Manage Your Time to Get the Most Out of College

Image of student studying with laptop open

Time management is a phrase you will hear often in higher education. Students say it’s one of the most important skills they learn in college; faculty say it’s the key to doing well in class; and advisors argue it’s critical to stay on track to earn your degree and launch into a career or grad school after graduation.

In this blog post, we’ll explore exactly what “time management” is and how you do it. Mastering this important skill now will give you a great head start on college success – and can also help you in high school, particularly as you manage your college search process on top of everything else you normally do.

The foundation: a good planner

You might see successful students with what they call a “planner.”  The term planner refers to a wide range of methods of recording what people do with their time: meetings, clubs, homework, shopping, laundry, travel, and other activities. Whether you keep an electronic planner or a hard copy, whether you prefer a pocket-sized planner or a wall-sized one, there are several important features that make a planner a good resource.

A planner should have a way to alternate easily between short-term and long-term goals. Simply put, you have to find a way to notice how the one thing you do today (e.g., homework, attending class, completing a project) contributes to your larger goals (e.g., graduating in four years , finding a good job in your field, getting into grad school).  Because it’s difficult to hold both of these views in your mind at the same time, your planner should have a way that allows you to flip-flop between your short-term and long-term goals.

A planner should have enough space for you to write everything down — even the things you don’t think you need to write down, like eating and sleeping. If you have an especially busy week, use Post-It notes or other supplements to add space. (For electronic planners, use a task list or sticky note app.)

A planner should be fun and interactive. If your planner is kind of boring, you won’t want to interact with it. Use highlighters!  Use markers! Use fun stickers!

How much time should you reserve for class and homework? Doing work outside of class takes up more time than class itself. The typical formula is one hour inside class = three hours outside of class. For a class schedule of 15 credit hours per week, you should schedule 45 hours outside of class for work. Consider your college degree your full-time job.

The strategy: to-do lists

Students will sometimes make to-do lists with very broad tasks, like “study for CHE test.” It’s very difficult to complete such a broad task because it seems so big and daunting. It could take hours!

A better strategy for making to-do lists is to break the tasks up into very small, very specific tasks. For example, “study for CHE test” becomes a list: create 10 flashcards with definitions; re-solve problems from Ch 6 homework; create practice test; complete practice test. With a more specific list, you can work “study for CHE test” into your daily routine. Have thirty minutes between classes? Make up 10 flashcards. Check that item off your to-do list.

The reward: small rewards for victories

Don’t forget time management is a strategy that allows you to govern your time, and you should build in time for rewards. Giving yourself a reward doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or wreck your health. Just schedule in time for something you enjoy doing. Finish studying for CHE? Maybe you enjoy movies. Browse Netflix or the library catalog to see what you can check out. Maybe you enjoy crafting. Pull out the ol’ craft box, and make something. Maybe you just want to enjoy a nice meal with friends. Text them, and see who’s free! There are lots of rewarding things you can do.

Time management is a strategy that successful students and professionals use to get all the important things done in a timely and efficient manner. With some appropriate tools and strategies, it can help you keep up with your work and still have time for fun.

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