Good time management is essential to success at university. Planning your time allows you to spread your work over a session, avoid a ‘traffic jam’ of work, and cope with study stress. Many deadlines for university work occur at the same time, and unless you plan ahead, you’ll find it impossible to manage. To meet the demands of study you need to spread your workload over a session. Work out what needs to be done and when. Work out how to use your available time as efficiently as possible.
Plan Ahead and Prioritise
The first step to good time management is to prioritise your tasks. In other words, deciding which task is most important and should be completed first. For example, in a choice between reading for an essay due in four weeks or preparing a seminar presentation in two weeks, choose to prepare the presentation.
To prioritise successfully you must develop weekly and long term time management plans. Many students find long, medium and short term planning useful for organising their study as effectively as possible. Planning ahead saves time, worry and energy.
Tips to Make Time Management Easier
- Complete small tasks straight away rather than putting them off. This will encourage you to begin tackling larger tasks needing attention.
- Break difficult or ‘boring’ work into sections. This allows you to approach a large task as a series of manageable parts.
- Don’t try to write a whole assignment in one sitting. Write it section by section.
- If you have ‘writer’s block’, try writing something-anything-down. Even if you change it completely later, at least you’ve started. The alternative is having nothing at all.
- Your study and the time you spend on it is up to you. If you find yourself losing direction, sit back and think of why you are doing your degree; remembering your goals can put everything into perspective.
Long & Short-Term Planning
Using a Yearly Planner
A yearly planner you can place on your wall or by your desk allows you to plan your work over an entire session and helps to remind you about deadlines and upcoming commitments.
You can download an A4 size Learning Centre planner, or visit one of our offices and collect an A3 wall-sized one.
Download a Yearly Planner (pdf file)
- Place the planner in a position where you have easy access to it.
- Write in the dates assignments are due and exams are scheduled.
- Work out how long you will need to complete each task. Allow yourself plenty of time.
- Remember to allow for extra workload. If you have several assignments due at the same time, you will need to begin each task even earlier than usual.
- Set start dates for each task. Write them on your planner. Draw lines back from the due dates to ‘start’ dates. Use different colour pens for different subjects, assignments or exams. Doing this will give you a good indication of how much time you have to complete tasks and cue you to start them.
Planning on a Weekly Basis
Use Time Slots Wisely
Students often believe they have ‘no time’ to study, but many of them think of study time in terms of 3 hours or more. While long time slots are necessary, medium and short time slots can be used just as effectively. A well-used 15 minutes is more effective than a wasted 2 hours. Different periods of time suit different activities. For example:
Short Time Slots
Bus and train journeys or lunch breaks are good times for this kind of work. One hour or less is useful for:
- reviewing lecture notes
- completing short readings
- previewing long readings
- doing problems
- revising for exams
- jotting down essay plans
- proofreading an assignment.
Medium Time Slots
One to three hours is a good time for more concentrated study. Medium slots can be used for:
- more detailed note-reviewing
- reading for courses/ assignments
- taking notes from readings
- drafting/editing an assignment
- revising for exams
Long Time Slots
More than three hours can be set aside for:
- working on an assignment
- completing an extensive amount of reading
- doing research for assignments
- revising for exams
During medium and long time slots, divide study time up into one hour sections and take breaks. Try not to study for longer than an hour at a time, as concentration begins to slip.
Fill in a Weekly Planner
For weekly planning, use a diary, a timetable or a Learning Centre Weekly Study Schedule (pdf file). Fill in all the main demands on your time:
- Uni lectures and tutorials.
- Hours of work (if you have a part-time job).
- Any regular sport or leisure commitments.
- Mealtimes and regular family commitments.
- Sleep times.
When you have written in the main demands on your time, look at the blank time slots left. This will help you work out how many hours a week you actually have for study.
Next, plan time slots to use for uni-related work. Fill in times that could be used as study periods including short, medium and long time slots.
Common Time Wasters
Feeling so overwhelmed and anxious about your workload that you ‘freeze’, put things off and don’t get anything done.
1. Set priorities.
2. Get started.
Actually starting a task reduces your anxiety about it. List all the tasks you have to do in order of importance and urgency, and work through them one at a time.
Procrastination: spending time on irrelevant tasks when you know you should be studying.
1. Set study goals and vary your study techniques.
2. Make a ‘to do’ list.
The problems mentioned above are classic ‘delaying’ tactics to put off starting work. Start a task that is giving you anxiety—don’t put it off! Even if you just jot down a plan about how you will proceed further, at least you’ve made a start!
