Developing good time management skills is critical to maintaining your mental health while in college. Why? Because managing your time well allows you to achieve more, enjoy more free time, lead a more balanced life, and reduce stress.
How do you use your time?
If you are like many students, a week will go by and you will wonder where all your time went. Finding out how you use your time is the first step to owning your time and choosing how you use it. Follow these steps to identify how you currently use your time:
- Print out a weekly schedule template or use your smart phone or planner.
- Keep track of what you do each day for a week. Try to remember to keep track of all the little spaces, and not just the big chunks.
- You may be surprised at what you find! Ask yourself, "Are there times I would like to use differently? Did I accomplish what I wanted to?"
Now that you know how you use your time, you are ready to move on to the next step: goal setting.
In order to set meaningful goals, it is recommended that you first spend some time identifying your values. Once you know what’s important to you, you will be able to define SMART goals and set your priorities.
Values: What is important to you?
Values are the most important aspect of time management. Asking questions such as, “What do I want in life?” and “What is important to me?” helps us pinpoint our core values. Too often, we spend a lot of time doing things that are not important to us. When this happens, it usually means that we are not doing things that are important to us. Do your values and your behaviors match up? Everything starts with your values, so if you are having trouble deciding what’s important, here is a handout to get some ideas .
SMART Goals: What do you want for you future?
Strive to set both academic/career and personal goals. SMART goals are more effective than general, vague goals because SMART goals are concrete.
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound
- Example of a SMART academic goal
- I want to graduate with my major in Psychology and at least a 2.8 GPA by Spring 2020.
- Example of a SMART personal goal
- By the end of this semester, I want to increase the number of times I exercise from twice a week for 20 minutes to four times a week for 40 minutes.
People who know how to focus on their goals and ignore everything else tend to become good time managers. We generally say that "They have their priorities straight." You may find that as the semester unfolds, you will have to re-evaluate your priorities in order to meet your goals, and that is okay; if you can remember your values, and stay committed to your goals, it will be much easier to prioritize your activities when a lot of different things are competing for your attention.
Once you are satisfied that your goals are meaningful to you and your priorities are straight, you are ready to begin scheduling.
For college students, scheduling includes creating a semester schedule, a weekly schedule, and daily to-do lists. Many people use a planner for monthly scheduling and daily to-do lists. Use the semester calendar below to map out your semester. Then, use the weekly planner template to get on overview of each week and schedule time for everything you need and want to do. Finally, establish a habit for daily time management, using a tool that works best for you.
Plan the semester
At the beginning of the semester, use the month calendars in your planner, or the semester calendar template above, to write in all of the important dates for the semester.
Be sure to include:
- Quizzes and Exams
- Due dates for papers and projects
- Birthdays and holidays
- Performances and events
- Athletics practice / club meetings
Easy as 1-2-3
- Post the semester calendar in an easy-to-see spot, such as the wall above your desk.
- Check the semester calendar once a week, such as every Sunday afternoon, so that you can plan for upcoming events. Ex. Schedule in extra time to study the week before a big exam.
- Use reminders such as post-it notes or your smartphone calendar or alarms to make sure you don't forget important dates.
Make a weekly schedule
- Think about your values and your short and long-term goals.
- Make a list of all of the activities that you need and want to do during the week.
- Remember that students who care for their physical, social, spiritual, and emotional needs are mentally more effective and perform better in school and work. Be sure to include:
- Classes and labs
- Study hours. Hours in class or lab ____ x 2= ____ hours for studying. This is the minimum needed to achieve average performance at any university level program.
- Work hours
- Eating, sleeping, daily hygiene
- Housework: laundry, cleaning, etc.
- Exercise, sports
- Clubs, organizations
- "Me" time
- Community Service
- Commute time
- Print out the Weekly Schedule Download Template and, using ink, fill in all core weekly activities that occur at fixed times such as classes and work hours.
- Fill in other activities with pencil.
- Make your schedule work for you - color it in, make it digital, etc.
- Adjust the schedule as needed. Recognize when you were not realistic or when things need to be changed.
Owning your time each day
Knowing why you are doing each of your activities will motivate you to stick to your schedule day by day. It is easier to stick to a schedule when the goals behind the activities are important to us and line up with our priorities. When the activities are scheduled but do not feel important, we find ourselves engaging in random activities, losing focus, or following other people’s cues when choosing how to use our time.
In order to stay on track day by day, actively plan your day. Active daily planning usually takes the form of a to-do list written out the night before or in the morning before leaving your residence. You may prefer to use your schedule book or smart phone to create an easy-to-check list that you can refer to throughout the day. Whatever tool you use, make active daily scheduling a habitual part of your university lifestyle.
