Opinion Editor

Perhaps it is a bit late, but I would like to explain to faculty and staff members what it is that MIT students want from a class in an administrative sense, and why. To those professors who already know all of this, (thankfully there are a lot of you) you may go back to writing grants. To the rest of you:

Syllabus. (n.) List of topics to be covered in a class, accompanied by the dates each topic will be discussed and any associated readings, problem sets, or tests. Not to be confused with what is actually handed out by many professors, which is a general list of potential topics, unencumbered by dates of lectures, problem sets, or tests. We want a syllabus for each class because we are, of course, all anal-retentives who spend great amounts of time organizing ourselves.

To the surprise of many, MIT students are not the typical university types. Where stereotypical students tend not to think about tests until a few days before the exam date, most of my MIT friends began studying for spring finals midway through IAP. For many Institute students, organizational techniques are a suitable replacement for regular exercise, a steady sleep cycle, and a sex life.

As soon as we get a syllabus at the beginning of a semester we tend to take out our X-tra Large Day-At-A-Glance calendars and mark down that we will make a final review for our May 11 test on May 10 from 10:45 p.m. to 12:05 p.m. Then when 10:45 p.m. comes on May 10 we write in a temporary postponement of the final review until 2 or 3 a.m. because we feel a necessary and productive urge to spend the time between 10:45 p.m. and 12:05 p.m. eating chocolate Mallomars and watching "Studs" or "Grudge Match" on Fox.

This is fairly typical of MIT students. Often an MIT student's evening schedule looks something like this:

4 p.m. He returns from classes to begin studying with the happy thought that, if he studies continuously until 2 a.m., he will have done 10 hours of work and can still get seven hours of sleep before his 10 a.m. class.

4:01. He opens his books and begins looking over the material.

4:05. He is overcome by an uncontrollable urge to comprehensively memorize the "Wing-It" flyer that was stuffed into his mailbox that afternoon.

4:15. (Course VI geeks only) A friend calls to discuss the funny mistake a professor made in lecture earlier that day. Imagine, designing that entire complicated circuit when all he needed to do was use a Schmitt trigger and a pot! What a nut!

4:23. He returns to the books.

4:26. He discovers that it is indeed possible to stick pencils into the ceiling of his room.

4:36. Realizing that dinnertime is a mere 24 minutes away, he puts on his sneakers and prepares for the 5 minute walk to the dining room.

4:40. He turns on the radio to catch the last twenty minutes of "Fresh Air" on NPR, where a man is being interviewed about his celebrity mucous collection.

4:55. Walks to dining room.

5:00. Dinner, where the conversation takes an hour and 15 minutes because of the fascinating stories he has to tell about Brigitte Neilsen's mucous.

6:17. He calls home. Tells his mom he hasn't got much time to talk: he's been studying for two hours and will be up until 2 a.m. Mom promises to send cookies and hopes he has fun "tooling!" He resolves never to let his mom learn any more MIT slang.

6:34. Decides to take a nap, just for an hour or so, to refresh himself.

10:28. He wakes up, panics, and begins to tool for real.

11:00. What's funnier than physics? More entertaining than engineering? Crazier than Calculus? Certainly not Arsenio Hall. But what the hell, our poor student deserves a break, so he watches him anyway.

11:18. The studio audience finally stops making annoying dog-like noises and Arsenio begins his monologue.

11:30. Off with Arsenio. Now he'll just watch Dennis Miller's monologue.

12:02 a.m. Damn. Miller had Charlotte Rae and Danny Bonaduce on the show, and he just couldn't turn them off. Oh well, time to do some serious tooling.

12:30. Letterman. But just until the top ten list comes on.

1:20. He comes to the slow realization, with ten minutes left in the show, that Letterman isn't going to do a top ten list tonight.

1:34. Gets involved in a conversation with the people in the hallway about the nature of God's relationship to man and how one can consciously deal with a Supreme Being who gave life from lifelessness and can snuff out or manipulate lives at will. The conversation is getting pretty deep when suddenly somebody farts and they all crack up.

1:52. He realizes he only has eight minutes to prepare for bed.

1:59. He goes to bed.

10:03 (the next morning.) His friend asks him how long he studied the night before. "About eight hours," he answers.

For those of you who are angry that the above example used the pronoun "he" to refer to the typical student, I'd like to explain that I only did that because men are smarter than women. That was a joke! Don't write letters, please! I meant to say that I only did that as a writing convention, and that in all cases the pronoun could mean a man or a women, except for the part about farting, which women would never do.

So I think it should be obvious that we are well organized, time-management types who need to plan ahead extensively. Which is why we need a syllabus early in the term for each course we take. Because I know how organized we are. Really.