Make a list of what you have to do in order of priority. For example, if an assignment is due in 1 week, then it goes to the top of your ‘to do’ list. Be conscious of what you’re doing. If working on an assignment is at the top of your list and you catch yourself just popping out to wash the car—stop yourself and ask: “Why am I doing this now? I’ll do it after I’ve reached my study goal.”
Putting off starting a task because it feels so overwhelming or difficult that you can’t face it.
Break up the workload into small chunks.
This is a very effective strategy. Break up work into as many small, achievable tasks as you can. Then when you sit down to study, you are not facing a huge, daunting pile of work, but one small task.
Complete a ‘chunk’ every study period. It might be a task or a period of revision. Take a break after completing a ‘chunk’. If it’s something you’ve really been dreading, reward yourself when you’ve done it!
Daydreaming or ‘drifting off’.
Check your energy level and concentration.
Take a short break or a little exercise every hour. Open a window and walk around. If you drift off, try visualising a red stop light. Hold that image for a few seconds-then switch to a green light and go back to work.
Feeling that you can’t begin because you won’t be able to produce a ‘perfect’ result.
Aim at reasonable results!
Rather than aiming for a masterpiece each time, it’s better to produce something – and pass – than to put it off for so long that you produce nothing at all.
The ‘Too Hard’ Basket: deciding that “I didn’t want to do this course / study / unit anyway!”
1. Re-examine your motives for studying.
2. Ask for advice.
2. Use the ‘balance sheet method’.
Students do change their minds about their studies. They may feel they have taken the wrong path, or that their talents lie elsewhere. However, changing courses should be rational decision, not a reaction made out of frustration because the work is ‘too hard’.
Discuss difficulties with your tutor or lecturer. Seek support from student services like The Learning Centre. Ask advice from the Counseling Service and the Careers Service. Don’t just throw in the towel! Before making any changes, be sure about what it is you really want. Try the balance sheet method:
- On a piece of paper, write down all the benefits to getting item X done.
- On the other side of the page, write down all the reasons you can’t get it done or have been putting it off.
This activity can help you to define exactly what has been stopping you working. It’s likely you’ll have a list of benefits (starting with ‘relief that the task is finished!’) and a few reasons (such as “I really don’t understand this assignment”) you can then challenge yourself to sort out.
Factors to Consider When Planning Your Time
Some weeks will be busier than others, and unforeseen things can happen. Remember that a timetable is only a plan or a guide. You don’t have to follow it religiously every week, but try to stick to your plan as best you can. If you plan a study time slot and miss it, don’t panic – look at the schedule and rearrange your time.
A great deal of time management is really about taking responsibility for your learning. The best plan is to be aware of how much time you have and to manage it effectively. Be realistic about your time and what you can do with it.
Before you undertake study, you need to realistically assess all the demands on your time. Consider paid employment, family duties, sport, leisure or civic commitments. Good time management will not help if you are over committed. If you study full time, spend more than about 12 hours per week in paid employment and spend every evening at the gym, you will not have much time left to study. If you suspect you might have taken on too much, reassess your commitments, prioritise and compromise.
Be realistic about the amount of time an assignment will take you to complete. Different tasks require different amounts of preparation time. For example, you might only need a few hours to prepare for a tutorial, but writing an assignment will take significantly longer. You can’t produce good, well-written work unless you give yourself enough time to think, research and write. Brilliant assignments are not written the night before, so start them in good time.
It’s easy to procrastinate when you experience difficulties with an assignment, but putting off starting only means you will have less time to work on it. If you miss an assignment deadline, you will lose marks. So, if you think you need some assistance, ask for it. Remember, good time management includes good self-management. Talk to your tutor about difficult assignments, or visit services like The Learning Centre or The Counselling service. Don’t put off seeking advice – the longer you wait, the more anxious you’ll feel.
What Students Do. . .
Some of the following comments from university students at the end of their first year discuss issues of study and time that might sound familiar (Field, Gilchrist & Gray, 1989). The comments are about two areas: planning ahead without getting obsessed about it, and developing effective habits for dealing with worry and stress.
Trying to plan ahead without going overboard:
“Compared to school, it’s not that the work is harder, it’s just that it’s more detailed and therefore more time-consuming . . . “
“Instead of procrastinating, start thinking about the assignment right away so that you’re the first one to get to the books. Most importantly, if you get a good start on an assignment you allow yourself enough time to deal with any unexpected problems . . .”
