Skills to Develop
- Define your current uses of time in daily life
- Explore time management strategies to add time for college success activities
- Identify procrastination behaviors and strategies to avoid them
The two areas most students struggle with when acclimating to college life are studying and time management. These issues arise from trying to manage newfound freedoms in college and from misunderstanding expectations of college classes. Time management is a means to build a solid foundation for college success.
How You Use Your Time
As most students discover, time in college is not the same as it was in high school. There are many more “unscripted” hours of the day. Fewer hours are devoted to sitting in a classroom, but more hours are expected to be devoted to classwork, on your own. While this can be liberating, you may find that social opportunities conflict with academic expectations. For example, a free day before an exam, if not wisely spent, can spell trouble for doing well on the exam. It is easy to fall behind when there are so many choices and opportunities.
In the following Alleyoop Advice video, Alleyoop (Angel Aquino) discusses what many students discover about college: there is a lot of free time—and many challenges to effectively balance free time with study time.
In the next few sections, we’ll take three steps towards learning to effectively manage our time. First, we have to see where we are, currently, with our use of time.
Step 1: Identify Your Time Management Style
The following self-assessment survey can help you determine your time-management personality type. Read each question in the Questions column. Then read the possible responses. Select one response for each question. Each response should reflect what you probably would do in a given situation, not what you think is the “right” answer. Put a checkmark in the My Time Management Type column next to your likely response.
|QUESTIONS||RESPONSES: Which response most closely matches what you would do? In the right column, check one response (a, b, c or d) for each question.||MY TIME MANAGEMENT TYPE|
|1||Your instructor just gave your class the prompts for your first essay, which is due in two weeks. How do you proceed from here?||a. Choose a prompt and begin working on a thesis immediately. Better to get it out of the way!||Ο Early bird|
|b. Read over the prompts and let them sink in for a week or so. You’ll still have one more week to finish the assignment, right?||Ο Balancing act|
|c. Read the prompts and maybe start playing around with ideas, but wait to really start writing until the day before. You swear it’s all in your head somewhere!||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. Definitely last. You’ll wait until everyone else has done their work, so you can make sure you are not duplicating efforts. Whatever, this is why you hate group work.||Ο Improviser|
|2||You are working on a group assignment that requires you to split up responsibilities with three other classmates. When would you typically finish your part?||a. First. Then you’re done and don’t have to worry about it. Plus it could give you time in case you want to tweak anything later.||Ο Early bird|
|b. After one or two of the others have submitted their materials to the group, but definitely not last. You wanted to see how they approached it first.||Ο Balancing act|
|c. Maybe last, but definitely before the assignment due date and hopefully before any of the other group members ask about it.||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. Definitely last. You’ll wait until everyone else has done their work, so you can make sure you are not duplicating efforts. Whatever, this is why you hate group work.||Ο Improviser|
|3||Your instructor just shared the instructions for your next assignment and you read them but don’t quite understand what he’s asking for in a certain part. What would you probably do?||a. Send the instructor an email that afternoon. When he doesn’t respond that night, email him again. This is your worst nightmare—you just want to know what he wants!!||Ο Early bird|
|b. Send him an email asking for clarification, giving yourself enough time to wait for his response and then complete the assignment. Better to be safe than sorry.||Ο Balancing act|
|c. Try to figure it out for yourself. You’re pretty sure what he’s trying to say, and you’ll give it your best shot.||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. Don’t say anything until after the assignment is due. Other people in the class felt the same way too, probably!||Ο Improviser|
|4||The course you are taking requires you to post in a weekly discussion forum by Sunday night each week so the class can talk about everyone’s posts on Monday. When do you submit your posts?||a. Tuesday night, after the first day of class that week. Then it’s out of the way.||Ο Early bird|
|b. Thursday or Friday night. You want to let the week’s discussion sink in a little so you can collect your thoughts.||Ο Balancing act|
|c. Sunday night. You always forget during the weekend!||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. Monday at 3 AM. That still counts as Sunday night, right?||Ο Improviser|
|5||You have an important assignment due Monday morning, and you have a social/work/family obligation that will keep you busy for most of the weekend. It is now the Wednesday before the assignment is due. How would you approach this dilemma?||a. You already finished it yesterday, the day it was assigned. Done!||Ο Early bird|
|b. You tell yourself that you’ll finish it by Friday night, and you manage this by chipping away at it over those 3 days. …Little. By. Little.||Ο Balancing act|
|c. You tell yourself that you’ll finish it by Friday night, so you can have your weekend free, but you still have a little left to do on Sunday—no big deal.||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. You tell yourself that you’ll take the weekend off, then stay up late on Sunday or wake up early on Monday to finish it. It’s not a final or anything, and you have a life.||Ο Improviser|
|6||You have to read 150 pages before your next class meeting. You have 4 days to do so. What would you most likely do?||a. 150 pages divided by 4 days means… a little less than 40 pages a day. You like to chunk it this way because then you’ll also have time to go over your notes and highlights, and come up with questions for the instructor.||Ο Early bird|
|b. 150 pages divided by…well … 2 days (because it’s been a long week), means 75 pages a day. Totally doable.||Ο Balancing act|
|c. 150 pages, the day before it is due. You did this to yourself, it’s fine.||Ο Pressure cooker|
|d. How much time does it take to skim the text for keywords and/or find a summary online?||Ο Improviser|
Assessing Your Responses
Which of the four basic time-management personality types did you select the most? Which did you select the least? Do you feel like these selections match the student you have been in the past? Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it’s time for a change? Remember, we can all always improve!
