Time Management for Busy Students

At one time or another, we have all felt that there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish what we need to achieve. As we attempt to juggle responsibilities, our efforts are further frustrated by unanticipated interruptions such as phone calls, emergencies, or delays as we wait in lines or get held up in traffic. This leads us to feeling dissatisfied as we fail to reach our personal, professional, and/or academic objectives.

In order to accomplish our goals and live a more satisfying life, we must first learn to manage our time more efficiently. Technology offers many helpful tools ranging from alarm clocks, watches, apps, electronic calendars with built in alerts, project management software, etc., yet we may still find ourselves failing to meet important deadlines. Why does this happen when we have so many tools to assist us throughout the day? Part of the problem is procrastination, and we have all fallen victim to this at one point. However, an even bigger culprit is simply not being aware of how we spend our time each day. These time management tips for students will help you find a balance.

Time Management Tips for Students

Create a Time Log

Most of us waste time throughout the day without even realizing it, and a time log is one of the most effective ways of identifying where your time goes. The goal of time management is not scheduling every minute of your day, but rather, taking control of how you spend your time. There are a couple of ways of creating a time log, but the first approach is to design a spreadsheet that breaks each day down into hours. The cell next to the hour of day is used to identify how time is spent. Some people find it is more helpful to create additional columns identifying specific activities such as personal care, food, classes, work, studying, recreation, sleep, and other (specify as you fill in this column what exactly you were doing, such as watching television, going to the doctor, etc.).

After you have completed your log for an entire week, go back and ask the following questions:
1.  What did you spend most of your time on?

2. Did you accomplish the things you needed to do each day/week?

3.  Reviewing your time log, are there any areas where you seemed to spend excessive time?

4. Do you see any simple fixes to use your time more effectively? For example, can you cut back on your television time, internet surfing, talking on the phone, using social media, etc.?

Time Eaters

Some of the more common activities that consume our time include phone interruptions, the inability to say no, email, socializing, meals, children’s interruptions, texting, social media, waiting in lines or traffic, and perfectionism. After you have completed your time log and identified where your time goes, is there anything you can do to reduce these “time eaters”? For example, can you turn your cell phone on mute or even leave it in another room while you are studying and working on homework? Can you save time by not opening up social media sites or closing browsers so you are not tempted to surf the internet while you are working on projects? Can you avoid long lunch lines by bringing your lunch to work or even taking your lunch breaks a little later, after the noon crowd has left?

A couple of helpful apps for keeping track of how you spend your time on projects and tasks are Timely, Rescue Time and Toggl.

Creating Calendars

After you have identified where you spend your time, and areas where time is wasted, you will want to figure out how to best use your time by setting priorities. What are the things you want to accomplish? What time of the day do you tend to have the most energy? Each of us has a unique internal rhythm and while some people have a lot of energy in the morning, others find they are better able to concentrate at night when their children are in bed. Keep this in mind as you are scheduling your calendar.

By identifying your goals and obligations, as well as the times of day you have the most energy and focus, you can begin prioritizing these based upon deadlines and level of importance. I always recommend that students create calendars and time tables based on a daily, weekly, monthly, and semester basis. Start by creating a master calendar that shows all the weeks of the semester on one page. Next, break your semester down into months, weeks, and days. As you are creating your master calendar, keep in mind that it is important to try to keep a healthy work/life balance to reduce stress and burnout, so as you are planning your calendars, also schedule in free time. After you have completed your tasks for the day, week, and month, be sure to schedule in rewards such as time socializing, watching television, using social media, going on vacations, etc.

For example, at the beginning of each semester, go through your syllabi and identify all exams, major projects, and weekly activities. If you have multiple courses with exams or projects that fall around the same time, map out the assignment deadlines on your master calendar, color coding each for every course. If you have larger assignments or projects such as papers, break these down into smaller “deliverables” and assign yourself deadlines for each increment. For example, if you have a research paper due, you could break it down into smaller goals by first identifying a topic. Your next mini-goal might involve conducting the initial research in the database so that you can create an outline for our paper. Next, you may want to start reading the literature you have collected in more detail, and taking notes throughout the process. After you have organized your notes, start writing your rough draft. As you do this you may even find you still need to collect more research to “fill in gaps” along the way.

Because it is likely you will encounter some unanticipated event such as an illness or conflicting work deadlines, try to self-impose deadlines that are earlier than the actual due dates for your projects. This will give you more flexibility as well as allow more time to review and edit your work prior to submitting the final version.

After you have created your master calendar and identified major deadlines, try to keep weekly and daily lists as well, prioritizing each daily task. Sometimes it is easier to assign a weight or value to each task, maybe on a scale of 1–5, with the higher priority activity receiving a rating of 1 and lower priority being 5. Assign a number beside each task of the day and make sure you focus on accomplishing the higher priority tasks first, saving the lowest rated tasks for last.

Finally, try to keep multiple copies of your calendar so that you always have one in plain sight wherever you are. For example, you might keep a calendar on your phone and computer, and use apps such as daycast and even daily planners in your kitchen or some other visible area. If you know you are a visual person, you can color-code your calendars by level of importance so you have “visual snapshot” reminders.

Finding Your Flow

After you have identified how your time is spent and created a master calendar and prioritized lists, it is important to recognize your ideal study/work environment. If you prefer a quiet, well-lit room, then make sure you have an appropriate environment to do your homework. If you prefer soft music in the background, then create an atmosphere that provides this. Time of day is also important—know your best hours and take advantage of them. Sometimes it means getting away from it all and going to the library. Others may find it easier to work in a café or coffee shop. If you are unable to leave your home or office, you may find it necessary to turn off your phone, close the door, and even hang a “do not disturb” sign during certain hours.

Helpful Videos

There are many helpful time management resources available online, including templates, videos, and print material. Dartmouth College, Stanford University, Columbia University, and Oxford are just a few that offer insightful videos.