Developing effective habits for dealing with worry and stress:
“Having some fun or relaxation on the weekend gives me enough strength to regain my sanity to start another week . . .”
“Even though I’m not finding everything awful or the workload too great, I get anxious sometimes. Last week, for example, I was sick and didn’t get half as much done as I had planned. So I have more to do this week. I’m finding right now that I can’t get all my reading done. So I just have to read what is most important, as I know I can’t possibly read every single thing . . .”
The Five Day Study Plan
Start Early: More than any other technique, the key to performing
well on exams is starting early and using short, frequent study
sessions. The human brain learns academic material faster and
better on an exam if done in brief blocks of time spread out over
longer periods of time, rather than in a few lengthy sessions. For
example, you will perform better on an exam if you spend one hour
studying each day for 20 days than if you spend 10 hours studying
each day for two days before an exam.
On Cramming: If you have to cram, try to focus on remembering
the information you do know rather than trying to teach yourself
new information. You will typically not remember what you tried to
learn the night before the exam, anyway, so it is best to make sure
you REALLY know some part of the information for the test. If you
do have a few days, try to spread the studying out so you are not
doing it all in one night.
If you plan ahead, many students have found the Five Day Study
Plan gets good results. Keys to the Five Day Plan:
1. You space out your learning over a period of 5 days.
2. During each day, you prepare a new chapter or chunk of
information, then review previous material.
3. Divide material so you can work on it in chunks.
4. Use active learning strategies (writing and reciting) to study
5. Use self-testing techniques to monitor your learning
Eight to ten hours of studying may be required to get an A or a B on
an exam. This is just a general guideline. You may need to allot
more or less time depending on the difficulty of the class.
How to Make a Five Day Plan
1. Break the material into chunks. If it can be divided by chapter,
use that. If not, make up your own chunks based on the structure of
2. Plan to spend about 2 hours studying on each of the five days.
3. You work on the material in 2 ways: You prepare, and you
Example of the Time Frame for the Five Day Plan:
Prepare 1st chunk 2 hours
Prepare 2nd chunk 2 hours
Review 1st chunk 30 minutes
Prepare 3rd chunk 1-1/2 hours
Review 2nd chunk 30 minutes
Review 1st chunk 15 minutes
Prepare 4th chunk 1 hour
Review 3rd chunk 30 minutes
Review 2nd chunk 15 minutes
Review 1st chunk 10 minutes
Review 4th chunk 30 minutes
Review 3rd chunk 20 minutes
Review 2nd chunk 10 minutes
Review 1st chunk 10 minutes
Self-Test 1 hour
Examples of Preparation Strategies and Review Strategies
Develop study sheets
Develop concept maps
Make word cards
Make question cards
Make formula cards
Make problem cards
Do study guides
Re-mark text material
Make a list of 20 topics that
would be on the exam
Define the list of 20
Chart related material
List steps in the process
Predict essay questions
Plan essay answers
Write essay answers
Answer questions at the end
of the chapter
Prepare material for study
Recite study sheets
Replicate concept maps
Recite word cards
Recite question cards
Practice writing formulas
Practice study guide info out
Take notes on re-marked text
Recite list of 20
Do “missed” problems
Recite main points from
Recite notes from recall cues
Recite out loud
Re-create chart from
Recite steps from memory
Answer essay questions
Practice reciting main points
Write essay answers from
Explain material to group
members or study partners
Examples of Student’s Plans
Saturday 1-1/2 hours
Prepare Ch. 15
1. Review notes from reading. Reread highlighted
2. Make cards for cash dividends and dividend
3. Make study cards for reasons for
Issuing Stock Dividends
4. Make a definition sheet
5. Do all the examples and problems assigned.
6. Review Study Guide
Review Ch. 14 1/2 hour
1. Go over cards for corporation lists
2. Self-test on definitions
3. Review all examples and problems assigned
4. Review Study Guide
12:00-1:00 pm (1 hr)
-Review and highlight notes on Rockefeller, Carnegie,
-Compile summary sheets from lecture and text notes
-Write questions in the margins of text book
1:15-2:15 pm (1 hr)
-Recite industrial revolution questions and answers
2:30-3:30 pm (1 hr)
-Recite railroad questions and answers