Kai feels like he is struggling through his first semester of college. He works long hours at a job every night, lives at home, and helps care for his younger sister. When he gets home from work, he is ready for bed and is often too tired for homework or studying. He has trouble focusing in class and occasionally drifts off during lectures. Kai knows he needs to change some of his habits, but he feels too overwhelmed to know where to start.
Lots of students like Kai have to balance a lot of responsibilities, such as work, school, and family. Such competing demands can make it hard to get the most out of class time and assignments. The effort you put in to succeed in college will pay off, though, and there are ways that you can physically and mentally prepare to excel in class. Work-life balance is key and time-management allows you to succeed with maintaining this balance.
For work-life balance, we need to
- Eat healthy meals and snacks
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Manage stress
- Talk to guidance counselors and instructors
- Have good time-management practices
- Know when we are trying to do too much and make decisions about our time.
Time management allows us to achieve our goals and at the same time remain healthy. In college you have increased freedom to structure your time as you please. With that freedom comes increased responsibility. High school teachers often take it upon themselves to track down students who miss class or forget assignments. College instructors, however, expect you to take full responsibility for managing yourself and getting your work done on time. There are three important steps in learning to effectively manage your time:
- Identify your time management style
- Create a schedule
- Get better at prioritizing
After Kai decides to talk to his guidance counselor about his stress and difficulty balancing his activities, his guidance counselor recommends that Kai identify his time-management style and create a schedule. This will help him set time for homework, studying, work, and leisure activities so that he avoids procrastinating about his schoolwork. His counselor explains that if Kai sets aside a specific time to study every day—rather than simply studying when he feels like he has the time—his study habits will become more regular, which will improve Kai's learning.
At the end of their session, Kai and the counselor have put together a rough schedule for Kai to further refine as he goes through the next couple of weeks. What follows is a list of what they did and came up with.
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. Depends on how much work you have for your other classes. But you might forget about it until a few hours before the assignment is due, and ask for an extension.||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’re naturally gifted with keeping things balanced. 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.
- 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 are 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.
- 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
Although Kai knows that studying is important and he is trying to keep up with homework, he really needs to work on time management. This is challenging for many college students, especially ones with lots of responsibilities outside of school. Unlike high school classes, college classes meet less often, and college students are expected to do more independent learning, homework, and studying. The amount of time students spend on coursework outside of the physical classroom will vary, depending on the course (how rigorous it is and how many credits it’s worth) and on the institution’s expectations. However, a general rule is that the ratio of classroom time to study time is 1:2 or 1:3. That means that for every hour you spend in class, you should plan to spend two to three hours out of class working independently on course assignments. For example, if your composition class meets for one hour, three times a week, you’re expected to devote from six to nine hours each week on reading assignments, writing assignments, etc.
If you account for all the classes you’re taking in a given semester, the study time really adds up—and if it sounds like a lot of work, it is! The only way to stay on top of the workload is by creating a schedule to help you manage your time. You might decide to use a weekly or monthly schedule—or both. Whatever you choose, the following tips can help you design a smart schedule that’s easy to follow and stick with.
The two- to three-hour rule may sound intimidating. However, keep in mind that this is only a rule of thumb. Realistically, some courses will be more challenging than others, and the demands will ebb and flow throughout the semester. You may have trouble-free weeks and stressful weeks. When you schedule your classes, try to balance introductory-level classes with more advanced classes so that your work load stays manageable.
Start with Fixed Time Commitments
First off, mark down the commitments that don’t allow any flexibility. These include class meetings, work hours, appointments, etc. Capturing the “fixed” parts of your schedule can help you see where there are blocks of time that can be used for other activities.
Kai is taking four classes: Spanish 101, US History, College Algebra, and Introduction to Psychology. He also has a fixed work schedule of 27 hours a week.
|9:00 AM||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101|
|10:00 AM||US History I||US History I||US History I||Work|
|11:00 AM||College Algebra||Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30)||College Algebra||Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30)||College Algebra|
|1:00 PM||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)|
Consider Your Studying and Homework Habits
When are you most productive? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Block out your study times accordingly. You’ll also want to factor in any resources you might need. For instance, if you prefer to study very early or late in the day, and you’re working on a research paper, you might want to check the library hours to make sure it’s open when you need it.
Since Kai's Spanish class starts his schedule at 9:00 every day, he decides to use that as the base for his schedule. He doesn’t usually have trouble waking up in the mornings (except for on the weekends), so he decides to do a bit of studying before class. His Spanish practice is often something he can do while eating or traveling, so this gives him a bit of leniency with his schedule.
|8:00 AM||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101|
|9:00 AM||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101||Spanish 101|
|10:00 AM||US History I||HW: Spanish 101||US History I||HW: Spanish 101||US History I||Work|
|11:00 AM||College Algebra||Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30)||College Algebra||Intro to Psychology (ends at 12:30)||College Algebra|
|12:00 PM||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101||HW: Spanish 101|
|1:00 PM||HW: Spanish 101||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)||Work (start 12:30 end 4:30)||HW: Spanish 101|
|2:00 PM||HW: US History I||Work||Work||HW: Intro to Psych|
|5:00 PM||HW: College Algebra||HW: College Algebra||HW: College Algebra|
|8:00 PM||HW: Intro to Psych||HW: Intro to Psych|
|9:00 PM||HW: US History I||HW: US History I|
Even if you prefer weekly over monthly schedules, write reminders for yourself and keep track of any upcoming projects, papers, or exams. You will also want to prepare for these assignments in advance. Most students eventually discover (the hard way) that cramming for exams the night before and waiting until the last minute to start on a term paper is a poor strategy. Procrastination creates a lot of unnecessary stress, and the resulting final product—whether an exam, lab report, or paper—is rarely your best work. Try simple things to break down large tasks, such as setting aside an hour or so each day to work on them during the weeks leading up to the deadline. If you get stuck, get help from your instructor early, rather than waiting until the day before an assignment is due.
