Effective time management skills are something that all college students must learn. Unless you master this important skill, you’ll struggle to hit due dates for assignments. In fact, poor time management may even result in flunking out.
Below we will briefly outline some of the most effective time management strategies for academic success.
1. Get a good night’s sleep.
Many students are sleep-deprived. Obviously, this will hurt your performance. Becoming effective starts with getting enough sleep. Before going to bed, you should:
- Stop using the internet and social media for at least an hour before turning in.
- Avoid watching TV, playing video games, or using your computer.
- Stop drinking caffeine or alcohol several hours before sleeping.
- It’s a good idea to have a bedtime routine (for example, you may want to shower, meditate, and plan out the next day).
- Read a book for half an hour before turning out the lights.
2. Create a master schedule.
If you’re a full-time student, then every moment of your week should be scheduled. Start by drawing up a calendar (you can do this with paper or digital tools). This calendar should be broken up into days and hours and also tailored to your individual needs. Make a plan for each hour of the day. This should include your daily tasks like attending lectures, things you have to do, and when you plan to study. Update this plan with new information as the week progresses. You may want to use a different color to highlight various tasks. This makes it easy to view your schedule at a glance.
3. Do important tasks first.
Always put first things first. This means that important things should be given priority over less important things, and those priority things should be done ahead of schedule.
To help you in doing this, first create a weekly schedule and a to-do list. Then, rank your tasks by importance using A, B, C, etc. Your most important activities are ranked A, and your less important are ranked B, C, etc. After you have your tasks in order of priority, work through your list by doing your A tasks first, and then your B tasks, and so on.
4. Block off study sessions.
You should plan your study schedule at the beginning of every week. Decide the amount of time you’re going to study and on what days you’ll study. As you go through your week, make sure you strictly stick to this study plan. The best way to do this is to build routines and make this a habit. For example, you may want to study for 2-3 hours when you get back from classes, or in the evening.
5. Remove distractions and time-wasters.
Every minute scheduled for studying should be spent studying. Here are some tips to help remove distractions and help you focus:
- Turn off your cell phone: don’t accept phone calls and text messages.
- If you have to leave your phone on, then you should at least disable notifications.
- Don’t watch TV or Netflix when studying (some people do this.)
- Close your door and hang a do not disturb sign.
- Break bad habits that hold you back. For instance, don’t waste time making coffee or using social media.
6. Set goals for study time.
You need to set goals for your academic life. These should include both long and short-term goals. This is the key to becoming an effective student. Effective goal setting can be done in three easy steps:
- Start by deciding on what you want: what type of grades are you aiming for?
- Work backward and figure out what you’ll need to do to achieve these goals.
- Set up a daily schedule and to-do list for working on these goals.
For example, maybe you’ve decided that you want to get an A in a certain subject. There is a textbook to read, class notes to review, and study guide problems to do. You’ve decided that you should read the assigned textbook pages twice, and to do this, review the class notes and work the study problems would take 3 hours per day. Next, you decide when each day you will devote 3 hours to accomplishing these tasks for this subject. Now you have your time and your to-do list for achieving an A in that subject.
7. Use the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique is an incredibly powerful time management technique. The idea behind this technique is that you can do more by working in short bursts versus long periods. Here’s how it works:
- Study time is broken up into 25 minutes followed by short breaks (usually a 5-minute break, but this can be longer.)
- After 3-5 hours of working like this, you may also want to include a lunch break.
By sticking to a strict schedule like this, you’ll find that you are more productive. Doing this also helps you avoid Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that tasks take as long as the given time. You can use a kitchen timer on your desk, an internet timer, or any other kind of timer when you use this method.
8. Don’t leave things until the last minute.
Good time management mostly involves getting things done on time. You have to leave yourself enough time to hit important deadlines. Managing your time efficiently and steadily working on projects ahead of your deadlines will help you manage your stress levels. If you have a hectic schedule, this can be tough, but you have to do your best. The best thing you can do is follow these rules:
- Start as soon as possible, and don’t put things off.
- Set a schedule, goals, and priorities.
- Discipline yourself to stick to your schedule and stay on track.
- Build habits and routines that will support this.
9. Avoid multitasking.
The best way to work is by focusing on one thing at a time. Despite what people say, multitasking doesn’t actually work. In the long run, all that it does is split your attention and make it hard to concentrate. Ideally, you’ll want to:
- Cut out all distractions and time-wasters.
- Concentrate on one single task until it’s complete.
- Avoid leaving tasks unfinished and coming back to them later.
10. Create a study space.
You should have a dedicated area where you study. Some tips for setting this up include the following:
- Get yourself a large desk (it might sound strange, but we’ve known students who didn’t even have a desk.)
- Keep this desk clear of all clutter and remove things that may distract you.
- Place a clock above your desk, and your weekly schedule on the wall in front of you. A stopwatch is also handy.
- Organize your books and study tools nearby.
- You may also want to add relaxation items. These can include tabletop water fountains, stress balls, fidget spinners, mini Zen gardens, bonsai trees, or houseplants.
- Some people also like to place motivational / inspirational quotes and posters above their desks.
11. Switch tasks if you’re struggling.
You should never force yourself to complete tasks you’re not enjoying. While this may seem counterintuitive, pushing through things can actually lead to poorer performance.
This is why it’s so important to leave plenty of time for doing things. This way you can work on what’s best for you, not on things which absolutely have to be done. If you are pressed for time, then take frequent study breaks. Doing this will keep you fresh and help you get through the task.
12. Join a study group.
Joining a study group is a great way to improve your time management skills. There are several reasons for this:
- These groups help you avoid procrastination because the time and date for meeting is set.
- You get access to new perspectives and can discuss what you don’t understand.