Efficient Use of Time
Some people naturally use their time much more efficiently than others while others need to work at it a bit harder. The tips below may help you use your time more efficiently so that you can maintain your energy and focus over the course of the entire semester and academic year.
Using small chunks
Focused studying for 20 minutes can be more effective than relaxed studying for 2 hours. It may be fun and easy to catch up on social media during the breaks between classes or while waiting for a ride, but these small chunks of time can be precious intervals that you can use to work on something related to your goals. Small chunks are perfect for study, exercise, making a to-do list for tomorrow, or talking to a friend.
Sometimes we have the best intentions but end up committing ourselves to too many activities simply because we are asked to participate and find it hard to say “No". Although it is easier to say no when you are clear about your own goals and priorities and have created a schedule that reflects them, respectfully declining a request or invitation may also require some practice. The following website offers a delightful array of well-tested options for saying no. Try a few of these out! 21 Ways to "Give Good No" .
Prioritization and Re-Prioritization
We tend to take on new things and still want to keep the old ones. For example, let’s say you are hired for an evening shift working at the campus library three days a week, but you still want to hang out with your friends after class every afternoon. Trying to do both leaves you tired and strapped for time. What are your options?
Letting go of activities and commitments is hard, and sometimes it is best to acknowledge that so that we can focus on new priorities. In the example above, if your top priority is earning much needed income to pay living costs, your late afternoon hang-out commitment may need to be shortened or rescheduled. Let your friends know about your job, and make the shift that fits best with your life priorities.
Marking the transition by saying good-bye to previous commitments can help, such as having a good-bye party with our old co-workers, or even writing a good-bye email to the club that we no longer have time to participate in.
Sometimes something will come up and our priorities shift. This may be a small one-time change such as a week of rehearsals before a big performance, or a major change such as a new baby coming into the family. Either way, prioritization and re-prioritization means that we need to rearrange schedules to meet our needs and maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle.
When you are trying to read, review material, study for a test, write an assignment, do research, or solve a key problem related to your academic studies, you need chunks of uninterrupted time that allow for real focus and concentration. Here are few simple recommendations for dealing with interruptions:
- Turn off the notifications on your electronic devices and commit to checking messages later.
- Let roommates, friends, or family members know that you need some uninterrupted time and check in with them afterwards or during breaks.
- Close your door or at least make sure not to face an open door where people are likely to pass by and try to meet your eye and talk.
- If someone comes into your space to chat or ask for something, let them know you only have 5 minutes before you need to get back to work.
- Ask “interrupters” if you can call, text, or talk to them a bit later.
- Wear earphones or earbuds with white noise or music that helps you concentrate; this sends a message that you prefer to be uninterrupted for a while.
Caring for our Body/Mind
When we are hungry, tired, inactive, and stressed, our work or study time will not be effective.
All of us procrastinate at some point or another. We all make the decision to delay doing something that is important and instead do something that is easier or lower on our list of priorities. To manage procrastination effectively, you need to figure out what you procrastinate about, what needs to be done, how to do it, and when to do it.
Identify key areas of procrastination in your life. Try this “Where Do I Procrastinate?” worksheet from Oregon State.
What needs to be done? Make a list, breaking down large tasks into smaller steps, prioritize your list, and then give each item an approximate time.
If you are still having trouble, take some time to think about the questions below. It may help to talk to a friend or a counselor to get an outside perspective.
- What do you do while you are procrastinating? The dishes, Facebook, go to the beach, play game, etc?
- What excuses do you give yourself to justify procrastination?
"I'm too tired." "I'll do it when I'm in the mood." "I can do it later." “I still have plenty of time.”
- What unhelpful thoughts or assumptions do you make?
"I can't do things when I'm tired." "I shouldn't have to do things I don't want to do." "I don't want to start because I don't know if I can finish."
Here are some strategies that have helped some people stop procrastinating:
- Challenge yourself to do what you are avoiding for just 5 minutes, then decide if you can do it for another 5 minutes, and so on.
- Do the worst thing first, so that other tasks are easy.
- Start by doing something easy that you like, and then use that momentum to move into a task that is harder.
- Set a time limit for a task and stick to that time limit so that the next time you do that task you will know that you can stick to your time limit.
- Plan to reward yourself once you have finished something you have been procrastinating doing.
- Schedule a set amount of time to work and then schedule time to relax with a friend.
- Take a breather. Check our out Mindfulness webpage or the Stop, Breathe and Think app for some tips.
- Imagine yourself doing the thing that you are avoiding.
- Recognize that there will probably be some discomfort with changing your behavior, and find ways to learn to tolerate the discomfort.
Time Management Resources
MayoClinic Blog Post on Time Management
Put Off Procrastinating! InfoPax by Centre for Clinical Interventions