Consider Leisure Time
When you look at Kai's schedule, you can see that he’s left open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. While he plans on using Sundays to complete larger assignments when he needs to, he’s left Friday and Saturday evenings open for leisure.
It might seem impossible to leave room in your schedule for fun activities, but every student needs and deserves to socialize and relax on a regular basis. Try to make this time something you look forward to and count on, and use it as a reward for getting things done. You might reserve every Friday or Saturday evening for going out with friends, for example. Or, if a club you’re interested in meets on Thursdays during a time you’ve reserved for studying, try to reschedule your study time so you can do both.
Now that you have considered ways to create a schedule, you can practice making one that will help you succeed academically. The California Community College’s Online Education site has a free source for populating a study schedule based on your individual course load. For this exercise, you will develop a weekly schedule and a semester calendar.
- Working with your class schedule, map out a week-long schedule of study time. Try to apply the “two- to three-hour” rule. Be sure to include any other nonnegotiable responsibilities, such as a job or child care duties.
- Use your course syllabi to record exam dates and due dates for major assignments in a calendar (paper or electronic). Use a star, highlighting, or other special marking to set off any days or weeks that look especially demanding.
- If you have a tendency to forget, put your schedule into the appointment calendar on your phone if you have one. Then set alerts for each of those study "appointments."
The video above talks about the importance of balancing school and work, and suggests 5 strategies to help you.
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 of the first month of the semester?
- What needs to get done by the end of 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, 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.
Staying Consistent: Time Management Dos and Don’ts
Setting up a schedule is easy. Sticking with it, however, may create challenges. A schedule that looked great on paper may prove to be unrealistic. Sometimes, despite students’ best intentions, they end up procrastinating or pulling all-nighters to finish a paper or study for an exam.
Keep in mind, however, that your weekly schedule and semester calendar are time-management tools. Like any tools, their effectiveness depends on the user: you. If you leave a tool sitting in the box unused (e.g., if you set up your schedule and then forget about it), it will not help you complete the task. And if, for some reason, a particular tool or strategy is not getting the job done, you need to figure out why and maybe try using something else.
With that in mind, read the list of time-management dos and don’ts. Keep this list handy as a reference you can use throughout the semester to “troubleshoot” if you feel like your schoolwork is getting off track.
- Set aside time to review your schedule or calendar regularly and update or adjust them as needed.
- Be realistic when you schedule study time. Do not plan to write your paper on Friday night when everyone else is out socializing. When Friday comes, you might end up abandoning your plans and hanging out with your friends instead.
- Be honest with yourself about where your time goes. Do not fritter away your study time on distractions like e-mail and social networking sites.
- Accept that occasionally your work may get a little off track. No one is perfect.
- Accept that sometimes you may not have time for all the fun things you would like to do.
- Recognize times when you feel overextended. Sometimes you may just need to get through an especially demanding week. However, if you feel exhausted and overworked all the time, you may need to scale back on some of your commitments.
- Have a plan for handling high-stress periods, such as final exam week. Try to reduce your other commitments during those periods—for instance, by scheduling time off from your job. Build in some time for relaxing activities, too.
- Do not procrastinate on challenging assignments. Instead, break them into smaller, manageable tasks that can be accomplished one at a time.
- Do not fall into the trap of “all-or-nothing” thinking: “There is no way I can fit in a three-hour study session today, so I will just wait until the weekend.” Extended periods of free time are hard to come by, so find ways to use small blocks of time productively. For instance, if you have a free half hour between classes, use it to preview a chapter or brainstorm ideas for an essay.
- Do not fall into the trap of letting things slide and promising yourself, “I will do better next week.” When next week comes, the accumulated undone tasks will seem even more intimidating, and you will find it harder to get them done.
- Do not rely on caffeine and sugar to compensate for lack of sleep. These stimulants may temporarily perk you up, but your brain functions best when you are rested.
The key to managing your time effectively is consistency. Completing the following tasks will help you stay on track throughout the semester.
- Establish regular times to “check in” with yourself to identify and prioritize tasks and plan how to accomplish them. Many people find it is best to set aside a few minutes for this each day and to take some time to plan at the beginning of each week.
- For the next two weeks, focus on consistently using whatever time-management system you have set up. Check in with yourself daily and weekly, stick to your schedule, and take note of anything that interferes. At the end of the two weeks, review your schedule and determine whether you need to adjust it.
- Review the preceding list of dos and don’ts.
- Identify at least two habits from the “Dos” list that you could use to improve your time-management skills.
- Identify the habit from the “Don’ts” list that you are most likely to slip into as the semester gets busier. What could you do to combat this habit?
Writing at Work
If you are part of the workforce, you have probably established strategies for accomplishing job-related tasks efficiently. How could you adapt these strategies to help you be a successful student? For instance, you might sync up your school and work schedules on an electronic calendar. Instead of checking in with your boss about upcoming work deadlines, establish a buddy system where you check in with a friend about school projects. Give school the same priority you give to work.
In the following Alleyoop Advice video, Alleyoop (Angel Aquino) discusses what many students discover about college: there is a lot of free time—and just as many challenges to balance free time with study time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Here is a time management calculator for first-year students at the University of Texas El Paso.
Contributors and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY:
- Adapted from Your Use of Time from College Success. Authored and provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Adapted from Class Preparation from College Success. Authored and provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Adapted from Writing for Success Authored and provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0
This page last updated on June 5, 2020.