- Your peers provide motivation for studying and also help to keep you accountable. To be blunt here, you will be motivated to prepare to avoid looking stupid in front of your friends.
13. Break tasks up into manageable chunks.
Large projects are often overwhelming. This leads to procrastination and a lack of motivation. You can solve this problem by breaking projects up into smaller steps. These could be things like “read ten pages of my textbook” or “write 100 words of my essay.” By doing this, you’ll find that tasks are easier to complete and also less stressful.
14. Eat your frog.
This is a simple time management tip that is actually quite powerful.
Imagine you were on a game show like Fear Factor, and you had to eat something really nasty. What would be the easiest way to do this? The answer is simply by holding your nose and getting it over and done with. The idea here is that you do your least attractive tasks first, preferably first thing in the morning. You’ll find that by doing this, everything else becomes easier. You can also think of this as “eating your vegetables first.”
15. Complete tasks in one sitting.
Breaking up tasks can make them easier to complete, but this does have its drawbacks. For example, you’ve probably noticed that you have a hard time getting started on a project which was left unfinished. You may also have forgotten certain things. For example, maybe there was something you thought of including in your essay or maybe you forgot some of what you had written in your essay and now have to go back and re-read it. This is why it’s always best to work on projects until they are finished.
To do this, schedule enough time to complete large projects in one single chunk of time. Even if you have to dedicate an entire day to finishing something, it’s worth it in the end. Ultimately, this is a far more effective way to work.
However, note that coming back later and doing a “cold eyes review” is an incredibly valuable technique for improving essays and catching mistakes in other types of work. To do this, first complete your work in one sitting, and then put it away for whatever time period you have, whether it’s a day or a week (the longer the better, within reason). After that period of time, review your work. You will be amazed at the mistakes you catch and the improvements you are able to make that you simply did not see before when you were working on your assignment.
16. Work when you’re working.
Most people waste too much time when studying. They do things like staring out the window, walking around the room, talking to people on the phone, drinking coffee, or being on social media.
While time spent making coffee may seem like a little thing, this time does add up. For example, even if you study for five hours, you may only have spent four hours on productive work. This wasted time will eventually add up, and you may actually be wasting dozens of hours per week. To stop this from happening, you need to develop the habit of focusing exclusively on your work, without distractions or other little things that you may want to do.
17. Prepare before studying.
Make sure you have everything you need before you start your study session. For example, you don’t want to begin and then find that you need to get a book from the library or that your pens have run out of ink. To avoid this, gather everything beforehand, including books, tools, stationery, snacks, etc. It should also include having a plan for what you’re going to do.
18. Set realistic goals.
It’s completely unrealistic to write a 5000-word essay in three hours (even if you’re a graduate student.) Doing this will lead to failure, and you’ll also develop negative feelings about yourself – such as a lack of motivation.
Being able to set goals that you are likely to achieve takes experience. More experience means you’ll have a better idea of what you can do during a set time. This way, you can set deadlines and goals that are realistic. Increased experience also means you can increase your workload.
19. Find your best time to study.
Everyone has a different way of studying. For example, some people are night owls and like to work into the early morning.
Other people do best by working in the morning or afternoon. The best thing to do is experiment until you find your optimal time for learning.
20. Take mini-breaks.
Taking small breaks is a really good way to refresh and motivate yourself. To do this, simply set a timer for 2-5 minutes. During this time, walk around the room, taking deep breaths and stretching as you go. When you come back to your work, you should feel rejuvenated.
21. Make use of “dead time.”
“Dead time” is basically the time when you can’t do anything useful. A good example of this is when you’re traveling, driving, eating, waiting on hold with customer service, or simply walking around. Believe it or not, a lot of the time, these periods can be useful.
There are several ways to use this extra time. First of all, you can do this by listening to audiobooks. Listen to something educational whenever you’re traveling, walking to classes, washing clothes, shopping, or at the gym. If you have recordings of your class lectures, listen to them while you’re eating or during other dead time.
22. Practice daily review.
Reviewing what you’ve learned each day goes a long way towards helping to improve your time management skills.
It’s also a good idea to update and review your goals, plans, tasks, and schedule on a daily basis. You don’t need a lot of time to do this. Twenty minutes before you go to bed is enough. During this time, look over your goals and schedule and plan out your work for the next day. Make sure to think about what you did with your time that day and how you could improve.
23. Take advantage of apps.
There are literally hundreds of time management apps and tools. Experimenting with these can have a dramatic effect on your performance.
To get started, simply Google “time management apps.” Before downloading any of these apps, you should read the review articles. Also, if you’re really struggling, you may want to take online courses. Many of these contain effective time management tips and are worth investing in.
24. Don’t obsess.
Don’t become obsessed with managing every minute of the day. Realize that there’s only so much you can do. You need to maintain good control of your time, but thinking about it too much can cause stress.
Understand that it’s really your results that matter. The ultimate goal of better time management is that you get better grades.
It’s not so much about managing time, but about what you do with that time.
Avoiding perfectionism is also a good thing. Trying to be perfect only leads to stress.
25. Take time off.
Use your free time for rest and relaxation. Reward yourself for working hard. Remember, college life isn’t only about studying. Some things you can do include:
- Catch up on your favorite show.
- Maintain an active social life – visit family members and friends.
- Get outside into the fresh air and sunshine: go for walks, do group activities, play sports, meditate, and exercise.
- Do what you need to do in your personal life (i.e., run errands, etc.).
- Find a hobby or activity which relaxes you.
These tips can be used by anyone from the college student to adult learners, and even high school students. They will help you get good grades and also complete your school work on time. Ultimately the only way to do this is with practice. You may find it difficult the first time you implement these tips, but with more experience, they will eventually become effortless. Go ahead – the best time to get started is now!
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