Learn more below about your tendencies. Review traits, strengths, challenges, and tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types.
The Early Bird
- Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that), because it lets you stay in control.
- Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
- Challenges: Sometimes you can get more caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and don’t give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
- Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.
The Balancing Act
- Traits: You really know what you’re capable of and are ready to do what it takes to get the most out of your classes. Maybe you’re naturally gifted in this way or maybe it’s a skill that you have developed over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any class, as long as you keep your balance.
- Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
- Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut and begin to coast in class, rather than really challenging yourself.
- Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.
The Pressure Cooker
- Traits: You always get things done and almost always at the last minute. Hey, it takes time to really come up with good ideas!
- Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you do finally sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to complete what’s needed.
- Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, but is it really the best work you could produce if you had a couple of days of cushion?
- Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they’re goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork. Who would have known?
- Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes. Sometimes you miss an assignment or two, or have to pretend to have done reading that you haven’t, but everyone does that sometimes, right?
- Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
- Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
- Tips for Success: The good news is you can turn this around! Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, but be sure to do it before, rather than after, you fall behind.
Create A Schedule
Once you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time well going forward. The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as unexpected situations will always pop up along the way.
Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things—due dates and exam dates, for example—that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule, as well.
Again, this is all about what works best for you. Do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.
Your schedule will also vary depending on the course you’re taking. So pull out your syllabus and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:
- Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
- Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
- Are there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others.
You can find many useful resources online that will help you keep track of your schedule. Some are basic, cloud-based calendars (like Google calendar, iCal, Outlook), and some (like iHomework) are specialized for students.
We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? How much time will you be willing to devote to your studies?
Questions and Answers About Schedules
Student 1: Do I really need to create a study schedule? I can honestly keep track of all of this in my head.
Yes, you really should create a study schedule. Your instructors may give you reminders about what you need to do when, but if you have multiple classes and other events and activities to fit in, it’s easy to lose track. A study schedule helps you carve out sufficient time—and stick to it.
Here is a tool to create a printable class study schedule to help you plan your time during the week from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
Here are ways to plan time (semester, week, days) from Ohio University’s Academic Advancement Center. Ohio University uses a quarterly system (11 weeks); you may need adapt their schedule to reflect your academic needs.
Student 2: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying for class?
This is a good question and a tough one to answer. Generally speaking, for each hour of class, you should spend a minimum of two to three hours studying. Thus, a typical three-hour class would require a minimum of six to nine hours of studying per week. If you are registered for 15 credits a semester, then you would need to spend 30 to 45 hours each week studying for your classes, which can be as much time needed for a full-time job. If you think of college as a “job,” you will understand that it takes work to succeed.
One important college success skill is learning how to interact with the course materials. Think about learning a sport or playing a game. How do you learn how to play it? With lots of practice and engagement. The more you play, the better you get. The same applies to learning. You need to engage with the course material and concentrate on learning.
Access The 168-Hour Exercise—How Do I Use My Time Now? from Ohio University’s Academic Advancement Center. It can help you understand how you use your time now and decide if you need to make changes.
Student 3: Aside from class time requirements, should I account for anything else as I draw up my schedule?
This depends on how detailed you want your schedule to be. Is it a calendar of important dates, or do you need a clear picture of how to organize your entire day? The latter is more successful, so long as you stick with it. This is also where it will be helpful to determine when you are most productive and efficient. When are you the most focused and ready to learn new things? In the morning, afternoon, or evening?
Here is a time management calculator for first-year students at the University of Texas El Paso.
Student 4: My life and school requirements change on a week-to-week basis. How can I possibly account for this when making a schedule?
Try creating a variable schedule in case an event comes up or you need to take a day or two off.
Student 5: I’m beginning to think that scheduling and time management are good ideas, but on the other hand they seem unrealistic. What’s wrong with cramming? It’s what I’ll probably end up doing anyway . . .
Cramming, or studying immediately before an exam without much other preparation, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period of time is basically fruitless. You simply forget what you have learned much faster when you cram. Instead, study in smaller increments on a regular basis: your brain will absorb complex course material in a more profound and lasting way because it’s how the brain functions.
Get Better at Prioritizing
Due dates are important. Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself the following:
- What needs to get done today?
- What needs to get done this week?
- What needs to get done by the end the first month of the semester?
- What needs to get done by the end the second month of the semester?
- What needs to get done by the end of the semester?
Your time is valuable. Treat it accordingly by getting the most you can out of it.
Above all, avoid procrastination. Procrastination is the kiss of death, because it’s difficult to catch up once you’ve fallen behind. Do you have a problem with procrastination? Be on your guard so that it doesn’t become an issue for you.
Do any of the following descriptions apply to you?
- My paper is due in two days and I haven’t really started writing it yet.
- I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
- I’ve turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
- I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
- I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
- I’ve relied on the Internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.
If these sound like issues you’ve struggled with in the past, you might want to consider whether you have the tendency to procrastinate and how you want to deal with it in your future classes. You’re already spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the classes you’re taking—don’t let all of that go to waste!
Strategies to Combat Procrastination
Below are some effective strategies for overcoming procrastination:
- Keep your studying “bite-sized.” When confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Try breaking it down: What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
- Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting Web sites. The best advice we’ve ever heard is to treat your studying as if you’re in a movie theater—just turn it off.
- Set up a reward system. If you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for 5 minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to an honor system.
- Study in a place reserved for studying ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or temptations, such as taking a nap), so it may be best to avoid it when you’re working on school assignments.
- Use checklists. Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people take great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a to-do list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.
In the following video, Joseph Clough shares key strategies for conquering procrastination once and for all.