By Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC
Time management strategies can be challenging for students, but it's an important skill to master for both your academic and professional careers.
Time management for students often requires commitment, organization, willpower, personal sacrifice and support from loved ones. Deciding to go back to school is a major commitment that will require a lot of your time and must be balanced with all your other personal and professional responsibilities.
As a result, college students must implement time management strategies in order to prioritize their time and make room for everything they need to do. Here are some time management tips that helped me through my own academic journey and the advice I provide my current college students to help them stay focused and make sure every day is a productive day.
Set Your Goals and Commit
First, dedicate yourself to the fact that earning your degree is your goal. Once you've made this personal commitment, take the time to explain your academic plan to family and friends. Ideally, you should harness support from everyone, because there will be times when you will need help.
For instance, you may need to do your homework on weekends or late at night. When you communicate this need to other people, they can be prepared for these schedule changes and are likely to be more supportive than if they're surprised by sudden changes in your availability or responsibilities.
When my children were young, I was working on my graduate degrees and would do a lot of work at night after the kids were asleep. For my undergraduate degree, I remember long nights at home alone with a typewriter or a word processor, writing papers and trying not to make mistakes.
There were many things I missed out on during intense projects because I was a student, but it was all worth it. Probably the biggest thing I missed was a huge New Year's Eve party at a nearby movie studio. It was the same studio that did the music video “Thriller” and was also the studio used in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Everyone and my brother went to the party (my brother was my connection to the party), but I had to stay home and get schoolwork done.
You will inevitably make sacrifices in your personal and social life during your academic journey. However, missing a big party was better than missing a birthday, anniversary, or a sports event that my children were in.
As you develop better time management habits, remember to pick and choose the sacrifices you may need to make and balance the important things in life along with your academic studies. Once you determine your priorities, here are some time management tips to stay focused, eliminate time wasters, and balance your life.
Prioritize Your Life and Make a To Do List
Determine which people, tasks, or events are most important to you and prioritize them accordingly. I've found it helpful to make a to do list and write down what and who is important and put them in descending order.
My list of priorities would always start with family. I used to put my kids first, but when my wife found the list, that did not make for a pleasant discussion. She calmed down when I asked her if the kids were more important than I was.
As you make a to do list to control your time management, ensure your educational goal is near the top. If it is not a high priority, you are likely not ready to fully commit to your academic endeavor.
Making a list and checking it twice ensures things are appropriately prioritized. This list will keep you from losing focus on the most critical tasks and you are less likely to waste time on less important ones.
Create a Schedule
One of the best time management tips for students is to create a schedule that outlines your daily tasks and responsibilities. This schedule should include time for each particular task like classes, homework, studying and other vital activities.
I would recommend you spend time putting these tasks on a calendar on your phone. We are constantly looking at our phones, so putting reminders on your phone can help you stay on schedule and complete tasks.
I also set alarms on my phone for daily events and tasks. That way, when the alarm goes off, I can look at my phone to see what I should do. There are also different apps out there that can help you manage time well, but that is a personal choice.
Use a Planner or Phone Apps
I used different planners as a college student but later, I found that the apps on my phone were more helpful. If you choose to use a planner, it can help you keep track of your schedule and ensure you don't forget any important due dates, small tasks, or appointments. Some students use a daily schedule template that can help them easily divide up their time each day.
Regardless of what tool or system you choose to use, be sure to use it consistently. These measures can help you plan ahead for the next day, week, and month and has proven to be one of the best time management tips for students.
Set Realistic, Achievable, and Proper Goals
Set goals that are challenging but achievable. You must write them down or put them in your phone.
You don't need to make the goal the entire task, such as writing a 50-page research paper. Instead break large projects into one task a time and set deadlines as you work towards completing the bigger task.
For example, make actionable tasks that are achievable, like “I will write one page of my 50-page thesis today.” This realistic goal will help you stay motivated as you complete smaller tasks.
Some college students find it beneficial to use a time log to evaluate how long you spend on each task so you can improve your planning and time management. It can be helpful to work backwards, by establishing due dates for projects and determining when you need to complete important tasks for that project.
You also should be setting goals for relaxing or unwinding and take breaks wisely. Our minds naturally crave breaks, especially during intense work, and it's actually a strategy for staying focused to allow yourself adequate breaks.
For instance, if you feel that you need a break after a two-hour writing session, make that a proper goal so your stress levels don't get too high. You may need to build in more breaks to find the right balance and make sure your energy levels remain high.
Identify any distractions that might interfere with your productivity and eliminate them as much as possible. For example, turn off notifications on cell phones and avoid looking at social media accounts during study sessions. Technology can be time wasters that distract students and while it does require some self-discipline, it can help beat procrastination temptations.
When I was a full-time student, I would close the door to my workroom so that other people would know to knock before entering. When I am in my writing zone, it is best to keep pushing forward rather than have a distraction derail my progress.
Ask for Help
If you're a college student who struggles with time management, don't hesitate to ask for help. Talk to your family and friends about your priorities and how your academic goal is important to you.
Remind them of the benefits of obtaining an advanced degree. If you are struggling with academic matters, speak to your professors, academic advisors, or the University chaplains if you need support. You may also want to consider reaching out to fellow classmates to form a study group.
Help is always there for people who ask. The tough part is asking.
Finally, remember to prioritize self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and participating in physical activities. Sure, you can write for eight hours, sit in front of a computer and get a lot of schoolwork done.
But later, you will likely get up from your desk feeling achy and unhappy. Remember to take breaks wisely and keep your mind sharp.
Taking control of your schedule and managing time will likely lead to great results. These better habits will help you stay organized, increase your productivity, and help you use your time effectively. Learning how to plan your own time can make all the difference.
Be Sure to Remain Flexible
By following these time management tips, college students can work to achieve balance in their life. While better time management strategies can help, you also must remain flexible and adjust things as needed.
The challenge is to keep progressing toward achieving your academic progress goals. Earning your degree varies in pace. Sometimes, you will crawl; sometimes, you will walk; sometimes, you will jog; and sometimes, you will run.
If you experience poor time management results, the key is not to give up. Learn from your mistakes and make the needed adjustments for the next time period. Earning your degree is a huge task and requires deeply focusing on projects as you work towards long-term success.
Manage your time and do not let it manage you. It took me two extra years to finish my undergraduate degree because I had to work full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year. However, I got my degree done, and it felt great.
Also, the best bit of advice I was given about time management was from a friend at work. He told me never to wish your life away. It sounds crazy because who would ever wish for a shorter life?
However, we have all been there where we are having a tough week, and we say, “I wish it was Friday.” When those days happen, we have to dig deep and focus on what we can get done before Friday. When the end of the workweek finally comes, college students can look back and know that we used our time wisely and our time management worked well.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security and logistics management from American Public University.