Do you feel like you’re always doing your work at the last minute?
Do you want to be more productive and efficient with your time?
Do you feel like you’re stressed out or don’t have as much time as you want for all of your interests?
There is only so much time in each day to accomplish a wide variety of tasks that need to be done. Learning how to structure your time, prioritize what is important, find the motivation to follow through with your schedule, and delegate or delay things that can wait until later are invaluable skills that will serve you in every aspect of your life.
Learning time management is actually a group of skills working in harmony that allow you to find balance and accomplish important tasks in an efficient and effective way. We have listed some useful tips and tools below.
- Start any time management activity with goal setting. This helps you figure out what your priorities are in all aspects of your life.
- Take an audit of your time. Often, we feel like we are spending more time on certain activities than we are. Auditing your time use for a week helps you better account for what needs to change.
- Find a tool that works for you to track and plan out how you use your time. Refer to the tools linked below.
The best place to start in learning to manage your time is to develop a macro view of the most important things going on in your life. The best way for college students to approach this task is by engaging in semester long planning. Gathering all of the important due dates, exams, and events on one easy to read document will also help you identify when you will have busy weeks vs. slower weeks and adjust your workload accordingly. It’s helpful to use the worksheet called “Semester at a Glance,” to begin your term-long plan.
- Print out or gather all of the syllabi from the courses you are enrolled in for the term.
- Create a semester-long assignment calendar at the beginning of the term. Include information from all of your courses, as well as busy weekends and other life commitments.
- List and highlight your tests and due dates so you can plan ahead for these major assignments.
- Look at big projects and events and create sub-goals, smaller deadlines, and other manageable milestones to break up the project.
- Plan ahead. Identify spots in the term when you have many commitments - personally, academically, and professionally. Develop a strategy to handle these busy times in advance in order to reduce the amount of stress that you experience.
Making Your Schedule Work
Taking the time to develop a schedule that works for you is one of the most invaluable ways to make sure you have time to accomplish everything that needs to get done in a week. Here is what your schedule can do for you:
- Commitments- A good schedule will show you what your regular commitments are for class, studying, work, and social life. Knowing where your regular commitments are allows you to better work in things that come up.
- Openings- Having an up to date schedule will allow you to manage your free time as things change. Adding in study time for a test, time to go to dinner with friends, or going out for a hike to de-stress and relax.
- Routine- It takes at least 21 days to develop a new habit. Following a schedule is creating a new habit. If your schedule doesn't work, don’t be afraid to make adjustments until it matches your work/life flow well and builds in the structure that you are seeking.
- Life Balance- Assess whether or not your schedule reflects your priorities. If it is dominated by social commitments, but your highest priority is school, it may be time to re-evaluate how you spend your time.
- Plan ahead each week. Spend time filling out your schedule or updating your planner.
- Be specific in your schedule. Assign tasks to specific days and times. For example, “Thursday from 4-6 pm: Read Chapter 7 and take notes," will be more effective than "Thursday: Study Chemistry."
- Be realistic. When estimating the time it takes to accomplish a task, try to be accurate and overestimate if in doubt. One mistake students tend to make is anticipating things will go more quickly than they actually do. Leave yourself adequate time, and if you get done early, you’ll have free time!
- Schedule breaks, and plan a balanced week. Part of the benefit of managing your time is that you can schedule in time for relaxation, exercise, socialization and other things that will help you achieve balance.
- Assess your system. There are dozens of ways to manage your time and many tools to choose from. Ask yourself, "Is my system working? How can I tell? Does anything need changing to make managing my time more effective?" If you’re unsure how effective your system is, consider keeping a time log; it will give you a chance to see how you spend your time and decide if it aligns with your goals and values.
- Keep looking ahead. A weekly planner only gives you a glance of the current week, and might not show you a big project or important deadline on the next page. Make sure you scan the upcoming week as well so you can plan ahead. (tips from the Learning Corner, Oregon State University, https://success.oregonstate.edu/learning/better-schedules)
Do you find yourself making excuses to justify how you are spending your time vs. how you should be spending your time?
Do you find yourself delaying schoolwork, often to the point that what you turn in is not your best work because you did not have enough time in the end?
"Procrastination is the act of putting things off due to lack of motivation to complete the task. Procrastination is a common challenge for college students; about 80-95% of students report procrastinating (Steel, 2003). This challenge is important to address because procrastination can develop into a habit that can seriously impact your ability to be productive. This in turn can negatively affect your academic performance (Steel, 2003). Research shows there are lots of reasons why we procrastinate including self-doubt about performance (Burns, 1993), low-frustration tolerance--a tendency to give up if the work feels too difficult (Ellis & Knaus, 1977), and believing myths like "I work better under pressure" (Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007). Developing a few techniques to help counteract procrastination or dedicating time early on to counteracting procrastination can not only help you to achieve academic success, but also help you develop tools you’ll use well beyond college.
Motivation + Effective Time Management = SUCCESS
Procrastination can result in lower quality work turned in at the last minute, completing and turning in work after the deadline, and increased levels of stress. Procrastination can also take away time you need for sleep, exercise, relaxation, family, relationships, and other elements that contribute to life balance. Finally, when you leave tasks until the last minute, there is no buffer zone for unexpected issues that might require your time and attention. Remember the advice in Murphy’s Laws: “(1) Nothing is as easy as it looks. (2) Everything takes longer than you think. (3) Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
- Have a plan. Set goals and make use of a weekly schedule and a to-do list. These can keep you organized and help you stay committed to completing your tasks.
- Find motivation. Think of 1-2 good reasons for getting tasks done early, and write those reasons down. We often allow ourselves to procrastinate because we think “I can do this later." When that thought comes up, make sure you have an answer for why it’s important to complete the task now.
- Make it easy to get started. Schedule a date and time for starting your task, be specific about what you will accomplish, and find a location that is conducive to accomplishing your task.
- Identify your procrastination tendencies and your excuses. If you know that cleaning is a technique you use to procrastinate from homework, plan ahead for this. Set aside time for each task, pay attention when you get distracted, and redirect yourself to the reasons you want to complete the task now.
- Learn to say "no" when distractions arise. There will always be things that threaten to interrupt your productivity. Saying "no" to interruptions or distractions can keep you on track as you complete your task.
- Be patient. Procrastination is something you work to overcome over time by developing better habits. There will be areas of your life and times during the term when it will be harder to overcome this challenge. Recognize when you are making positive choices, and reward your successes." (from the Learning Corner at Oregon State University, https://success.oregonstate.edu/learning/procrastination)
The content of this site and related documents are drawn from, or influenced by, the Learning Corner at Oregon State University.